Hadassah’s 2024 Solidarity Mission to Israel: Highlights

January 12, 2024

Hadassah’s 2024 Solidarity Mission to Israel: Highlights

Nearly 50 Hadassah leaders traveled to Israel earlier this week to show their support for the country and its people who are still reeling and healing from the October 7 terror attacks and subsequent war with Hamas.

“We are in Israel leading a solidarity mission to bear witness, bring that message home and share it with everyone we can,” said Hadassah National President Carol Ann Schwartz, joined by her immediate predecessor, Rhoda Smolow, and three other past president powerhouses: Ellen Hershkin, Marcie Natan and Nancy Falchuk.

The full Hadassah delegation — including representatives from the United States, Latin America and Europe — met with top Israeli officials and leaders, as well as staff and patients at Hadassah's hospitals, visited war sites, sang with the Meir Shfeyah Mandolin Orchestra, heard about the impact of the war from Hadassah Neurim youth, and met with hostage families, committing to mark the 100th day of the hostages’ captivity on January 14 by participating in the 100 Days Campaign.

“A Great Strength for All of Us,” Says President Herzog

“Israel has a long journey of healing ahead. We are enduring horrific personal and national traumas,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog said to the mission participants at a special session. “Your support for Israel's healthcare and solidarity with the Israeli people is a great strength for all of us.”

During the meeting, First Lady Michal Herzog emphasized her concern for addressing mental health challenges brought on by the events of October 7 and for exposing the heinous crimes against women that took place that day and that continue for hostages in captivity, an issue Hadassah has been mobilizing and educating around.

Petition to the ICRC

On the first day of the mission, Schwartz, Smolow and Executive Director of the Hadassah Offices in Israel Suzanne Patt Benvenisti hand-delivered a petition to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Tel Aviv, demanding that ICRC representatives meet with the Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

The petition, signed by more than 5,000 Hadassah members and supporters, expresses outrage at the ICRC's failure to fulfill its humanitarian role on behalf of citizens of Israel and other countries. The Hadassah representatives challenged the Red Cross to use their leverage with their branch office in Gaza and to find creative means to ascertain the condition of the hostages.

Honoring Those Lost, Meeting With Hostage Families

Hadassah leaders paid solemn visits to two October 7 sites of mass slaughter — Kfar Aza and Nir Am — and the site of the Nova dance festival in Re'im, where they recited the mourner's Kaddish and sang Hatikvah.

At Hostages Square, a public plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, mission participants heard from family members of hostages. Rachel Goldberg-Polin and Jonathan Polin pleaded for help for their son, Hersh, who was seriously injured at the Nova festival and kidnapped into Gaza. Jonathan’s mother, Leah, is a Hadassah leader in Chicago.

Rachel wears a masking tape sticker on her chest —marking the number of days her son has endured captivity — which she updates each new day with the new number of days the hostages have been in captivity. The Polins asked Hadassah leaders to join them on January 14, the 100th day of captivity for the hostages, in wearing a masking tape sticker as a reminder that with each passing day, the hostages' lives are at even greater risk. Hadassah is taking on this commitment, encouraging Hadassah members and supporters around the country to participate, and Schwartz has written to ask members of Congress to do the same to help raise awareness. “The hostages are always on our minds, but they are no longer top of mind for many, or in the media,” said Schwartz.

Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) Update

Mission participants were offered a sneak peek of the new Gandel Rehabilitation Center at Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus a few days before the first patients were to be transferred to the new facility. Schwartz led the Shehecheyanu blessing as tours of the hospitalization rooms, therapy rooms and hydrotherapy pools began.

Participants met patient Sagi Shifroni, who was treated at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem for burns on his feet he received after terrorists set his house on fire on October 7. Shifroni praised the dedication and compassion of the staff and thanked the mission participants for their constant support of the hospital.

At Hadassah Ein Kerem, participants came laden with gifts — from crayons to men's socks — for the hospitalized children and recovering soldiers.

Former Speaker of the Knesset and now head of the HMO Board of Directors Dalia Itzik hosted an appreciation ceremony for Smolow, followed by a panel discussion on the hospital’s war response efforts.

Dr. Esi Sharon-Sagi, director of the oral rehabilitation graduate program at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine, described the work of the team she leads — including 26 Hadassah dentists — to identify bodies from October 7. "Think of everything you've read about the condition of the bodies and amplify it," said Dr. Sharon-Sagi, who continues to check bodies retrieved from Gaza by the IDF to learn if they are hostages.

After this emotional session, the mission participants exited via the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, where Smolow was surprised with a bench dedicated in her honor.

Breaking the Silence

On the final day of the mission, participants attended a panel discussion focused on the sexual violence that took place on October 7.

Shari Greenwald Mendes, who volunteers for the IDF reserve unit tasked with preparing the bodies of fallen female soldiers for burial, spoke about her experience. "We saw the crimes of humanity before our eyes,” she said.

Law professor Cochav Elkayam-Levy, who heads Israel’s Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas Against Women and Children, provided the background for Israel's pursuit of justice by reaching out to law scholars around the world. Every piece of evidence is being saved and archived, and Israel's technology companies are keeping the data safe from artificial intelligence attacks, she said.

Dr. Dvora Bauman, who heads the Bat Ami Center for Victims of Sexual Abuse at Hadassah Ein Kerem, talked about the ongoing damage to women's psyches from sexual abuse. "The events of the last three months have been triggers for previous rape survivors to re-experience trauma and engage in self-harm,” she said.

Hadassah Mount Scopus Director Dr. Tamar Elram, a gynecologist who is pioneering more sensitive treatment, said, "We need more women leaders, and they have to be brave. We need help from each other to be brave."

Youth Aliyah Villages Visit: “It Means the World to Me That You Are Here”

Walking through the technology center at the Hadassah Neurim Youth Aliyah Village, participants looked at photographs taken by 10th-grade students depicting their emotions from the last three months.

“Since October 7, we’ve been challenged to teach new life skills,” said exhibition creator and filmography teacher Tal Ben-Sira, “alongside healing of head and heart.”

“Everyone needs psychological help, and we’ve been providing that for both staff and students in our youth villages,” Youth Aliyah Co-Chair Marcie Natan told the mission participants.

After Hadassah Neurim Board Chair Einat Reich presented her vision for the future of the village, she told mission participants, “It means the world to me that you are here in this educational gem.”

Reich’s counterpart at the Meir Shfeyah Youth Aliyah Village, Eli Wagner, is of the same mind: “Shfeyah has been your home away from home for more than 100 years. We are here to provide protection — the parents gave us this responsibility. This is the legacy of Henrietta Szold.”

“Because of Hadassah, we are able to respond without hesitation to the needs of our students and to assure that our children and Israel are protected and loved,” said event chair Lauren Stern Kedem, who returned to Meir Shfeyah as an English teacher at the start of the war. “We are inspired by you and hopeful because of the goodness and decency of so many people who care about Israel and what is right.”

Check out our Hadassah Solidarity Mission to Israel photos!


Read More

Hadassah National President meets Israeli President Isaac Herzog at solidarity event [Jerusalem Post]

Marking 100 Days: Bring the Hostages Home

Hadassah’s New President Delivers Petition to International Committee of the Red Cross in Israel Demanding Group Ensure Hostages’ Welfare

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