Hadassah Looks To ‘Today’
07/17/98
Associate Editor
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‘What has 600,000 legs, 300,000 hearts and speaks with one voice?” In the hazy pre-dawn of an already hot July 14, Alecia Sachs, 43, from Miami, waved a placard with that question outside the “Today” show’s street-level studio window. The hand-drawn sign answered its own question: “Hadassah.” And four hearts, magic-markered in red, matched Hadassah’s motto: “Body, mind, heart, soul.”Lucy Tosner-Vron, 41, a Hadassah leader from Massapequa, L.I., held up a second sign meant to catch the eye of the weatherman Al Roker: “Hadassah says, Hey Al, you got 300,000 women really hot,” with an accompanying depiction of a bursting red thermometer. “You Hadassah ladies are everywhere,” said Katie Couric, off-camera, with a big smile. The Today show host looked out at the more than 30 Hadassah women waving the large signs or the individual messages, “Body,” “Mind,” “Heart,” “Soul.”Maybe not all 300,000 women with their 600,000 legs were in town this week, but 3,000 Hadassah delegates were, at the group’s 84th national convention, July 12-15, at the New York Hilton, to hold a mirror up to the largest women’s group of any kind in the United States. Aside from the Today show, they found other ways to communicate. Marlene Post, national president, held an open chat on the Internet, where non-attending members were in contact with convention leaders on matters of mutual interest.Laura Schor was introduced as Hadassah’s new executive director. The daughter of The Jewish Week’s former editor David Gross, Schor has been provost, history professor and vice president of academic affairs at Hunter College.The convention entered the religious realm because, said organizers, of its interest to delegates. There were Orthodox women wrestling yet again with Blu Greenberg, and others, in a panel on agunot. And in another room, Brooklyn’s Ann Rezak, on her 86th birthday, was among 60 women, including some in their 20s, who were finally having the bat mitzvah they never celebrated before. More than 36 women who never had a Hebrew name were named.About the agunot, or women whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce, attorney Nathan Lewin spoke of recent legislation permitting judges in property settlements to take into account the refusal of a husband in such cases. But most Orthodox rabbis questioned the religious legitimacy of that legal tactic. Rabbi Emanuel Rackman confessed to the group that his bet din, or Jewish court of law, specifically designed to ease the agunah problem, was not recognized by the broad Orthodox majority.But if that panel focused on women who weren’t being heard, elsewhere at the convention women who couldn’t hear were embraced as never before. Marla Berkowitz became the first member of Hadassah’s new National Center for the Jewish Deaf. More than 30 women and several men attended this first reception and workshop for the deaf. For the first time at a Hadassah convention, video screens produced synchronized sub-titles, and an American Sign Language interpreter assisted the deaf in asking questions and further participating in events.There were sessions on attracting and keeping members: providing personal mentors to make newcomers more comfortable; providing baby-sitting and rides to meetings; bringing busy and independent women, who won’t come to meetings, into the Hadassah orbit by soliciting their opinions or energies for singular or specific projects in their areas of interest. For example, Shani Lerner, coordinator of the Washington action office, spoke at one panel for political activism about how pleased she was to learn that Hadassah had representatives lobbying in Washington and at the UN. “I knew then,” she said, “that I was part of a real, working organization that had impact — not just a club.”Hadassah has been working overtime to bolster its growing cadre of young members with leadership potential. Michelle Lawner, 22, a social worker from Kansas, told The Jewish Week how she was among 100 young women from around the country whose first trip to a national convention was subsidized by the national office. She reports that there are 2,000 women in Hadassah’s Kansas City chapter, and in her Overland Park Hadassah group, almost half the women are single. Many of the chapter’s members know each other from growing up; others might be young Jewish women from Iowa or elsewhere in Hadassah’s Great Plains Region, who come to Kansas City for work and find a home in their new local Hadassah, their connection to the Jewish community.Suzan Rosen, 31, a Manhattan ceramic artist, by way of North Carolina, told of a trip to Israel with Hadassah that cost Rosen nothing but a $500 donation and a promise to commit to two new responsibilities on behalf of her chapter.A young mother, Rosen said she was excited by Hadassah’s penetrating involvement with the Al Galgalim-Training Wheels religious education for children, as well as health issues. Awaiting entrance to a dinner for young leaders (anyone under 45 qualifies, regardless of income), Rosen recalled, “I did not ever think that I would be involved with Hadassah. I went to a meeting because someone convinced me to go. I was impressed with the women I met there. I became immediately impressed with everything that Hadassah does. It’s a place for people who are concerned about Israel, values, people who want to make a difference in the world.”nAt the dinner for 350 young “leaders,” Eddyse Kessler, co-chair of the convention, briefed the women on the eve before their cheerful march on the Today show. “Be neat,” said Kessler, “and wear lipstick. And “just in case you’re asked what it is that you are doing in New York, it will be beneficial if you can give a little thought to that ahead of time. ... If you’re asked, what is Hadassah, we are very proud of the fact that Hadassah is...”And looking up from their plates, 350 women finished Kessler’s sentence in sudden unison: “... the largest women’s Zionist organization of America.”Momentarily shocked by their synchronicity, they then heartily laughed, giving themselves a big round of applause that they certainly deserved.

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