Greater Atlanta Hadassah (GAH) will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Hadassah, the largest women’s, largest Zionist and largest Jewish membership organization in the United States, on Feb. 26, with an event at Greenfield Hebrew Academy featuring chef Tina Wasserman, author of the cookbook “Entrée to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora.”
The event will honor GAH Life Member Florence Kaplan Nathanson, one of the early Hadassah volunteer nurses who served in Israel for nine months in 1950, two years after it achieved statehood. Nathanson and five other nurses worked in a transit camp for new immigrants at Rosh Ha’Ayin, where she cared for malnourished Yemenite children who were sick with life-threatening illnesses.
Founded in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, Hadassah now has a worldwide presence. The organization’s first mission was sending two nurses to Israel to provide pasteurized milk to infants and new mothers, and to eradicate trachoma, an easily cured eye disease. By 1918, Hadassah had sent an entire medical unit to bring American-style medical care to serve all in the region, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity. This was the beginning of the Israeli healthcare system that today includes some of the world’s leading research and treatment hospitals and schools of medicine and nursing.
In the U.S., Hadassah promotes health education, social action and advocacy, Jewish education, volunteerism and leadership skills, Young Judaea and connections with Israel. It’s the relevancy of Hadassah’s mission that has kept longstanding members involved and attracted new members throughout the years, in Atlanta and on the national level.
Buckhead resident and Hadassah life member Virginia Saul, 83, joined Hadassah as a young bride in 1950 and was acquainted with many of the women who started the Atlanta chapter in 1916.
“They were all great ladies, friends of my mother’s,” said Saul. “They were all leaders of the community,” she said, mentioning such women as Annie Levy, Esther Taylor, Jean Benamy and Sara Alterman, whose names are familiar to longtime Atlantans.
Saul, who has enrolled her daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters as Hadassah life members, has twice been GAH president, in addition to serving in leadership positions in many other organizations. She said there was always some Hadassah activity that held her interest, such as study groups, book clubs and education, and the camaraderie of “smart, educated, dedicated women.”
When she visits Israel, Saul is always proud to see her name listed among contributors to Hadassah Hospital, perhaps the most universally recognizable example of Hadassah’s works. “It gives you a good feeling; you’re helping the State [of Israel],” said Saul.
Hadassah life member Colleen Weston of Northwest Atlanta has served in local and regional leadership positions.
“Over fifty years ago, I joined Hadassah because its humanitarian programs appealed to me,” Weston said. “As I learned about the Hadassah story, I was amazed that a small group of Jewish women had built a movement with such a rich history and had fostered a spirit of creativity and self-fulfillment for generations of women. I was influenced by Hadassah’s intellectual leadership, the emphasis on Zionism and the American affairs advocacy program. Skills I learned were invaluable in both my personal and professional life, and life-long friendships evolved from meeting and planning sessions.”
Added Weston, “Hadassah continues to inspire as an ever-changing organization, embracing the lifestyle and diversity of its membership, creating programs to develop skills required for the technology age, and charting a visionary path for the future.”
GAH, only four years younger than the national organization, has nearly 3,100 members and associates. Groups are organized primarily around location, age, day or evening meeting preference, and profession. GAH sponsors a number of community-wide projects, programs and study groups including, among others, Act Against Osteoporosis, Check It Out! breast cancer detection program for high school girls, Chesed award program for Jewish day school and synagogue students, Date With the State annual meeting with Georgia legislators, Training Wheels Jewish education program for preschoolers, and an annual Mitzvah Day. GAH works in partnership with other Jewish and community-based agencies on a variety of programs.
“We’re always involved in education and a connection to Israel,” said Diane Munzer Fisher, the GAH president. “We provide diverse opportunities for people to participate in ways that are meaningful to them. We try to broaden the base [of members] and not assume all members will fit one profile.”
Danielle Amdur, 37 and the mother of two school-age sons, is among the younger generation of women who have become active in GAH. When her paternal grandmother died, her grandfather made her a life member to carry on his wife’s memory and Hadassah work.
“I realized the value of the organization and the connection I have to it and my grandmother,” said Amdur. “Knowing that I'm carrying on my grandmother's legacy and also positively impacting so many lives keeps me connected to Hadassah.”
Amdur is the project manager for the Feb. 26 anniversary event and has served on her group’s board in several positions. Her involvement in Hadassah allows her to impact others in a positive way. “I judge the success of my day on how many people's lives I have positively touched,” she said. “While some days that reach is purely within my family, I know that there will be other days that my impact will be greater. My involvement with Hadassah is so I can extend my reach and make a difference.”
Amdur sees the importance of Hadassah’s reach. “I'm enamored by what Hadassah does in the hospitals and in research. I'm most touched by the Youth Aliyah program. Hadassah is a mentor to so many people on how to bring the goodness back to the world. Hadassah doesn't care what color you are or where you came from. Everyone is seen as a human being.”
GAH’s Hadassah Centennial Celebration will be held from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 26, at Greenfield Hebrew Academy, 5200 Northland Drive, Atlanta, Ga., 30342. The community is invited. Tickets are $36.00. For tickets or information about GAH, call (678) 443-2961 or visit www.atlanta.hadassah.org.
By Fran Memberg exclusively for www.AtlantaJewishNews.com. Photos provided.