Special Interview Sylvia Hassenfeld, UJA Leader Has Boundless Enthusiasm for Israel

At the end of a one-week tour in Israel, Sylvia Hassenfeld, the chairman of the Woman’s Division of the United Jewish Appeal, had lost her voice but not her boundless enthusiasm for Israel, Mrs. Hassenfeld, who was here last week leading a delegation of 175 women on a study mission, is no stranger to Israel. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency she said she no longer counts the times she has been here. “After the 30th time, was a long time ago.” Within the past year alone, Mrs. Hassenfeld was here in August, June, March and last October. But she still finds it exciting every time she comes to Israel.

“I feel very much at home here. But you, who live here, are not aware how much is being done, even in periods of several months. To watch something being built is really wonderful,” she said. She observed that Israelis often wonder what makes a diasporas Jew contribute so much time, effort–and, of course, money–to a country so distant; to a country that, after all, has its darker sides, with strikes, political strife, and even economic scandals.

But Mrs. Hassenfeld insisted in her interview that none of the negative aspects in Israel discourage her from being a strong supporter of this country. “People are people all over the world. I think it was Golda (former Premier Golda Meir) who said that Israel was not a country of angels,” she reflected. “Strangely enough, I rarely hear questions expressing doubts about Israel’s right to receive financial aid from world Jewry.”

Mrs. Hassenfeld received family support on this point from her daughter, Ellie Block, who was among the 60 or so women on the mission who were here on their first visit. She recalled a tourist guide’s explanation on the way to Jerusalem. “He pointed at the mountain terraces, saying these are the giants’ steps, only there are no giants. But I think Israelis are giants; it takes giants for the vision and the will to give so much.”

A ‘WONDERFUL MISSION’

This feeling, mother and daughter explained, was shared by most of the 175 women in the delegation. One cannot point at any specific thing that attracts these women to Israel–they all have their own thing about the country–but there is a certain feeling of admiration that is shared by all of them. This made Mrs. Hassenfeld sum up the tour as a “wonderful mission.”

It was a wonderful mission money-wiser the delegates on this mission pledged over $700,000 compared to $420,000 last year, Mrs. Hassenfeld regarded this as an indication of the increasingly important role the women play in raising UJA funds. “Since the Yom Kippur War, men gave such large amounts of money, it was really incredible,” she observed. “The men have set such high goals that it is becoming more and more difficult. Women have always given their own contributions, but since the war they realized they could give much more–which they are doing.” The Women’s Division is responsible for more than ten percent of all UJA funds.

When Mrs. Hassenfeld left Israel tow days ago she had behind her a week in Israel and a week of tours in Poland and Rumania. “We went from destruction to revival,” she said. She did not have a date for her next visit, but at the present rate it is only a matter of months. After all, she feels at home here–and one cannot stay too long away from home.

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