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Special Interview from Strength to Strength

The newly elected president of the largest women’s Zionist organization in America, Hadassah, believes it can and should be even larger.

“One of the major challenges for me as president of Hadassah in the next four years is to increase our membership from the present 370,000 to 500,000,” Ruth Popkin, who was elected the 18th president of Hadassah last month at its national convention in San Francisco, said in an interview here with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“I believe that this goal is attainable. It is only a question of telling our story to more and more American women,” she asserted. The “story” of Hadassah, which was established in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, embraces two countries: Israel and the United States.

MAJOR ACTIVITY OF HADASSAH

“Our major activity and most of our money is devoted to the support of the Hadassah Medical Center (HMC) in Jerusalem,” Popkin explained. “Hadassah is the sole and full supporter of the HMC, with facilities at Kiryat Hadassah and Mt. Scopus. Hadassah is, no doubt the greatest medical center in the Mideast. It has some 4,000 doctors, nurses and other employes, and the most advanced and sophisticated equipment. We are committed to maintain these high standards for which Hadassah has always been recognized.”

In addition to maintaining and supporting the HMC, Hadassah also operates various educational projects in Jerusalem. They include the Hadassah Seligsberg-Brandeis Comprehensive High School; Hadassah Community College, and the Hadassah Vocational Guidance Institute.

“All these activities require a great deal of resources,” Popkin observed. Last year alone, Hadassah poured about $25 million into the HMC and spent more than $2 million for the college and high school. Where is the money coming from?

“From fund-raising by Hadassah members,” Popkin replied, noting that Hadassah women can be found in every state, including Hawaii and Alaska. She said that Hadassah members, each of whom pays an annual membership fee of $15, are active in more than 1,600 chapters across the United States.

HOPES TO CREATE AN INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT NETWORK

To meet the growing expenses of the HMC and to maintain its high standards of medical care, Popkin said that another goal she hopes to reach in the next four years is the creation of an international network of members to support Hadassah. “We need other Jews around the world, men and women, to be friends of the Hadassah Medical Organization, to help us support and maintain its excellence,” she said.

Popkin pointed out that Hadassah is involved with various other projects, in addition to its medical and educational institutions. “We are the largest contributor to youth aliya and the largest contribu## to the Jewish National Fund,” she said. She noted that Hadassah contributed $3 million to youth aliya and $1 million to the JNF last year.

Asked about the activities of Hadassah in the United States, Popkin said they are mostly “educational.”

“As the president of Hadassah, I would like to affirm our role in education in America. We began as an educational organization with a commitment to provide American Jewish women with Zionist and Jewish backgrounds and we have continued to play that role throughout the years.” She said she would like to reinforce efforts to bring Jewish and Zionist values and education to Hadassah members in America.

‘WE WERE THE FIRST FEMINISTS’

Popkin said that members of Hadassah come from all walks of life: professional women and housewives, young and old, single and married. Turning to the issue of Jewish feminism in the U.S. Popkin said, in reply to a question:

“I believe we were the first feminists. Hadassah was started by women and will always remain a women’s organization. We never went on a feminist campaign per-se, but we always were proud of the role we played as women and the role we played in the Zionist and Jewish world.”

Popkin contended that Hadassah is basically not a political organization. “We don’t advocate one party or a candidate to our members. Our thrust has always been to provide information so they can vote for the candidate of their choice. We disseminate information, however, on a wide range of issues to the attention of Hadassah’s members.”

Hadassah, however, is a constituent member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and shares the consensus of the Conference on foreign affairs and Mideast issues. Popkin added that Hadassah is the only Zionist organization in America that is not affiliated with any political party in Israel. “We support the elected government there. We support the people of Israel and not a particular point of view,” she stated.

DAUGHTER OF IMMIGRANT PARENTS

Popkin, the daughter of immigrant parents who ran a mom and pop stationery store in Brooklyn, rose to the presidency of Hadassah after serving in the organization in various capacities. She joined the organization in 1943, while living in Brooklyn, as a member of the Flatbush chapter. After two years, she was elected chapter president. Her most recent position, before she was elected president, was coordinator of the fundraising division.

How does she feel about being president of the organization she has known from within for so many years? “Well,” she said, smiling, “I feel great. I am thoroughly enjoying it. I must admit, I am tremendously excited by being able to serve in this role.”

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