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Hadassah Lays off Many Staff, Citing the Downturn in Economy

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As Hadassah prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary, the women’s Zionist organization has laid off 10 percent of the staff from its headquarters here.

Hadassah officials, confirming the layoffs, say last Friday’s move was a prudent and necessary fiscal one that will leave its programs in tact.

But some insiders say the dramatic cutback casts doubt on the organization’s ability to remain a leader in the Jewish community.

Hadassah, with 300,000 members, is one of the largest women’s membership organizations — and the largest Zionist membership organization — in the United States.

The group, which was founded on Purim in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, is primarily known for its support of two hospitals in Israel, medical research, Jewish education and a youth movement.

Before last Friday, the organization employed some 200 to 300 people at its headquarters, which also includes a heavily involved volunteer staff.

Among the departments that lost much of their professional staffs were those devoted to public affairs, Washington affairs and Israel, Zionist and international affairs.

“Absolutely nothing will be affected,” said Ellen Marson, Hadassah’s national executive director.

“Rest assured that Hadassah is well,” she said.

She said that none of their programs were eliminated, and the remaining staff is expected to meet the same demands as before.

The move reflected “very painful and difficult decisions here” that were required to adjust to a dismal economic market.

Marson declined to give specific budget figures or losses due to a decline in market investments.

But, she said, like so many other organizations currently facing this dilemma, “Hadassah wanted to review and then reduce its administrative costs.”

The move came as a shock to most of the staff, who had no forewarning about the number of layoffs — and who would be fired, according to someone close to the organization.

Some said those laid off were hurried out of the building, given only a few hours to clean out their desks after being notified of their release.

And they dispute the notion that Hadassah can maintain business as usual in departments that were cut by one-third or more.

Also, some said they resented that the action took place last Friday, a day when most of the volunteers, who play a powerful role in the organization, are not in.

But Marson said it was a thoughtful decision by both volunteers and professionals, made “with all of the expert help that we could consult with.”

“We felt we did it in the best way possible,” she said. “No way is easy.”

Still, many think last Friday’s layoffs are not the end.

When asked about future fires, Marson said, “As of today, we don’t have any plans for any other layoffs at Hadassah house,” the organization’s headquarters in New York.

“We will be looking into operations throughout the country to review” them, she added.

Asked about possible cuts to the organization’s hospitals in Israel, she said the institutions would be safe, but added it “depends on how the economy goes.”

As for their 1,100 chapters across the country, which serve as social and activist groups for many women, Marson said she does not foresee their receiving any less support from the national office.

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