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In This Age of Working Mothers, Hadassah Seeks New, Young Leaders

July 28, 1987
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With the clear majority of its nearly 400,000 members past the age of 50, Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, finds itself in the predicament faced by many Jewish service organizations — needing young leadership in an age when women increasingly are juggling careers and families.

Although Hadassah’s membership and fundraising figures are up, officials of the 75-year-old organization, which held its 73rd annual convention here earlier this month, said that it is imperative to reorganize the goals and agendas of its 1,700 chapters to meet the demands and interests of the 1980’s career woman who wants to contribute to the development of Israel.

“We live in different times,” said Carol Kaplan, president of the southeastern region of Hadassah, who at age 39 is the youngest member of the national board. Kaplan said that older women continue to be the backbone of Hadassah, which has been highly instrumental in the growth of Israel’s medical and educational resources.

But, Kaplan said, “between their families and working, there’s very little leftover time today for younger women to get involved. We have to show them that there is still a place for them in Hadassah, even if they only have limited time. It’s a real challenge for our organization.”


Kaplan ought to know. A mother who runs a retail store with her husband in Macon, Ga., she finds that she can tackle Hadassah projects only very late in the day. Her presidency includes Hadassah chapters in Georgia, South Carolina and portions of North Carolina.

“I often say to myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ when it’s 2 a.m. and my family is sleeping soundly while I’m working at my desk,” said Kaplan, who quickly answered her own question: “This is the only way for me to live in Macon, Ga., and direct my feelings about Zionism. Hadassah is my passport.”

“Hadassah is aware that we need to have available programs for career women,” said Toby Blake, a Baltimore member. “We’re having more meetings in the evenings and on weekends, and we’re featuring more subject matters that will bring in the professional women.”

Indeed, many of the sessions and discussions at the convention dealt with women’s place in Jewish life and how to balance family and work. According to Hadassah’s national officials, career seminars and offering child care are some of the ways that the organization is attracting younger members.

Recently, Hadassah created a young leadership division that promotes career women and outreach programs for young members who are wives and mothers. However, according to James Lee, director of Hadassah public relations, involvement in Hadassah ultimately depends on the commitment of the individual.

Blake concurred. “Young women are still joining Hadassah because of the work that the organization does. The whole concept of tzedakah is part of Jewish culture. Hadassah is not dying. It’s growing,” she said. A sense of pride over 75 years of accomplishments combined at the convention with excitement for the future of the organization and the main benefactors of its efforts — American Jewish women and Israel.

More than 2,500 delegates from all 50 states and Israel converged upon the Baltimore Convention Center to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of Hadassah by Baltimore native Henrietta Szold and listen to such speakers as former Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz, Maryland Senators Paul Sarbanes (D) and Barbara Mikulski (D) and Secretary of State George Shultz discuss a variety of domestic and international matters.

At the formal opening of the convention, Hadassah national treasurer Deborah Kaplan announced that the organization raised $65.5 million in 1986-87, an increase of $9 million.

Contributions included $16.4 million raised for the Hadassah Medical organization, $2.9 million for the organization’s Youth Aliyah program, $1.7 million for educational services in Israel, $1 million for the Jewish National Fund and $1.9 million for projects for Zionist youth activities. In addition, dues were increased by $2.8 million, and it was later announced that more than $1.25 million in pledges was raised at the convention’s annual founder’s dinner.


In an impassioned speech that was frequently cheered by Hadassah delegates, Mikulski called for increased U.S. funding for Israeli schools and hospitals. She also called for more affordable child care and long-term health care to help American women.

Shultz, who was honored for his work on human rights, praised in his speech American Jews for their commitment to civic duty and human rights, and called for a continued American presence in world affairs, including those concerning Middle East peace prospects.

Hadassah president Ruth Popkin said at the convention’s close that many goals were reached there, including the restructuring of Hadassah’s youth activities and the formation of a new outreach program at Hadassah’s community college in Israel.

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