Over the next few weeks, I will be posting about women mitzvah heroes — ordinary people who are doing extraordinary work, by simply trying to make the world a better place. Click here for more information about mitzvah heroes in general, and here for more articles about specific mitzvah heroes.
Many people who have met Hadassah Levi immediately recognize that they are in the presence of an individual who can best be described as “awesome”. By chance, by serendipity, or by divine direction — choose whichever explanation you prefer — I was privileged to meet her on my very first Tzedakah venture in 1975, and we have remained close ever since.
Here, adapted from my previous Ziv Tzedakah Fund Annual Reports, is the background about her work:
Hadassah was the founder of Ma’on LaTinok, a warm, happy home where more than 40 infants with Down Syndrome, abandoned by their families, came to live. (The youngest was actually three days old when she came under Hadassah’s care.) In those days, some “retarded” children were given up and left to be raised by the State. She knew these babies because she, herself, had been in the hospital for months, and as she began to regain her strength, she would visit the children’s ward.
It was at that point that she just knew she had to do something, and when she was well enough to go home, she knew exactly what it was that she had to do. She gathered them and raised them. It was in Ma’on LaTinok that Hadassah provided them with everything that children need to flourish and grow. No naïve do-gooder, she developed many methods of care that were truly revolutionary (including special diets), hired the best of best assistants, and worked tirelessly to provide for their special needs.
Testament to the love and care which she provided is the fact that Hadassah’s “kids” are now adults and many are employed in regular jobs ranging from work in local cafés, gardening, and even various jobs in the Knesset!
Maon LaTinok is no longer open, and Hadassah’s health is not what it used to be.
We wish Hadassah two things: (1) That she should have many years of good health, and (2) that a steady stream of individuals will contact her, meet her, and learn from her the knowledge she has gained over the decades that would benefit so many others in need of her wisdom. In her field of Tikkun Olam, there really is no one quite like her, and it is a privilege to continue to be among her students.
[Hadassah Levi, POB 39, 44852, Ma’alay Shomron, Israel, 09-792-9265}
Female Hebrew Benevolent Society
In the early years of the 19th century, Christian missionaries were a major source of outreach to poor people in Philadelphia. Among the needy were Jews living in poverty, particularly women and children. Along with food, clothing and shelter, the missionaries offered a hearty dose of religious indoctrination.
In reaction, two women from Congregation Mikveh Israel enlisted their friends to establish the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society. Rebecca Gratz was drafted as the first secretary. Since 1819, this marvelous mitzvah program has continued to meet the needs of Jewish women experiencing severe financial difficulty.
It remains the oldest Jewish Tzedakah fund in continuous existence in the United States.
For the past 20 years, our good friend, Eileen Sklaroff, has been the president of the FHBS. It is a supremely fine example of front-line, one-on-one mitzvah work, with very low overhead (less than 1%). Nearly 200 different women, many with family and other dependents, were reached, 11 of whom received monthly stipends.
To each, the Society’s contribution is crucial, often life-saving. In the array of Philadelphia’s communal Tikkun Olam network, the FHBS clearly serves a critical purpose because its very nature is an extremely personalized manner of Jewish caring. I believe other communities should meet Eileen, learn from the FHBS model, and establish a similar fund, if it does not already exist locally. (And if you begin now, in 2204 someone can write about your own 189-year-long history.)
My Tzedakah fund donated for camp scholarships to children for whom the experience gives relief from hard time and an enormous boost in self-esteem — besides, of course, being fun, something more often than not all-too-lacking in their lives. For some children, it may even be a turning point toward a more hopeful view of the future.
[Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, Philadelphia, PA 19103, Eileen S. Sklaroff, President, 267-256-2100]