Gwen Cooper
Hadassah Physicians Council

Be a maccabee

Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Photo courtesy of Hadassah.

“We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender. We will add your distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to ours. Resistance is futile.”

Thankfully, there are no nano probes being injected. This is the continuing saga of the assimilation of American Jewry across the country, and indeed internationally.

I have lived in predominantly Christian communities over three decades. The siren calls to belong are overwhelming, and insidious. It’s simple: human beings need other human beings.

It is human nature not to want to stand out or be different. We, as Jews, are afraid, born of centuries of antisemitism. We want inclusion in society, but we are being assimilated. I don’t have a Jewish star or flag on my car. Why? Because I am positive someone is going to damage my property or target me. I used to keep a menorah in the window for Hanukkah, and I stopped several years ago for the same reason. I am guarded in my postings on Facebook for the same reason, fear of harm.

As parents we have all heard this: What can it hurt to go to church with my friend? It is still the same god, isn’t it? “I want to go to the Christmas party with Helen!” “Why don’t we have a Christmas tree?”

Even within Judaism, different outshoots have emerged, Christian like services, Jews for Christ and so on. Even Hillel feels it is necessary to include a Christmas tree in the holiday celebration.

And then there is this: in a small, isolated community in Nevada where I work once a month, I befriended a lovely lady from Ukraine. I discovered her mother is Jewish, however she lives as a Christian. My friend lives as a Christian. I may be the first person she has met that lives as a Jew.

It is important to tread lightly here because it’s the individual that needs to decide whether to embrace Judaism, never mind that technically according to Jewish law, she is a Jew. Hitler would not have differentiated.

Like many of you, I raised my children in a predominantly Christian community. The best education to be had was in a Christian based school. We were truly fortunate in Opelika, Alabama to have a congregation-led synagogue available for Sunday school and community celebrations. My children went to Jewish camps. I, like most of my generation, made our homes the focal point of celebrating Jewish holidays with family. But is that sufficient? Probably not.

My oldest son was best friends in his Christian school with a child raised in Hinduism. Fortunately, it was not only being outsiders that brought them together, but genuine friendship. Paul was not spared experiencing antisemitism, thankfully curbed since he was well liked, and an excellent student.

My younger child came home one day from kindergarten with a note. Apparently, he announced in his class that there is no Santa Claus. This merited phone calls from irate parents and teachers about my little “heathen.”

Fast forward, 20 years, my adult children do think of themselves as Jewish, but will they live as Jews? Will they carry on the tradition? Who knows? What is the answer?

What I do know is that the more connections Jews have with other people who are Jewish the more likely they will continue to be Jews. That has been the truth in my path. My connection with Hadassah led to a friendship that inspired both of us to become bat mitzvah together. It was a momentous occasion for us. For our bat mitzvah project, we had established a new chapter of Hadassah in Auburn, Alabama that unfortunately failed after several years. In retrospect, we had too many “leaders,” not enough “followers.”

In my career as a physician, “tikkun olam” meant the repair and improvement of the lives of my patients. Hadassah offers me an opportunity to share in the mitzvah of “tikkun olam of the world” on a grander scale. When I visited the Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel, I was reminded that I matter, that I contributed, that I am leaving, along with thousands of others, a footprint for the future.

We must continue to strive for this personal connection, the one on one.

I believe that if we slightly refocus on the everyday needs of young adults, we may have more success in being more relevant to their lives. Young adults are more interested in what they can do now, not so much in the future. They are interested in friends, families, connections at work, and local causes which can be the same as Hadassah causes. Really, they just need a phone call.

As we approach Hanukkah, which literally means “dedication,” we remember that “a great miracle happened there.” This may be spiritually our most-relevant holiday in modern times, a reminder to rededicate ourselves to the needs of our people. There is a focus on the needs of society in Hadassah, maybe we need to take a step back and address individual needs. Let’s make “My Hadassah” truly that.

About the Author
Dr. Gwen Cooper-Simon is a member of the Hadassah Physicians Council and a Past President of the Hadassah Auburn (Alabama) Chapter. She is an established board-certified and highly skilled OB/GYN with 35 years of experience. After she completed her medical training at Emory Medical School in Atlanta, Georgia and OB/GYN residency at Sinai Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, she opened the first female OB/GYN practice in Opelika, Alabama. Dr. Cooper-Simon is a Fellow of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a member of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as the American Medical Association. Recently, she closed her private practice in January of 2020, and is now pursuing another dream of providing much-needed OB/GYN care to facilities in need around the U.S. Currently, she travels to Elko, Nevada every month to provide medical and OB/GYN services to the community. Dr. Cooper-Simon is an avid supporter and Life Member of Hadassah, of which she is a Golden Keeper of The Gate. Dr. Cooper-Simon is also a Founder, Past President and held various board positions with Congregation Beth Shalom in Auburn, Alabama. Dr. Cooper-Simon loves to travel with her best friend, her spouse Jeffrey. She is an avid supporter of various animal charities and shelters. She enjoys various hobbies which include painting, needlepoint, reading and boating on Lake Martin in Alabama.
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