David Breakstone
Deputy Chairman of the Jewish Agency executive
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Confessions of a Hadassah Lady

Government inaction on the hospital crisis jeopardizes the future of American Jewish commitment to Israel

Because all of us stand with Hadassah

True confessions: I was a Hadassah lady even before I became a boy scout. Some of my earliest memories are of Hadassah luncheons hosted by my mother, a long-time president of her local chapter, a vocation she passionately pursued well into her eighties. I also fondly recall the opportunity she gave me as a young child to man the booths at the many fundraising bazaars she organized.

It was with a mixture of excitement and pride that I hawked the wares that through great effort had been collected from generous benefactors, doing my bit to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization mom proudly represented which would metamorphose into hospitals in a faraway country whose existence she has never taken for granted, and which, to this day, is at the very core of her being. There is no doubt in my mind that her ardent support for the Jewish state, and her profound commitment to the necessity of its survival forged by the catastrophe of the Holocaust played a major role in my own decision to move to Israel 40 years ago. My guess is that the position I now hold as vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization, with which Hadassah has long been affiliated, is also a result in one way or another of the Hadassah ethos which I literally imbibed with my mother’s milk.

I take very personally, then, the Government’s mishandling of the current emergency threatening the solvency and integrity of the Hadassah Medical Organization and its two Jerusalem hospitals. And I’m not the only one. There are some 330,000 members and associates of Hadassah worldwide who are confounded by the paralyzingly slow response of the Prime Minister and his cabinet to Hadassah’s entreaty to work with it hand-in-hand in resolving the financial crisis that has evolved over the past few years. And they are even more baffled by a proposal that has been floated that would entirely marginalize this preeminent women’s Zionist organization in the process of determining future policy for the hospitals that it singlehandedly built, with barely a thank you for the billions of dollars it has raised and invested in myriad undertakings advancing social welfare and health care in Israel.

I won’t attempt to confuse you with the facts and figures. Suffice it to say that for decades Hadassah’s hospitals have been overwhelmingly and disproportionately supported by overseas donations collected by its dedicated volunteers. Their unstinting generosity and absolute dedication allowed the Government of Israel to take unfair advantage of their altruistic spirit, a scenario that might have continued indefinitely had the rising costs of health care not overtaken the rate at which cash could be raised to meet the needs. That, and mismanagement about which Hadassah has been sounding a warning for years, has created a situation which requires that the government underwrite a recovery plan to which Hadassah is staunchly committed.

It is not only for the immediate good of the hospitals’ patients in particular, and Israeli medical research and innovation in general, however, that I call upon PM Netanyahu to personally intervene to insure that the budgets necessary to avert the pending disaster are forthcoming. It is for the good of Israel as a whole. For years now, the Prime Minister has referred repeatedly and vociferously to the Jewish people worldwide as an indispensable strategic asset in Israel’s struggle for survival and security. Now is the time to back up these declarations with action. To do anything less is to risk disenfranchising our closest allies.

Never mind the validity and justice of Hadassah’s claims; government inaction at this critical juncture threatens to dampen the enthusiasm of our staunchest supporters. Morality and fairness aside, this is something we can ill-afford when so many around the world are working to delegitimize the very idea of a nation state for the Jewish people.

Don’t misunderstand. I am in no way suggesting that Hadassah as an organization will retreat from its unconditional commitment to Israel regardless of the outcome of current negotiations over the future of its hospitals. Nor do I have the slightest doubt about the support of my mother, who just last week celebrated her 90th birthday. I am concerned, however, about the loyalties of a younger generation for whom Israel’s existence is assumed and thus less a part of their persona. Should the Government of Israel obtusely manifest ingratitude and indifference regarding the generosity of world Jewry, it may discover as the years go by that there will be fewer and fewer mothers volunteering their 10-year olds to man the booths at fundraising bazaars on its behalf.

About the Author
Dr. David Breakstone is deputy chairman of the executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the conceptual architect and founding director of the Herzl Museum and Educational Center in Jerusalem. He also serves as a member of the executives of the World Zionist Organization, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF) and Keren Hayesod. The opinions expressed herein are entirely his own.