Miriam Edelstein
Communications Chair, Hadassah Lower NY State

Hadassah leader Miriam Edelstein recalls early days of Hadassah Rockland County

Hadassah members collecting clothing for Israel in the 1960's. Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Hadassah Then: Hadassah members collecting clothing for Israel in the 1960's. Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Hadassah Now: Hadassah Medical Organization personnel on the ground in Poland offering aid to Ukrainian refugees.

The year was 1963. We were finally moving into our new house in Nanuet. Before we reached it, however, a future neighbor ran out of her house and stopped me on the street. “You are going to a Hadassah meeting with me tonight,” she said. I couldn’t very well say no, since I wanted to fit in. And so, it started. The chapter name was Mid-Rockland. I was very happy to have these instant new friends, since as many as 150-200 people would show up for a meeting. Although there were a couple of older women, it was a homogeneous group. We were in our late twenties or early thirties. Most of us had young children and were stay at home moms.

Hadassah was a social outlet as well as a worthy cause. Everyone was eager to do their part. Charlotte Jacobson was the national president. Before long, I became very involved. Everyone in my family became a life member. The male members of the family were Hadassah Associates. My husband even joked that I should make the cat a life member. That is how devoted we were! My oldest daughter came up with an idea to make us a four-generation family (she was in high school by then). She called her grandmother to become a life member, saying that if she didn’t do it, she, my daughter, would have to get pregnant. Grandma took her seriously (almost), so she became a life member. We were all eager to have every Hadassah membership pin possible.

For Hadassah National Conventions, we wore our membership pins and chapter awards. One of our presidents put everything on a wide ribbon and wore it across her chest. She even told me that when my turn comes, I won’t be able to do that, because my chest is not big enough. How innocent we were!

In 1967, I was Membership Vice President. When the Six Day War broke out, I got 56 new members! Everyone wanted to do something for Israel.

Mid-Rockland, which “gave birth” to the New City Chapter and the Orangetown Chapter, doesn’t even exist anymore. We have been absorbed into the Rockland Chapter. Times change.

After being president in Mid-Rockland, I went on to be active in the Region. I had many positions, just like in the chapter, but the most memorable one was Expansion Chair. I was the one who created the North Rockland Chapter (sadly no longer in existence). I still remember parts of the inauguration speech I gave when the chapter became “official.” I said “Pru vrvu vmilu at Haaretz.” It means “be fruitful and multiply and fill the land.” I felt like I had achieved something. They were challenging times.

At one Hadassah orientation meeting prior to their creation, one woman said to me: “since you are such a macher in Hadassah, why don’t you do something to eliminate the words Wandering Jew (the plant) from the dictionary?” I had to think fast. So, my response was that the Wandering Jew is such a hardy plant, like the people it is named after, it can survive almost anything. It is really a compliment, not an insult for a plant to have such a name. That seemed to work.

Hadassah makes you creative. You discover talents you didn’t know you had. Many years ago, at a spring conference, the then Hadassah Region President Pat Paikin said to me: “You will find that no matter what you do for Hadassah, Hadassah will do more for you.” She was so right! Whether it is public speaking, writing, or just dealing with people—I developed them all in Hadassah.

I remember being so nervous before my first meeting as president. A friend taught me a little trick: look out at the audience and pretend they are all sitting on the commode with their pants around their ankles. Suddenly, they are not so intimidating anymore. So, you smile at the mental picture. The audience never knows why you are smiling. The rest is easy. Thank you, Hadassah! It’s been quite a trip!

For more information on Hadassah’s humanitarian role relieving the suffering of Ukrainian refugees, please visit here.

About the Author
Miriam Edelstein, Communications Chair for Hadassah Lower New York State, escaped her home in Poland with her family during World War II at the age of five. Subsequently, her family as imprisoned in Siberia before fleeing to Uzbekistan and finally, Sweden before emigrating to the United States where the family settled in Brooklyn. Her columns have appeared previously on Thrive Global.
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