My Hadassah journey began 46 years ago in Miami, FL. Just like so many other young women, I joined when a friend/neighbor invited me to be part of a Hadassah young women’s chapter that formed six months earlier. I was looking to meet other young women and have a social outlet. Oh yeah, I also wanted something to connect me with my Judaism and Israel. Turns out, Hadassah checked off all the boxes—and then some! After a few months in the Aliyah Chapter, I was asked to be on the board as Refreshments Chair. Little did I know that my life would be so enriched when I became an active member of the chapter.
From 1976 until today, I have been a board member of a chapter, region or National—generally all at the same time. By the way, many of the friendships I formed during my early years in Aliyah are still strong today. Those Hadassah women will forever be part of my extended family.
I was blessed with extraordinary role models/mentors from the Miami Region. Women like Linda Minkes, Diane Issenberg and Sylvia Herman took me under their wings and spent years inspiring, educating, motivating, and teaching me how to become an effective leader. Two experiences stand out in my mind. I went to my first Hadassah Convention in Atlanta. Attending this convention showed me that Hadassah was a much bigger entity than my chapter and region. I was in awe of the National leaders.
On day during convention, Sylvia took me up to the dais first to see Linda Minkes who at that time was a National Vice President and then to introduce me to some of the other leaders sitting at the dais. I was overwhelmed meeting these incredible leaders. In addition, my mentors took me to Hadassah House (W. 68th Street) and gave me the grand tour. I even got to go into the President’s office! I was so excited to see everything up close and personal I can honestly say that the woman I am today was shaped by the love and support of those three women. Through them, I was given opportunities that took me outside my comfort zone and stretched me in my personal and professional Hadassah life.
In addition, so many of the skills I learned served me well in my professional life as a teacher and administrator. I learned to be an active listener; I found my voice and became more assertive, and I honed my skills at being a successful leadership trainer. I had the opportunity to sharpen my organizational skills and realized that “attitude” affects everything we do. I learned that problems should be considered challenges since that term leads to being open to possible solutions.
Using all those skills, I “grew” into Hadassah portfolios like Region President, SUN Co-op Coordinator, National Mentor Chair, Organizational Liaison and Local Convention Chair for the 2002 National Convention in Orlando (while living in Miami), just to name a few. Linda Minkes and Diane Issenberg were always “there” for me with encouragement and guidance. I was never afraid of taking on greater responsibility because I knew they would be my safety net.
That’s my past but all my previous experiences led me to my latest region portfolio. One day about nine or ten months ago, Michele Weiner-Merbaum, President of the Hadassah Southeastern Region, called me with a request. She asked me if I would be the Southeastern Region Chair for the upcoming Hadassah Super South Tri-Region Conference that was going to be held in Atlanta September 9-11, 2022.
Michele recently said, “When our Tri-Region Conference was merely a glimmer in our eyes, we fought to be positive and overlooked the reality of the challenges we might have to face. Our Tri-Region Conference would be the impetus to bring us all together after such a long time apart.”
I had thought my years of planning conferences were behind me. After a very persuasive request, I decided to accept the challenge once again. I didn’t know my co-chairs from Hadassah Southern and Hadassah Southern Seaboard and had no idea if we would mesh as a team. In addition, I never worked closely with staff (in the “old” days volunteers had to do it all.)
A big “unknown” for us was whether, due to Covid, we would have women who would come together in person after two and a half years of Zoom or even if Covid would again spike and we would be forced to cancel. Talk about taking a leap of faith; we planned as if everything would be ok but knowing that some decisions would have to be made at the last minute.
We had a dream; that once again the women of Hadassah Super South would meet in person. We had a dream that we would bring together volunteers and professionals to plan a conference to inspire, educate and motivate our participants. We had a dream that we would have cooperation and support from all three regions. Our dreams came true!
An added responsibility for me was to be a liaison between the Host Chapter, Hadassah Greater Atlanta and the team. Marci-Abrams Feinstein, Chapter President, did an awesome job of putting together a large group of volunteers to help before, during and after the conference.
The Health Professionals Group took on the task of organizing the food for the Hospitality Suite. Besides snacks, delicious home baked pastries were provided not only by Hadassah Southeastern members, but members from the other two regions who were driving to Atlanta brought additional scrumptious pastries. The Host Committee stuffed conference swag bags, helped with registration, served as the welcoming committee, and generally helped make sure things were running smoothly.
Talking about things running smoothly, our Hadassah Super South staff professionals, Managing Director Margo Gold, Senior Manager of Grassroots Engagement Robin Hyman and Angie Gilstrap make sure that we were prepared and organized and ready to greet Hadassah women and all our guests. A huge “Todah Rabah” to everyone mentioned (and more unsung heroes) for all your efforts and diligence.
My qualms about what it would be like to work with Co-Chairs Diane Bisgaier (Hadassah Southern Seaboard) and Jill K. Weinstein (Hadassah Southern), and the Super South professionals were eased as soon as we began to work together.
As Diane, Jill, and I began our eight months of meetings, we soon realized that we brought different experiences and different skills to the table; however, this was a strength, not a liability. When asked to come up with a “nickname” for our team, we decided upon “The Dream Team.” It was a dream working together and I now have a true Hadassah sisterhood with my co-chairs!
Another part of the dream was hearing that Hadassah 27th National President, Rhoda Smolow accepted our invitation to be our Hadassah “star” and would be with us the entire weekend. Another coup for us, Lauren Katz, Director, Hadassah Grassroots Advocacy, accepted our invitation. Both these women had so much to add to our program and we knew they would enhance the experience for all our participants.
I’d like to give a shout out to Michele Weiner-Merbaum, Sharon Goretsky and Susan Smolinsky, our three Hadassah Region Presidents, for trusting, encouraging, and supporting the Dream Team all through the planning process. Our region presidents gave us the suggestion that the conference should be advocacy themed.
Very quickly, we came up with the title: Hadassah OUT LOUD: Raising Our Voices Together! We started brainstorming topics and speakers and gave Robin the task of locating a venue. We were impatient and wanted information quickly. Finding a hotel was an extremely difficult task. Many hotels weren’t interested in our business because of our budget. Other contenders had their staff on vacation, and we couldn’t get answers.
On the program side, after many meetings, we came up with the topics and then Margo Gold began reaching out to possible speakers. Again, we became anxious as the months went by, and we had vacancies on our panels. Finally, our anxieties subsided when Robin found a hotel that was thrilled to host our conference and worked with us on all our requests. Gail Moskowitz (our Conference Advisor) found three dynamic doctors for our Women’s Health Equity panel and Margo was able to entice incredible speakers for our other panels. The Dream Team was now able to deal with all the other details necessary for planning a conference of this magnitude.
Our conference started Friday, September 9th with each region having a Region Board Meeting. I had the pleasure to escort Rhoda Smolow into each Region meeting so she could say hello and talk for a few minutes—up close and personal. The women in the meetings loved talking with Rhoda and Rhoda enjoyed that personal contact. This was the first big in person conference since the onset of Covid!
The conference officially began with a beautiful, delicious Shabbat Dinner. Rabbi Jeffery Feinstein put us in the Shabbat mood by singing Shabbat songs and playing the guitar. The Dream Team said the Shehecheyanu, our Region Presidents blessed the candles, Gail Moskowitz blessed the wine and Marci Abrams-Feinstein said the Motzi which was very appropriate because Marci baked the four challot that we were blessing and serving.
Following dinner, Rhoda spoke briefly with opening remarks: The Power to Heal the World Together. Thankfully we were going to hear from Rhoda throughout the conference. The tone was now set for the conference.
After dinner we had our first session, “Taking the Lead is the Art of the Game” facilitated by Diane Taub and Deborah Wiskind, Hadassah National Leadership Training and Development Co-Chairs.
As Diane stated, “Deborah Wiskind and I were excited and honored to be invited to present at the Super South Tri-Region Conference. We were happy to present the leadership sequencing exercise called Zoom. As the exercise begins with basically no directions, it is always a little confusing. It engages and involves people, and it is always interesting to see who begins to take charge and organize the sequencing.” From chaos, leaders emerged and some comments in the evaluations were: “Communication is key to problem solving” and “Perspective affects how we look at things.”
Saturday morning programming started with Shabbat Services and then our first session: “Making an Impact: How Hadassah Advocates and How YOU Advocate. The session was facilitated by Lauren Katz, Director, Hadassah Grassroots Advocacy with the help of Diane Taub and Deborah Wiskind. Participants learned about issues that Hadassah advocates for in Washington and the process we use on the National, state, and local level.
Lauren introduced each region’s Advocacy Point People: Southeastern: Anita Otero and Anne Davis; Southern: Merle Borne and Southern Seaboard: Helene Schilian and Martha Woody and they gave an example of how they have supported Hadassah Advocacy. Comments on the evaluation form were extremely positive. Many people told us they loved Lauren’s enthusiasm and professionalism. One woman said, “Hadassah is doing more than I knew about. I am prouder of my involvement and need to do more.”
The remainder of the programming for Saturday and Sunday will be talked about in Diane Bisgaier and Jill K. Weinstein’s wrap-up articles.
Sometimes in life all the stars align, and everything works out perfectly. We had over 100 participants who joined us in person. Rhoda and Lauren were true stars, adding so much to each of the sessions. All our speakers were dynamic, engaging, informative and inspirational. People continued talking about the topics and speakers after the sessions concluded. Women from all three regions intermingled and had meaningful conversations. In addition to all this, the hotel meals were delicious and the staff friendly and accommodating.
The day after the conference, I received a note from Marci Abrams-Feinstein. Here is part of her note: “I have attended many Hadassah conferences and national conventions, and none have been as amazing as this Tri-Region was this past weekend in Atlanta. The programming was phenomenal, the food was fabulous, the speakers were superb, the topics timely and terrific. In fact, the entire weekend was Fantabulous. Being with our 27th National President Rhoda Smolow was the icing on the cake! I do not think there is a word in the English language to truly describe how wonderful it really was. Even the word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” doesn’t do it justice!”
Our beloved Hadassah founder, Henrietta Szold once said, “There is no ending that is not a beginning.” The Tri-Region Conference is over, but all our members returned home educated, inspired, and motivated to advocate for issues important to all women. They will bring to life our theme—Hadassah OUT LOUD: Raising Our Voices Together. Dreams do come true!