My meaningful Hadassah journey was richly embellished by my life’s journey. An early childhood education at a Brooklyn yeshiva undoubtedly set me on a path of Jewish exploration, love of Judaism and eternal hope for the newly formed State of Israel. One teacher I can remember, Mrs. Rubin, was so enthusiastic when talking of all things Jewish and of Israel it had to have rubbed off on me!!
As a young teen, I was aware of the active role played by my bubbe (my mother’s mother), Bessie Lesser, and my own mother, Mildred Lesser Dinerstein, as life members of Hadassah. Their actions and concerns were certainly not lost on me. As soon as I was old enough, I became a member of Junior Hadassah. At this point in time, I was attending public school so being with a group of like-minded girls was very fitting. As members of this organization, we were all delighted to participate in any way we could that would benefit…Eretz Yisroel. Camaraderie, friendship, kindred spirits… great times!! The Boy Scouts had nothing on us!!!
Even as a newlywed, I did not give up my devotion to the organization and I have even retained some flyers and memorabilia from those days (1974). It was such a privilege and an uplifting experience to be an active third-generation member! The most fun part was comparing the doings of our various chapters.
I began teaching ninth grade in Brooklyn. We then moved to Ohio near a town with a large, established Jewish community. I taught in the local community Hebrew School during and after regular school. In the mornings, I was a teacher at the Agudas Achim Synagogue for about ten years. During one period of my life, I taught at Shalom Torah in New Jersey for about fifteen years – first, sixth, seventh and eighth grades. All the while, I remained a member of Hadassah.
I have my MA in Rehabilitation of the Handicapped Child. My love of working with ALL children led me to teach in a variety of settings. Preschool, grade, junior high and high school….and one college course!!
My understanding of the difficulties women faced in all areas of society particularly impacted me since I saw it every day in my own schools. In Yeshiva, I was NOT allowed to learn Talmud. I was crushed when it was emphatically made clear WOMEN CANNOT be rabbis. As a high school student in Brooklyn, I was NOT allowed to take auto class (ONLY homemaking – ugh). I was NOT allowed on the swimming team. I was NOT allowed to join the local rescue squad. I was literally threatened out of Civil Air Patrol. My bubbe (from Odessa) was NOT allowed to practice her medical profession here…no women physicians in our hospitals then. A WOMAN Doctor, OY A BRUCH (Yiddish for “ what a curse.”)!! My mother A WOMAN LAWYER, OY A BRUCH!! Mom had to fight for her rightful place as an attorney in court. (There wasn’t even a bathroom for female lawyers). All law firms in the ‘40s and ‘50s were headed by men. Male law firms were NOT eager to higher women.
TOO many NOT’s!
In 1912, Henrietta Szold a woman with a vision, founded Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Hadassah sent two nurses to Jerusalem and, later, physicians and other health specialists to pre-Israel Palestine.
I was overjoyed when I learned about a woman named Sarah Schenirer who, in 1917, had the gumption to go against the tide and open the first school for Jewish girls, Bais Yaakov in Poland. Five of my granddaughters have attended Bais Yaakov schools here in the U.S. Schenirer acted on her vision… her “dream-come-true” school took off!! The power of women who do, as Hadassah’s appropriate motto puts it.
Henrietta Szold was instrumental in the establishment of Youth Aliyah in Palestine shortly after it was founded by Recha Frier in Berlin in 1933. Her goal? To help Jewish children leave Nazi Germany and resettle in Palestine during the Holocaust
To know that Hadassah was run BY women, FOR women, HELPING women and reaching out to refugees and immigrants was so heartwarming and so moving and so stirring. And, that so many children were benefitting from the hard work of women who DO.
The strength of character and resolve I learned from the challenging work, advocacy, and determination of these women made an indelible mark on my conscience…to act on your visions, to say what you mean…and don’t take the word NO too seriously!
My approach when teaching math to girls was to expect girls to do as well as boys. My approach when teaching science to girls was to expect girls to do as well as boys. My requirements for decorum in the classroom applied to everyone. Everyone in my classroom was equal…until and unless proven otherwise!
Every semester I made it clear to all my students that on the first day of school, everyone had an “A.” Students who had never had an “A” were shocked to learn that as of today, they were “A” students. Now, here’s the thorn: what they did with that “A” was totally up to them.
I had physical difficulties while teaching – impaired sight, impaired walking and impaired speech. I took these difficulties as a gift to my students. They had to learn patience, kindness and other valuable lessons, like being self-reliant, and working independently. They caught on speedily. A real lesson in chesed (kindness)…every day.
My “aha” moments of teaching occurred years later when some former students visited me to say that the life lessons which they learned from me in class had stayed with them to that day!
My commitment to doing what I can for our people resulted in my needing to be part of organizations whose sole purpose was to do for Jews. I was a member of ORT, B’nai Brith WOMEN, and NCJW and usually held leadership or service positions…and I am proud to have always helped whenever and wherever help was needed!
Thank you Bessie Lesser, my bubbe, Mildred Lesser Dinerstein, my mom, Mrs. Schenirer and certainly Henrietta Szold for lessons learned!! Women who had vision and despite all naysayers…didn’t take NO as a final answer. Imagine obstacles, told no, impediments, barriers and all sorts of negativity…but….DOing anyway!!
In life, there are all kinds of challenges, struggles, battles and visions. How we meet them defines who we really are.
Laurie Dinerstein-Kurs is a member of Hadassah’s newly formed Educators Council. For more information, please visit this link.