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Healing the fractious divide

As it celebrates its 100th birthday, Hadassah continues in its work to strengthen the Jewish people and promote friendship and cooperation between Jews and Arabs

Next month, on a hilltop in Ein Kerem, the doors will open to the newest addition to the Jerusalem skyline. Visitors will enter through an atrium of glass and steel, feel the warmth of sunlight passing through a filtered solar shading system, and experience the restorative powers of an indoor healing garden.

This is the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower at Hadassah Medical Center, a 19-floor, ultra-modern medical facility and the most ambitious building project Hadassah has undertaken in decades. The new facility, which thousands of Hadassah members together will formally dedicate at our centennial celebration in October, will vastly expand our ability to do what Hadassah has always done: Provide compassionate, expert care to all patients. The first patients will move in March 19.

But it also represents the continuation of a 100-year-old legacy of faith in the promise of Israel’s tomorrow. Since two American nurses unfurled the Hadassah banner outside a Jerusalem medical clinic in 1912, more than three decades before Israel’s establishment, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America has not waited for the future — we have built it. For more than a century, through five wars, two intifadas, and a stream of traumas both national and personal, our doctors have treated the bodily wounds of Israelis and their neighbors — and in so doing, have helped heal a nation’s soul.

Generations of Hadassah women are justifiably proud of the first-rate medical system we have built. But Hadassah has always been more than a hospital. In an often besieged part of the world, Hadassah is a beacon of hope, a symbol of our common humanity. We couldn’t be prouder or feel more privileged to be living out the dreams of generations who envisaged a Jewish homeland in Israel.

Hadassah remains among the few places in the Middle East where the religious and the secular, women and men, Jews, Christians and Muslims, are not only treated equally, but also frequently find themselves side by side, joined by the common threat of a shared illness — and the common hope of a cure. And at a time when Israeli women are finding their public roles under sustained assault, Hadassah — among the largest women’s organizations in the world — remains a potent force for women’s health, education and empowerment.

In the state-of-the-art operating theaters and treatment rooms of Hadassah medical facilities, national, religious and racial differences melt away. It was a Hadassah obstetrician, Dr. Yuval Gielchinsky, who used laser surgery to separate the blood vessels of a pair of Palestinian twins while still in utero in December. Side by side, Jewish and Arab Hadassah physicians have performed life-saving organ transplants from Jewish donors to Palestinian recipients — and vice versa.

Hadassah’s health center in the Arab village of Abu Ghosh makes breast care even more accessible to Arab women. And our staff has provided compassionate and skillful care not only to members of Israel’s multiplicity of diverse religious communities, but to citizens of countries whose governments do not even recognize the Jewish state — and in some cases remain at war with it. Hadassah’s hospitals in Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus might as well be Switzerland.

As a prominent Palestinian public relations executive wrote recently in an Israeli newspaper, the “Hadassah model” serves as a rare and potent model of coexistence in a war-torn region. “The Jewish doctors and nurses never gave me a feeling of being different or discriminated against,” he wrote. “At Hadassah, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

But Hadassah’s pioneering work is not just in building a strong and healthy Israel, but in nurturing it as a caring and ethical society. This objective is pursued not only through programs that assist at-risk youth, or integrate new immigrants, or develop strong Jewish commitments among Diaspora youth. It is embedded in the very fabric of Hadassah’s ways.

For 100 years, this has been our mission. And that mission remains as vital as ever, especially this week, as we bring in Shabbat 100 years to the day in the very spot where Henrietta Szold first came up with the ideas that would become Hadassah, Temple Emanu-El in New York.

As we mark our 100th birthday this year, the 300,000-plus women of Hadassah are laying the foundation for our next century, streamlining our governance, benefiting from the limitless reach of social media, and developing a new strategic plan.

But ultimately, what animates our activities today and will guarantee our future is a commitment to the values exemplified by our founder, Henrietta Szold. The night school she established in Baltimore to teach English to new immigrants — the first of its kind in America — was attended by Jews and non-Jews alike. She was a leader in efforts to promote friendship and cooperation between Jews and Arabs. But most of all, she was a woman who dreamed big.

We carry that ambition with us today as we complete our new tower and continue the vital work of strengthening the Jewish people, both in Israel and the Diaspora. Szold believed that unity among the inhabitants of the Holy Land held the key to Jewish survival. That remains true today. As we look forward to our next century of practical Zionism, Hadassah remains committed to building an Israel that is healthy not just in body, but in spirit.

About the Author
The author is National President of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America