While Henrietta Szold is best known as the founder of Hadassah to provide medicine to the poor and diseased in Palestine, she was much more than a Zionist. Szold became a role model for many American women for community service. She has been a role model for me in my professional work with Hadassah and I want to honor her memory during March Women’s History Month.
After spending several years setting up night schools to teach English to East European immigrants, Szold became the first woman to graduate from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. An unrequited love affair sent her to Palestine in 1909 at age 49, where she discovered her life’s mission: the health, education and welfare of the Jewish community in pre-state Israel.
In 1912, Szold, with six other women, founded Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA) which trained American Jewish women to become actively involved in their communities. Szold’s selfless example inspired these women to follow her philosophy that Hadassah members should be “active philanthropists rather than passive givers of charity.” This is where I come in.
Szold has had such an important influence on my life! Not only am I an active member of a chapter of Hadassah (B’not PWC in Palm Beach County, FL), but I am an annual giving officer for Hadassah. I know how important it is to have donors support the efforts of Hadassah, both in the U.S. and in Israel.
Hadassah women raised enough money to eventually build two world-class research hospitals in Israel. Through their efforts, Hadassah doctors eradicated an eye disease that results in blindness, trachoma, from Israel and set up prenatal and well-baby clinics.
In the 1930s, Szold organized Youth Aliyah, an organization that rescued thousands of young children from the Holocaust and brought them to safety in Palestine. Today, Youth Aliyah sets at-risk children from Israel and eighty foreign lands on the path to a successful future. Since 1934, over 300,000 young people have graduated from Youth Aliyah.
To secure donor support for Hadassah’s programs in Israel and the U.S., I must make sure that I have an excellent rapport with them. First, I always ask how they are doing. I take an interest in their personal lives as well. I let them know how Hadassah is doing. I discuss all aspects of fundraising with them to make sure I can answer all of their questions. I never make assumptions. I always acknowledge what they are interested in – whether it’s Youth Aliyah, Young Judaea, the Hadassah Medical Organization or any other Hadassah programs and initiatives. And I always acknowledge their preferences. I never force a conversation that they are not ready to have.
Recently, I followed these steps with one of my donors in Florida and successfully secured an annual gift for Youth Aliyah. I accomplished this through phone calls, emails, direct mail and “thank you letters,” our coffee chats and lunchtime meetings; all are important and diverse ways of connecting.
Social connection is part of what makes the human experience so interesting and complex. Our relationships with one another are part of what fuels our thoughts, our ambitions, and in many cases, our happiness. Social relationships are directly tied to health and well-being. In the age of technology and the internet, social connections are changing. No matter where you land on the negative or positive repercussions of that, it is a simple fact.
How we form and maintain relationships is different from all other generations before. Since I’m an optimist, I’m going to look at this positively! This means there are more opportunities to have relationships with people who don’t live near you, but who may be connected to you in some other significant way.
Throughout this pandemic, we continue to connect with our donors and volunteers. They have deep, emotional ties to Hadassah, sometimes multi-generational. I have talked to many donors whose grandmother gave to us, then their mother gave to us, and now they give to us.
My responsibility is to discern how Hadassah has touched their family in some practical or meaningful way. Perhaps our work at Hadassah has supported them during a challenging time. This personal connection is what drives their desire to be involved. One may not even be aware of these connections. That’s why it’s so important for me to get to know my Hadassah donors on a personal level. I have made sure to gather their stories and understand and empathize why they care about our worthy cause. I have done this through donor surveys/zoom calls, through social media engagement, through events, and by using our own donor giving platform to find out more about their giving history and connection to us.
I know that my relationships with my donors have empowered me in my professional and personal life. Hadassah has changed my life because my mother introduced me to Hadassah growing up. She was a nurse who took the ship from New York to Israel in 1948 to help the state of Israel and Hadassah Hospital. All throughout my childhood, I saw how much she gave as an RN, and I knew that this was in my “DNA”! I volunteered in so many ways growing up – through my synagogue, school and summer camp! It was an obvious path to my professional life today. So, I thank mom and all others who influenced me to give back.