Hadassah Southern is described as a “far-flung” region, as it covers six states. Some of Southern’s traditions are different from our sister regions. We typically nominate an organization vice president (OVP) to serve for three years under the region president. After the completed term, the OVP moves into the presidency unless there is an extenuating circumstance.
There are other honors bestowed upon the OVP, such as delivering the Dvar Torah at the opening board meeting, organizing a region dinner at the international convention, and being part of the planning team for one conference.
I knew in late October 2021 that I would be one of the co-chairs for the Hadassah Super South Tri-Region Conference. Still, I was nervous at that time, wondering who would jump into the co-chair role for Hadassah Southern Seaboard and Hadassah Southeastern.
I should not have worried, as I hit the jackpot in terms of landing co-chairs. Linda M. Hakerem, representing Hadassah Southeastern, is always ten steps ahead on everything, plus she has loads of experience being part of the Hadassah National Assembly as a Portfolio Council member. Diane Bisgaier, representing Hadassah Southern Seaboard, is meticulous, organized and is also the epitome of a Hadassah go-getter. We had an introductory meeting on January 13, 2022. We had a full Zoom kick off meeting January 24, 2022, the day after I was installed as Organization Vice President for Hadassah Southern.
My introduction to Hadassah started at any early age. I remember visiting my nana at the Maxon Towers in Pittsburgh. My mother would stop by the Hadassah office in that same building to conduct Hadassah business. She did not hold an office, but my nana was still proud to be a Life Member of Hadassah.
My mother was very active in Hadassah. She was president of Carmel group in Pittsburgh and in later years, she was the president of her group in Boca Raton, Florida. My mother-in-law was a past president of the Hadassah Knoxville chapter and was a long-serving member of the Hadassah Southern Region board. My husband’s paternal grandmother was the first president of Hadassah Knoxville in 1927. His maternal grandmother was Hadassah Southern Region president and was named Honorary President of Hadassah Knoxville for life. Hadassah continues to do great work since its founding. The Hadassah Medical Organization is a “bridge to peace” in the Middle East, as the World Health Organization recently stated.
While I’ve held many leadership positions at the chapter and region levels, I had not been part of planning a Tri-Region Conference with a team of people I barely knew on Zoom and still lots of uncertainty about the Covid-19 pandemic. One of my biggest concerns was how I was going to join weekly daytime meetings.
Outside of the Hadassah staff, I was the only person on the team working full time with little flexibility. The team helped me make it work. We had meetings early in the morning or during lunchtime. The co-chairs would have meetings at night or on Sundays.
One of our first action items was to find a name for the three of us. There were previous co-chairs who were able to use their initials to make a cute acronym. It wouldn’t work for our initials. Our initials were a bunch of consonants. I sent the team 16 suggestions and The Dream Team seemed to rise to the top, better than the Terrific Trio or the Peachy Queens (think Georgia).
Hadassah Super South Managing Director Margo Gold was instrumental with her connections and charm in landing top notch speakers inside and outside the Atlanta Jewish community. Her programming ideas were varied and exciting.
One of our biggest challenges was to find the perfect hotel to meet our price point, space, and service demands. Robin Hyman, Senior Manager, Hadassah Super South Grassroots Engagement, rose to the occasion and made it happen with her incredible negotiating skills. Her partnership with the fundraising team and her attention to detail elevated the attractiveness of our conference. Robin helped make sure the chef used a teriyaki glaze on the salmon, as I knew that would be a crowd-pleaser. No one was disappointed!
Angie Gilstrap kept us informed each week with an up-to-date spreadsheet detailing registrant, roommates, raffle ticket sales and contact information.
Begoña Aldeanueva, Finance Operations Manager, and Faith Shatzman, Southeast Region Hadassah Treasurer, joined us for many calls to provide current financial information about revenue, expenses, budgets, and projections. Their support is greatly appreciated.
Lynn Gold-Benjamin, Super South Resource Chair, was our cheerleader. There were times when we left meetings with more questions than answers. Somehow, Lynn was a calming force. She offered The Dream Team support and encouragement to keep moving forward.
Gail Moskowitz, Conference Advisor was a pleasure to work with over these many months. Her advice, and ideas were spot on. She offered support yet was careful not to take control. She allowed The Dream Team to lead the way. Her planning and attention to detail kept us on track to plan the conference.
Our three region presidents, Michele Weiner-Merbaum, Susan Smolinsky, and Sharon Goretsky had one request of The Dream Team. They wanted us to focus on Advocacy as the theme for the conference. Because they provided such a broad topic, they offered us flexibility to present many interesting and engaging sessions such as: Women’s Health Equity @Risk, Building Intercommunity Relations; Evolving Zionism; and Getting Medical, Political and Personal About Infertility. Our overall theme was “Hadassah OUT LOUD: Raising our voices Together!”
The Tri-Region Conference was a Shabbaton as well. The ritual committee had representatives from all three regions. Roz Cooper, Marci Abrams-Feinstein, Sherrie Grunfeld, and Beverly Maurice planned the Shabbat morning and Havdalah services. Rabbi Jeffery Feinstein ushered in Shabbat with a selection of songs including “The Sound of Shabbos” (Simon & Garfunkel melody) and “Hallelujah.” His wife, Greater Atlanta President Marci Abrams-Feinstein baked delicious challah as another personal touch to welcome Shabbat.
I put together 30 spice bags with Besamim, cinnamon sticks and fresh myrtle for Havdalah. Sadly, we took a quick sniff and realized due to Covid-19, we needed to toss them into the trash. We didn’t need multiple people sharing the same bag and then holding on to them as a souvenir.
Hadassah’s 27th National President Rhoda Smolow inspired us throughout the weekend. Her opening remarks, “The Power to Heal the World Together,” was a great kick off to a weekend filled with topics about Advocacy. Rhoda welcomed the major donors and Hadassah Keepers of the Gate at a special “thank you” reception in their honor on Saturday night. She was a moderator, participant, and overall, a warm, friendly, funny, and delightful Hadassah star throughout the weekend.
Hadassah Grassroots Advocacy Director Lauren Katz shared her expertise with the Hadassah members on How Hadassah Advocates and How You Advocate. Lauren is also a fantastic Hadassah star. She was on the Infertility panel with Dr. Lauren Berman, Dr. Valerie Libby, Karen Grinzaid and moderator Elana Frank. Hadassah is pushing for Congressional action to raise awareness about infertility. There is a real need for affordable diagnosis and treatment as infertility affects one in eight couples in the US and one in six Jewish couples. I was gratified to see the women taking copious notes. I also heard several women whisper that they must share this information with their daughters.
The program, “Evolving Zionism: A Contemporary View from Young Women’s Perspectives,” was moderated by Samantha von Ende, director of academic affairs, Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast U.S. The panel included: Valerie Chambers, campus director of Kennesaw State University Hillel; Jenn Handel, director of Israel Engagement at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta; and Julie Katz, associate director of the American Jewish Committee Atlanta. They explored what Israel and Zionism means to the lives of young people.
Harriet Glasman, Hadassah Knoxville-Oak Ridge President offered the following feedback about this session: “Another discussion that really interested me was a panel of young diverse women who work with students on various college campuses regarding racism and antisemitism. It was very hopeful and uplifting to me.”
Bonnie Boring led the session, “Advocating for Yourself.” She walked us though stretching and breathing exercises. We had a chance to clear our minds and to be more present. These are skills that we will take home with us and use on a regular basis.
Each region had a fundraising and sponsorship committee representative. Joanna Rich, Susan Moye, and Laurie Sheinhaus worked their magic to secure sponsors to help cover some expenses. They solicited donations to create beautifully themed baskets for the Basket Bonanza. Knoxville-based Markman’s Jewelers donated a showstopper pair of John Hardy sterling silver earrings with Tahitian black pearls and freshwater pearls. Mary Evars-Goan made sure that just about everyone purchased at least one ticket in hopes of winning this wonderful prize. One of our fabulous photographers, Abby Goretsky, was the lucky winner.
Susan Smolinsky, President, Hadassah Southern, remarked, ”The Tri-Region Dream Team planned a jam-packed weekend filled with fabulous speakers and activities. In addition to the excitement of gathering for the first time since the Covid era, attendees gained valuable information. By the end of the Conference, attendees were armed with the tools to go back to their Chapters and initiate meaningful advocacy programs.”
One attendee stated, “I really enjoyed the Conference and got a lot out of it. If you can attend a future Hadassah conference, I highly recommend it.”
In planning this conference, it was our hope to end the weekend with a greater understanding of the impact we can make for positive change: advancing women’s health equity, combating antisemitism, and strengthening U.S.-Israel relations. We learned more about how to make our voices heard in Washington so we can advocate and act together for the issues we support.
Hadassah OUT LOUD: Raising Our Voices Together achieved our goals of educating, facilitating action, and inspiring collaboration. I am proud to have been part of this wonderful conference.