Michelle Conwisar
Immediate Past President, Hadassah Southern California

How Hadassah’s Solidarity Mission to Israel Inspired Me and Gave Me Hope, Part 1

Hadassa's Solidarity Mission to Israel, January 2024. Photo courtesy of the author.
Hadassa's Solidarity Mission to Israel, January 2024. Photo courtesy of the author.
Michelle Conwisar and Stacey Maimin. Photo courtesy of the author.
Pictured left to right: Stacey Maimin; Barbara Sofer, Israel Director of Public Relations for Hadassah; Michelle Conwisar; Hadassah Immediate Past President Rhoda Smolow; Hadassah Past President Ellen Hershkin.
Hostage Square photo courtesy of the author.

This is the first in a four-part series by Hadassah Southern California Immediate Past President Michelle Conwisar on her visit to Israel as part of a recent Hadassah Solidarity Mission.

I was profoundly touched and humbled by what I experienced as part of Hadassah’s March 2024 Solidarity Mission to Israel. I was fortunate to take this trip alongside 35 Hadassah members and leaders from six different countries, as well as one of my dear friends, Stacey Maimin. Stacey and I have traveled together to Israel before, but we knew this would be a much different trip because our primary purpose was to serve as witnesses to the events that had unfolded there on October 7th. Now it is my privilege to share these experiences with you.

When I stepped off the plane, I felt a surge of nerves reminiscent of my very first trip to Israel 25 years ago, when everything was unknown and uncertain. I also felt a sense of calm and fulfillment knowing I was doing something significant by coming to our beloved Israel to show solidarity.

I experienced that familiar feeling of being “home” the second we landed, but once in the country, I saw and felt sadness wherever I went. Pictures of hostages were hanging everywhere. “Bring Them Home” banners were displayed on walls and buildings.

Our first stop was Tel Aviv at Hostage Square. It was heart-wrenching to listen to the aunts of pianist Alon Ohel, a Hamas hostage, tearfully recount his excitement about attending the Nova Musical Festival and then tell of his subsequent kidnapping. But hearing them and other hostage family members tell the stories of their loved ones solidified for me the Israeli people’s unparalleled level of hope and resilience.

Next, we traveled to Jerusalem for visits to the Hadassah Medical Organization’s two world-class research hospitals, Hadasah Hospital Ein Kerem and Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus. We heard from several doctors who shared harrowing details. Dr. Esi Sharon-Sagi, the dentist in charge of identifying bodies, told us how they were only able to identify brutally attacked bodies through dental records. Dr. Alexandra Satanovsky, a Hadassah orthopedist and a major in the Israeli Defense Forces, where she is Chief Surgeon for the IDF’s division in Gaza, described the challenge of orchestrating and maintaining medical care for the soldiers.

Particularly hard to hear were the accounts of the horrific sexual abuse these doctors witnessed and heard about. They apologized for even having to describe for us acts that we could never have imagined.

We watched a video of one of the volunteers, Shari Mendes, a volunteer who was preparing bodies for burial, in which she described what she witnessed:  “In a morbid sea of the awful colors of death,” she said, “the only ‘living’ colors to be seen were the polished fingernails of the young women.”

From this quote came Hadassah’s decision to spearhead a national social media campaign encouraging Americans to paint a single fingernail yellow to shine a light on the brutal acts Hamas committed against Israeli women and girls. Many of us painted our nails yellow while on our trip. (I still have yellow polish on my nails today.)

We learned from the head of the Hadassah Medical Organization, Director General Prof. Yoram Weiss, how Hadassah’s hospitals have treated over 550 wounded soldiers and civilians since the war started. Despite the many absent staff members who are serving in army reserve units, Hadassah is maintaining the highest quality of care.

As I write this, I am still processing all I saw in those few days. I’m still a bit numb. It will take some time for me to emerge from the heaviness of all I bore witness to. Hadassah’s Solidarity Mission was emotionally taxing, painful and unquestionably challenging. Our collective witnessing of the atrocities demands that we now shoulder the responsibility of sharing them with the world to honor the over 1,200 Israelis who have died and no longer have voices of their own.

I recognize that not many people would voluntarily fly across the world to enter a war zone, but I felt such a pull to show up for Israel—for the land and people to whom we Zionists are so bonded. I am very grateful to Hadassah for giving me this opportunity.

The Solidarity Mission is just one of many gifts Hadassah has given me. In fact, I give Hadassah credit for making me the woman I am today. When I accepted my first position on my local chapter board in Southern California 30 years ago, I found my Zionism and my purpose. Since then, I have worked with some of the most educated, informed and passionate people I have ever met and they inspire me every day.

To say I was born into a Hadassah family is an understatement. My grandmother, Hannah Finkelstein Glesser, served in Northern California’s Oakland chapter for over 40 years. My mom, Linda Glesser Morris, was a Hadassah member for almost five decades. She first served for 20 years in her local chapters, Oakland and Diablo Valley, then on Hadassah’s National Board for 25 years.

I was gifted with a life membership to Hadassah by my mother when I was 12 years old. Now I am the proud mother of two Hadassah life members, both of whom participate in Evolve Hadassah: The Next Generation, Hadassah’s program for young members, in their Hadassah Southern California community, making us a four-generation Hadassah family. With my family’s legacy of Hadassah involvement, I always knew I would find my place in Hadassah.

In Parts 2, 3 and 4 of my series, I will take you to the remaining stops on Hadassah’s Solidarity Mission. In the meantime, here’s what you can do to help Israel and the remaining hostages:

  1. Contact your elected officials: If you’re American, click here to find out how to urge your legislators to sanction supporters of Palestinian terrorists. If you’re a citizen of another country, tell your leaders it is not acceptable that innocent civilians from 18 countries are still being held hostage in Gaza by Hamas.
  2. Contact the White House. Anyone can do this; you don’t need to be a US citizen! And these appeals are tracked, so make sure your voice is heard! Call +1-202-456-1414 and/or email
  3. Contact Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at and demand he do more to ensure the return of the remaining hostages.
  4. Have faith. Whatever form of prayer you relate to, please pray for the hostages’ safe return. They were randomly kidnapped and deserve to be home.
About the Author
Michelle Conwisar is the Immediate Past President of Hadassah Southern California and a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. As a third generation Hadassah leader Michelle is honored to follow in her mother and grandmothers’ legacy. Michelle has held many leadership roles in her nearly three decades of Hadassah involvement. Currently she is a National Evolve: The Next Generation Liaison helping to expand Hadassah’s outreach to a younger demographic in local communities. Michelle is also the Vice Chair of the upcoming National Capital Campaign which will be launching in the near future. As a proud National Hadassah Leadership Fellow Alumna, a two-year leadership training program that she was selected for in 2016, Michelle credits Hadassah for giving her opportunities to feed her passions for Israel, advocacy, and fundraising for medical research. Michelle’s husband of 30 years, Phil, is a Hadassah Associate. They have two daughters who are fourth generation Hadassah life members.
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