Debby Mazon
Chair, American Affairs Advocacy, Hadassah

Speak Up! You Will Be Heard: How Hadassah Taught Me to Be Fearless

Photo of Hadassah Past President June Walker courtesy of Hadassah.
Photo of Hadassah Past President June Walker courtesy of Hadassah.
Pictured left to right: Hadassah Past President June Walker, Debby Mazon, Miriam Aron and Debbie Kaplan at the Hadassah 2004 Convention. Photo courtesy of the author.
Pictured left to right: Leslie Felner, Debby Mazon, Geri Lipschitz representing Hadassah Northern New Jersey at Hadassah Day on The Hill 2020. Photo courtesy of the author.
Pictured left to right: Debby Mazon, Debbie Kessler, Kathy Hershfield, Susan Glicksberg and Randi Cohen Coblenz. Photo courtesy of the author.

One most memorable highlight of my life came in 2003 when, as the new Hadassah Northern New Jersey Region (NNJ) president, I watched June Walker, z”l, a past NNJ Hadassah president, be installed as Hadassah’s national president. We in NNJ were so proud. June, a respiratory therapist and college professor by profession, had a rare blend of wonderful leadership qualities.

For one thing, I found her totally approachable — a very down-to-earth lady who could relate to all types of people. Some thought she was too much so — that, as Hadassah’s national president, she should maintain a more aloof persona. But June was unique. She never put herself on a pedestal though, at times, she had to stand on a small step stool to be seen at the podium. She was diminutive but dynamic.

At our first get-together for Hadassah region presidents, June greeted each one of us with a handshake and a hug. She encouraged us to communicate openly with her, telling us that we each had our finger on the pulse of the country. She also gave us a piece of invaluable advice: “I don’t mind if you come to me with a gripe or a problem, but when you do, bring at least one suggestion for a solution. Women should not be seen as complainers, but rather as problem solvers.”

So, we did. When issues arose, we presidents discussed them among ourselves and then brought June what she asked for—the problems we were encountering with ideas for solutions. Simple, yet simply transformative.

At that time, the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO), Hadassah’s medical center in Israel, was engaged in groundbreaking research on stem cells. Hadassah’s Dr. Benjamin Reubinoff was gaining international prominence for his work in the field. George W. Bush was in the White House and as HMO was talking about the promise of stem cells to potentially treat and cure diseases, President Bush was working to block federal funding for future stem cell research–even though its potential was phenomenal. So, what were we going to do? Would we follow June’s lead–identify the problem but also be part of the solution?

At our Hadassah national convention in Phoenix, AZ, in July 2004, June changed my view of how impactful we could be as individuals when we mobilized as a group. While at the podium in a banquet room filled with over 1,000 convention attendees, guest speakers and Hadassah staff members, June was asked, “What can we do to get funding for stem cell research?” Without hesitation, June told us what she was going to do. She took out her cell phone and asked us to do the same. She called the White House right then and there to demand federal funding for stem cell research. And so did we. We flooded the White House phone lines. If our elected officials had not known what Hadassah was before that day, they certainly knew now.

The national groundswell among our members started in that inspirational moment. June exemplified what it means to be a leader—to talk the talk and walk the walk, to stand up and be counted and to lead the way for others to follow. She didn’t worry about whether her actions would please the White House or if she would be invited to the President’s annual Hanukkah party. She stood up for her convictions.

On the heels of that convention, what was then the Hadassah Young Women’s department started a fundraising campaign called “Take a Stand,” which took off. In Hadassah chapters all over the country, members were discussing how stem cell research might someday help their family members to overcome Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer and infertility issues. They brought these conversations to their legislators, setting up meetings across the country to advocate for funding.

Here is an excerpt from one of the articles that publicized our advocacy efforts during this period (from the February 25, 2005, issue of The Forward):

Hadassah Pushing Stem-cell Legislation
By E.J. Kessler

In a move that is likely to bring it into conflict with Catholic and Evangelical Christian groups, the largest Jewish organization in America is launching a push for pro-stem-cell-research legislation in state houses around the country. Hadassah, the 300,000-member women’s Zionist organization, is bringing hundreds of advocates to the capitals of 47 states this spring to agitate for legislation authorizing state funding for stem-cell research, which scientists hope will lead to cures for many chronic diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and urged others to do the same.

Our next Hadassah convention in Washington, D.C., brought our members to Capitol Hill to meet with their representatives in order to continue fighting for federal funding of stem cell research.

My personal path in advocacy was clear. I realized that nothing was going to happen if we did not make it happen. If Hadassah were to accomplish tikkun olam (repairing the world), a core part of its mission, I knew I had to be vocal about the potential impact of HMO’s life-saving stem cell research.

I learned what it means to be fearless—to express my beliefs, to speak up and take action in support of issues that improve the lives of women, men and children in Israel, the US and everywhere.

When asked, I reveal my truth, based on my experiences as a Hadassah volunteer and a human resource professional, and on my personal life. At times, I don’t necessarily say what my colleagues prefer to hear, but rather what I think they need to hear. I have worked with so many amazing Hadassah volunteers and staff members from whom I have learned so much about advocacy. From time to time, they share how I have helped them grow. That, too, has become an integral part of my mission.

The issues threatening women’s health and well-being continue to multiply. The freedoms we previously took for granted are in great jeopardy. My mom, another exceptional role model in my life, would always say to my sister and me: “Why should women settle for equality? We are clearly superior in so many important ways.”

Mom was on the right track. People often struggle to find the time to do things they want to do. For the betterment of women, the time is now. Get involved. Do it for yourself. Do it for women everywhere. Join Hadassah’s advocacy efforts by making your voice heard and help us change the world.

About the Author
Debra Mazon is Chair of American Affairs Advocacy for Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA) and a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. Debra has been an active leader in Hadassah for many years holding varied positions including having been the Coordinator and Vice Coordinator of the Education and Advocacy Division. Her professional training was as a Speech/Drama/English teacher for which she was employed on the K-12 levels. Later in her teaching career, she received her Masters as a Media Specialist. Currently, Debra is the director of Human Resources for a medical sales company founded by her husband Richard. She and Richard have two grown sons who work in the company and four grandchildren, two boys and two girls. She is an exercise enthusiast and taught aerobic and step classes for many years and encourages others to work out for physical and mental health benefits. She lives in Emerson, NJ and is a past president of Hadassah Northern New Jersey Region.
Related Topics
Related Posts