It all comes together under a tree. The shade of a tree, the blossoms, and the roots, are symbolic of Mother Nature, various parshas, commentaries, and symbols reflected in stories, songs and prayers.
Hadassah is our organization’s current name. Originally known as the Daughters of Zion, Henrietta Szold and her group changed the name to Hadassah. That was in 1914. They adopted the name Hadassah, which is the Hebrew name for Queen Esther, of Megillah Esther, heroine of the Purim story.
Names are important for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is who the name represents that gives it significance. Sometimes it is the meaning of the word that impacts us. For example, let’s look at the parts of Hadassah. According to Chabad.org, the name Hadassah is derived from the Hebrew word hadas (Heb. הדס), a myrtle tree from the Myrtaceae family. The myrtle has a pleasant fragrance. Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edels, known as Maharsha, explains that since “man is like a tree of the field.” therefore the righteous are called myrtles, likened to a good tree with a pleasant smell.
So, in juxtaposing these meanings, we are akin to a righteous good tree with a pleasant smell. That description certainly aligns with various descriptions of Hadassah programs and accomplishments over the years.
To continue the Chabad connection, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, told the president of a local Hadassah chapter, an international Jewish women’s organization: Hadassah was the name of Queen Esther, who was not afraid to live among non-Jews and to show an example of how a Jew must be proud of his or her inheritance, and to live everyday life in the same direction, with happiness and much success.
Around the world, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America exists side by side with non-Jewish organizations. Our past and present presidents have issued press releases about continuing our work in the face of adversity and there have been calls not to cower, not to be afraid.
Hadassah members are strong women who are finding innovative ways to connect, advocate and become powerful leaders. And our supporters — women and men — make our impact possible, ensuring that our healing — in every sense of the word — reaches people who need it the most.
It is with an eye towards innovative ways and healing that I recently read an article in the New York Times, dated 4/24/2022, “Putting Down Roots in New York With Every Tree,” page 7. It caught my attention for a few reasons. First, because of the story of The Survivor Tree, associated with The World Trade Center. Second, because of my recent learning with The Forest School Teacher Institute, FSTI (forestteacher.org). Third, because I couldn’t imagine this person in the photo, Melinda Clancy, being responsible for planting each tree, individually, in New York City. So, onto reading the story I went.
Ms. Clancy’s job is one of immediate and long-term impact and vision. She considers the different soil and weather conditions in the five boroughs before selecting which plants to purchase. Carefully, she ponders the data as to how the trees can absorb stormwater and serve as sources of shade and air filters. “I think about how much shade a particular tree can provide 40 years out.” (M. Clancy, page 7, NYT, 4/24/22)
Her decisions will impact future generations, and that sense of future generations is integral to the mission and vision of Hadassah. Along those roots, there are connections between Hadassah and the Jewish National Fund of America, JNF. According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency, JTA, report of February 1, 1956, the JNF announced a special effort on behalf of Hadassah to plant at least one tree in Israel in the name of each of the 325,000 Hadassah members. At that time, the Hadassah tree-planting effort would be concentrated in the Galilee hills region.
Today, the connection continues with the Hadassah Shade Tree Garden at the Eshkol Resilience Center. Donations will support the Hadassah and JNF partnership in creating a garden for patients and their families at the Eshkol Resilience Center, located in Southern Israel, where thousands of Israelis are treated annually for PTSD.
Jump ahead to 2007 and Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s tree project in the five boroughs of New York, MillionTreeNYC initiative. Over the next eight years, there would be one million trees planted across New York. In November 2015, Mayor DeBlasio planted the one millionth tree. “I want to thank Mayor Bloomberg for helping us build a more resilient, greener city for all New Yorkers. This one millionth tree highlights what New Yorkers can do when we work together for the greater good of our city, and is a strong example of the impact that volunteers are having in and around our communities every day,” said Mayor de Blasio.
I echo that sentiment as one that applies to Hadassah. It is the work of and impact of volunteers that contributes to and enriches communities day in and day out. What is the Jewish connection to the MillionTreeNYC initiative? There were at least two, Michael Bloomberg and Bette Midler. What is the connection to the name Hadassah? Please read on.
How does the planting of the millionth tree relate to Hadassah? The connection is through Bette Midler, the Divine Miss M. In the Netflix show, The Politician, Ms. Midler plays a character by the name of Hadassah Gold. In addition, Bette Midler, who identifies as being Jewish, is the founder of New York Restoration Project. Since 1995, Ms. M. and her organization have advocated for neglected and forgotten spaces and been responsible for rescuing parks and scores of community gardens in underserved neighborhoods throughout the city’s five boroughs.
New York Restoration Project Founder Bette Midler said “There are now one million more reasons why New York is the greatest city in the world. Nine years ago, planting one million trees was a far-fetched idea. Today, we’ve done the impossible.
It is this impossible to I’m possible mantra that permeates throughout Hadassah. It is from daughters that became queens, from seeds that became roots and trees, from generation to generation, L’Dor V’Dor, that we can stand side by side, Jews and non-Jews, in the field of the righteous, among the pleasant fragrance and reach towards the sun.