Under the Myrtle Tree
1974. It was the year after the Yom Kippur War. There was a knock on the door. It was ever so slight. Then suddenly, we heard pounding! I looked at my roommates, mostly Christian teens from England, and I, an 18-year-old American Jew on a gap year prior to college.
I answered the door and the intruder said, “Bo, kol echad bo, achshav! “Come, all of you come, now!!” Although bewildered, we gathered a few things and followed the man, who introduced himself as Yaakov, a shomare (guard), on the northern kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch.
Yaakov asked, “Have you heard the gunfire in the distance today?” We said yes, but we heard it almost every day since we lived on the border between Israel and Lebanon. This seemed a common daily occurrence to us. Yaakov explained, “Well it’s more active today and since you are volunteers and not from Israel, I would like you to go down into the bomb shelter.” We understood and went.
We climbed down steps deep into the earth, noticing rooms which held food and beds. Listening to the darkness, we stayed in the bomb shelter that night for seven hours. I kept a journal knowing I wanted to teach someday and wanting to save and share the words and thoughts I was feeling now with others.
Later, we found out, upon leaving the bomb shelter, that no one was caught, but a severed fence with footsteps nearby leading into Israel and back again into Lebanon was found. We were told that it was most likely a suicide mission. Why, I questioned? This was my first trip to Eretz Yisroel, to my homeland.
During my year in Israel, I noticed small bands of soldiers in training visited the same museums I was touring. They frequented many of the same sites as did we. I was told that this is how young soldiers learned what they were fighting for, filling their hearts and souls with a deep love for the land of their people, my people.
1998. “Look how beautiful! Each having its own story to tell. Which one is your favorite?” I asked these questions of my son and daughter as we entered the Abbell Synagogue of Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, one of the two hospitals of the Hadasssah Medical Organization, the Jerusalem medical center of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America. We stared at the exquisite work of Marc Chagall…the gorgeous Chagall Windows. Here, in this world-renowned hospital, I learned that peace is sown daily as Jewish, Arab, and Christian doctors work side by side, saving lives.
As a life member of Hadassah since 1990, my heart swelled with love, hope, and pride as I learned about the miracles taking place daily in Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. How appropriate to house the magnificent works of Marc Chagall here, I thought. This, my second visit to Israel, was the occasion when we had held my son’s bar mitzvah ceremony atop Masada just a few days prior, allowing us to connect spiritually and physically to the thousands of years of Jewish history.
I had told my family years before that they would never completely understand who I am until they visit Israel and live the experience themselves. Now, in this hospital, we were sharing my past and present – living my passion through Hadassah.
2020. Growing up as a Reform Jew, I did not have a bat mitzvah ceremony. Yes, I had a confirmation, but not the religious ritual through which a young Jew becomes a Jewish adult. Today, on my third trip to Israel, a recent Hadassah Mission, I went up to the bima to become a bat mitzvah. I had an aliyah with others under the exquisite Chagall Windows, shining their sage old wisdom over all of us.
I felt rekindled, knowing my passion for tikkun olam, repairing the world, was heard and enveloped in this very room with these same people who I shared this moment. I know that education is paramount in understanding our troubled world, in building a bridge toward peace. Education brings Hadassah’s mission to life.
We have much to do to “repair this world.” War…and peace…as a Jew, my heart has felt both. Education, advocacy, Hadassah’s work in both areas shines the light on a hope of what can be. I feel blessed to be part of Hadassah’s mission knowing that in each trip, event, and contribution, I pass on the love of life through Hadassah.
“Hadassah” was Queen Esther’s Hebrew name and means “myrtle tree,” which is a symbol of righteousness and compassion. My hope and prayer is that Hadassah will help create a future where my children and grandchildren, my fellow Jews, and all those who share my passion for the kind of work Hadassah does and the kind of world its members strive to create, may lie under the myrtle tree in a world of peace, love, and prosperity.
Paula Mann is a member of Hadassah’s newly-formed Educators Council.