Jewish Journal


July 9, 2008

Hadassah convention to stimulate mind, body, soul


Nancy Falchuk

Nancy Falchuk

An overflowing plate of activities, from Shalom Yoga exercises at 6:15 a.m. to festivities lasting until midnight, will be served up to some 2,000 energetic delegates attending the 94th annual convention of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, in Los Angeles.

From Sunday through Wednesday morning (July 13-16), the downtown Westin Bonaventure Hotel will be alive with sessions, workshops and plenary addresses on such topics as current politics, the future of medicine, anti-Semitism, women's health, information technology, being green and, of course, Hadassah's numerous projects in Israel.

For diversion, there will be a drama on Jewish identity, kosher cooking demonstrations, Israeli films and music, a comedy show and an evening out for young members billed as "Girls Gone Wild in Los Angeles."

There will also be special sessions for a small male contingent, representing some 30,000 members of Hadassah Associates.

Hadassah was founded in 1912 on the initiative of scholar and journalist Henrietta Szold and today numbers 300,000 members. It has expanded from its American base to overseas Hadassah International chapters, which include men and non-Jews and primarily support the famed Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Big name speakers will address the session at various plenary sessions. Presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have been invited, but their places will probably be taken by prominent surrogates.

Two highly influential politicians, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, will join L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Knesset member Avishai Braverman and actor Henry Winkler at the opening plenary.

Other Israeli participants will include human rights activist Natan Sharansky, singer David Broza and biotechnology entrepreneurs Stef and Eitan Wertheimer, who will receive the Henrietta Szold Award.

High-profile U.S. political analysts will include William Kristol, Aaron Brown, Marvin Kalb, David Makovsky and Bob Shrum.

The academic world will be represented by University of California President Mark Yudof, Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Steven Spiegel of UCLA. Former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing and actress Jaclyn Smith will represent Hollywood.

Hadassah, like others, has been affected by the shaky economy and will look at possible cost reductions and savings, said Nancy Falchuk of Boston, national president. However, the organization's largest current project, a new in-patient hospital at the medical center in Jerusalem, is going full speed ahead. Dedication of the new facility is scheduled for 2012, marking Hadassah's centennial.

Hadassah continues to support its Young Judaea youth programs of one year of post-high school study in Israel, as well as three residential homes for children at risk.

In recent years, the organization has also focused on rejuvenating its own membership, with some success.

"At our last convention, about 20 percent of the delegates were under 40, and we may well exceed the figure this year," said Marlie Levin, national executive director, who grew up in Sherman Oaks and worked for five years at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Although pundits may brood about a post-Zionist era, Hadassah's original mission remains unchanged.

"We are classical Zionists, and we won't change," Falchuk said. "We are bound to Israel, not so much by political ties as through our love and concern for the people of the Jewish state."

Falchuk also expressed her appreciation to the host city, saying, "We are proud to have been invited by the Los Angeles community. We have a large membership on the West Coast, and the Los Angeles chapter is one of the jewels in our crown."

Most convention sessions are open to the general public through special one-day passes. For information on all program activities, call the Westin Bonaventure at (866) 716-8132 or (213) 624-1000 and ask for the Hadassah information desk or visit www.hadassah.org

'The Heart Has No Borders' -- Video from Hadassah International shows the work Hadassah does around the world

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