Although many — perhaps most — members of the Hadassah contingent that flew from Southern California to Israel last week had visited the country before, all called it “the trip of a lifetime.”
Joined by their Hadassah counterparts from across the United States and beyond, the 125 Southern California participants, including several husbands, children and grandchildren, joyously celebrated the organization’s centennial and attended the dedication of the state-of-the-art building Hadassah members helped build at the Hadassah Medical Organization’s Ein Kerem campus.
As individuals and in groups, the Californians had contributed gifts ranging from $18 to several million dollars. Several groups raised enough money to pay for patient rooms, which are $36,000 apiece. The ultramodern 19-story building features private and semi-private rooms, whereas formerly, Hadassah’s cramped older rooms had to accommodate at least four patients.
The three-day centennial convention, held in Israel on Oct. 15-18 as a way to contribute to the country’s economy (it was difficult to find a spare hotel room or make a restaurant reservation during the conference) as well as to enable delegates and their loved ones to see with their own eyes how Hadassah has enriched the lives of Israelis. It featured dedication ceremonies as well as tributes to Hadassah’s decades-long support of Youth Aliyah as well as the organization’s many other achievements. Banners in hand, the delegates proudly marched down the streets of Jerusalem, where local Israelis had a chance to meet — and appreciate — the Diaspora Jews who built and maintain Jerusalem’s largest hospital.
Once Hadassah patients and visitors learned why the hospital was decked out in balloons and wall plaques, many walked up to the delegates and thanked them.
The day before the SoCal delegates were scheduled to tour the new building, Nita Wiesenthal, president of Hadassah’s Desert/East region in the Coachella Valley, expressed the hope that she would be able to see the patient room donated by her group.
“We’re about to see our dream come true. For years, we’ve been hearing about the tower, about every floor as it was being built. Now we’re raising money to buy equipment for two patient rooms.”
While Hadassah is perhaps best-known as the organization that built a hospital, “It’s much more than that,” Wiesenthal insisted. “In the U.S., it supports breast cancer awareness and women’s rights through lobbying in the Senate. It runs a youth village for youth at risk. And we’re trying to get the word out.”
Lorraine Fox, a three-time past president of the Elana group in Los Angeles, said her first experience with Hadassah came at the age of 16, when she attended Young Judea’s Camp Tel Yehuda, which is supported by Hadassah.
“I’ve been a member for almost 45 years,” the Brentwood resident said proudly.
Fox emphasized that the devotion Hadassah members have for the organization’s program and projects extends to fellow members.
“My group has been wonderful to me. Twelve years ago, when my son was in a burn unit for three months and I felt too shaky to drive to the hospital, 30 women lined up to drive me 75 miles each way for three months.”
Fox’s son survived the ordeal.
Pam Pearl from Newport Beach attended the conference this week both as a delegate and Hadassah patient.
“I have MS [multiple sclerosis] and have been living with it for many years,” Pearl explained. As a longtime Hadassah member, and in the course of searching for an effective treatment, she learned that Hadassah Hospital is a pioneer in stem cell research and harvesting.
Just before the convention began, Pearl had some of her bone marrow harvested at Hadassah — for the third time — and expected to be infused with tens of millions of her own stem cells soon after the conference ends.
“I’ve come to love Hadassah, [but] I never thought I’d be benefiting in this way,” Pearl said. “The experience is hard to describe.”
Andrea Silagi, president of Hadassah’s Southern California region, and her husband, Moshe Silagi, were honored for their long-time work for the organization and for donating a cardiology critical care wing to the new building.
“We have literally walked the walk in our hard hats during construction together, and to be here with you now is so meaningful,” Marcie Natan, Hadassah national president, told the Encino couple. “We are truly blessed to have you as part of the Hadassah family, and because of you, we will continue to see amazing progress in the field of cardiology and health care in general.”
The couple’s daughter, Karen, quipped that, as a teen, she learned she had sisters named Hadassah who demanded her mother’s attention and were added to the family will and trust.
“I was a little envious but eventually realized that Hadassah was entitled to the time, resources and dedication,” she said, tears in her eyes.
Gazing at the family and friends assembled for the wing’s dedication, Andrea Silagi said, “We have worked so hard over the years together, and you have become like sisters.”
Katherine Merage from Newport Beach, another major donor, dedicated the new building’s Katherine Merage Pavilion, which houses indoor healing gardens, balconies and the hospital’s first intermediate care center.
The pavilion “is a huge contribution to the city of Jerusalem, the State of Israel and our daily healing activities. It is our pride that her name will last forever in Jerusalem,” former Hadassah Medical Organization Director General professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef said during the dedication ceremony.
Paying tribute to his mother, David Merage said, “It is for me a point of pride to stand next to my mother, who was a role model all these years. And the powerful women leaders who built Hadassah — I have never seen anything like this in my life.”
Merle Carter Propp is another delegate who felt compelled to bring her family to Israel. Seated alongside her husband, two daughters and two granddaughters, Propp said she has worked hard to share her love of Hadassah and Israel with the younger generation, especially at a time when many young American Jews prefer to devote their resources to non-Jewish causes.
“I was hoping it would touch them as it has touched me. I wanted them to see what I was supporting and why.”
Melissa Gottlieb, Propp’s 22-year-old granddaughter, said the centennial visit “was special” because “now I know what my mother, my aunt and my grandparents are doing for Israel.”
Gottlieb said the trip has motivated her to become active in Hadassah.
“Until I can donate my money, I want to give my time,” Gottlieb said.