Hadassah head says Annapolis was ‘positive baby step’

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Nancy Falchuk, national president of Hadassah, the largest Jewish women’s organization in the world, describes the Middle East Summit Meeting in Annapolis, Md. as “a positive baby step,” but adds, “much more work lies ahead, and there are many challenges, including the issue of Jerusalem, which is of great importance to Hadassah, Israel and the Jewish community.”

Falchuk, who became interested in Hadassah while attending her mother’s chapter luncheons as a child, was in St. Louis last week, where she met with the St. Louis Chapter members and leadership, community leaders and was interviewed by the St. Louis Jewish Light.

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In remarks to the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah members at the home of Tami Rosen Fernandez and Dr. Jim Fernandez, Falchuk praised the work of the local chapter, which she described “as one of the most active and accomplished nationally,” and took note of the coincidence of the 60th anniversary of the approval of the United Nations Partition Plan which made the creation of Israel possible, and the Annapolis summit, which continued to grapple with some of the same issues. Falchuk described the meeting as both significant and positive. “Not only were Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas present along with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but so were representatives of over 40 other nations, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and even Syria. The fact that Olmert and Abbas agreed to resume serious talks in front of representatives of over 40 other nations must be seen as positive. But it is only a baby step toward progress, and we all know that a lot of hard work lies ahead.”

Among the tough issues that need to be discussed, according to Falchuk, is the status of Jerusalem. “In addition to the peace talks, people do not realize that Jerusalem, as a city, is in trouble. There is increasing poverty and lack of education. Hadassah is the second largest employer in Jerusalem, and is committed to the stability of the city and its population.”

Falchuk, who resides in New Center, Mass., describes Hadassah nationally and worldwide as “an army of 300,000 dedicated women, with 1,700 of them right here in St. Louis. Think of how far we have come since a group of women in 1912, part of a discussion group which included Henrietta Szold, who had recently been ‘dumped’ by her friend Louie Ginsberg. Her friends urged her to make a trip to pre-Israel Palestine. That trip changed her life. She came back and told her study group what she had seen; she saw the need for children to get pasteurized milk, and saw kids with eye infections, the need for better health care for the community of settlers.

“The study group, which became Hadassah, decided to do something about these problems, and the idea spread from New York to Baltimore and then nationwide. The original group had $1,900 in the bank and 2,000 members. They wrote to all of them and asked each to contribute $l5, and the response was overwhelming.

“Now Hadassah is 96 years old and still growing strong,” Falchuk continued. We have chapters all across our nation and internationally as well. Back in 1947, when the United Nations approved the Partition Plan, a telegram was sent out to Hadassah members, ‘now our work really begins in Palestine; over 30,000 members received that telegram, which was sent collect. From the very start, Hadassah has understood the value of every dollar. Recently, we received a $75 million donation from a philanthropist in Detroit, which will be the new, state-of-the-art Sara Weizman Davidson Tower.”

Falchuk is originally from Woodmere, Long Island, New York, where she recalls hearing her parents and grandparents discussing the dream of a Jewish State in Palestine, and is grateful to be in a position to support both Hadassah and the State of Israel as realities. She told Mike Caputo in an interview with the Nassau Herald, “I always saw my mother and her friends doing very practical work in making differences in people’s lives. So that is what intrigued me. It wasn’t that people were just either talking or raising money, and that they were involved –they were educated and they felt they could make a difference in a land far away.”

Prior to becoming Hadassah’s national president, Falchuk founded the Hadassah National Center for Nurses Council, which is the first and only national professional organization for Jewish nurses.

In her interview with the St. Louis Jewish Light, Falchuk had high praise for local nurse and community activist Elsie Roth.

“Elsie did truly heroic work in both Ethiopia and Bosnia. She put her nursing skills to very practical and urgent use in both of these nations which desperately needed her expertise and skills. She is a perfect example of what Hadassah’s mission is all about –making a difference in Israel, in our country and around the world.”