Hadassah is moving forward, says national president

Nancy Falchuk, national president of Hadassah, exudes energy and optimism about the organization’s future, and is eager to move beyond that major financial hit experienced by Hadassah because of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.

“Yes we were hit hard as were other organizations and individuals, but Hadassah remains very strong nationally and right here in St. Louis, and we are very excited about our future,” Falchuk said last week. She was in town to address the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah, which has some 1,700 members, and which she described as “one of our strongest and most dedicated chapters.” She met with the Jewish Light over lunch with Joan Dennison, national director of Grassroots Fundraising for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and Judy Kramer, local chapter president.


Falchuk, of Newton Center, Mass. and originally from Woodmere, N.Y., has been twice elected president of Hadassah, which has about 300,000 members in the United States and several thousand more worldwide. Previously, she served as the national coordinator for the Development Division. She was a founding member of the Medical and Scientific Relationships for Hadassah, which has groups in over 26 countries around the globe. For more than 17 years, she worked for Hadassah International, traveling through Europe, South America and Israel, raising substantial funds. A trained nurse, Falchuk also co-founded the Hadassah National Center for Nurses Council and chairs the Hadassah National Center for Nurses Advisory Board, which was created to meet the special needs of American Jewish nurses.

“When I told my parents I wanted to be a nurse, they were shocked and disappointed,” Falchuk said. “What’s a nice Jewish girl doing becoming a nurse? There was a lot of anti-Semitism Jewish nurses encountered and it was a struggle.

“In addition to providing mentoring and support for fellow Jewish nurses, we have worked with Hadassah nurses in Israel to develop international nursing symposia on trauma, acute care and infection control that were held twice in Argentina, as well as in Venezuela and Mexico,” she said.

In terms of the St. Louis chapter, Falchuk said she is pleased with the diversity in age range among its members. “The average is somewhere around 39,” she said. “One of the wonderful things about Hadassah, and this is certainly true in St. Louis, is that you have an opportunity to see women of all different ages. We have a woman in our chapter, Marion Lipsitz, who is still very active in her 80s. She’s vibrant and she’s smart and she has wonderful things to say as do members of all ages and levels of experience.”

Falchuk says that the wide-ranging programs sponsored by Hadassah, including Hadassah’s hospitals, Hadassah College Jerusalem, Youth Aliyah, Young Judea “and our membership structure, all strengthen the Jewish people and Israel. Beyond our projects, our influence in defending Israel and promoting causes from stem cell research to women’s health to literacy, all grow out of the individual commitments of our members.”

Falchuk is proud of the breakthroughs at Hadassah because of stem cell research. “There were no restrictions on embryonic stem cell research such as those that were in place until recently in the United States,” she said. She pointed to the work of researchers at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, who recently announced successes in their efforts to treat and prevent the deterioration of retinas using human embryonic stem cells. Transplanted pigment containing visual cells derived from such stem cells have been successful in preserving the structure and function of the specialized light-sensitive lining of the eye in an animal model of retinal degeneration. The research team was led by Prof. Benjamin Rubinoff, Director of the Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center and Prof. Eyal Banin, Director of the Hadassah Center for Retinal and Macular Degeneration.

“The everyday work of researchers and physicians at the Hadassah Medical Center will save the vital functions and lives of millions of people world-wide one day,” Falchuk says. “This most recent announcement of using human embryonic stem cells to treat retinal deterioration is an awe-inspiring development. The medical world must keep their eyes on this exciting research.”

Looking toward the future, Falchuk said the major project for Hadassah will be the completion of the Sarah Westman Davidson Tower, “which will concentrate inpatient care in an environment featuring the latest in technological advances.” Planned for dedication in 2012 to celebrate Hadassah’s centennial, Falchuk said, “it will start with a 14-story structure with 500 beds, 20 operating rooms and a 50-bed intensive care unit. Our new tower will provide a therapeutic and empowering environment for patients and their families, with healing gardens, rooms designed to meet patient needs and a comprehensive resource center. Our ability to share knowledge and expertise with patients and doctors around the world will be enlarged and expanded.”