National Hadassah leader discusses group’s challenges, future goals

Marcie Natan

By Repps Hudson, Special to the Jewish Light

Over the past two decades, Marcie Natan, 69, has worked her way up to the top of Hadassah (the Women’s Zionist Organization of America), where she has been national president for three years. She will step down in early 2016. Her tenure has coincided with challenging times to continue support of two hospitals in Jerusalem that operate under the name of Hadassah Medical Center. 

The precursor of the first, on Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem, was established a century ago and became billed as a bridge to other ethnic and religious groups, including Arabs. The second, in West Jerusalem, is in Ein Kerem as part of Hebrew University’s west campus. 

Natan will be in St. Louis on Sunday as featured speaker at a St. Louis Chapter Hadassah dinner event titled “Framing the Future III.” 

The Jewish Light interviewed her recently by phone from her home in New York City. 

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What brings you to St. Louis?

One of the greatest privileges I have is to visit local chapters. They are the real body of the 330,000 members of Hadassah. We have representatives in every congressional district.

What’s your message?

That varies to some extent with the chapters. I will focus on the hospitals (in Jerusalem). I want to talk about empowering women, on focusing on treatment of breast cancer and on the importance of staying connected with Israel and how women should be able to speak appropriately and knowledgeably today about the situation in Israel.

Is Hadassah having trouble recruiting new members among younger women?

Membership is always a challenge. Today’s younger women – take my daughter, as an example – have complicated lives, with kids to raise, jobs and all of that. Over the past several years, we have created new vehicles for women to join Hadassah without having to go to meetings. We have e-memberships and things like chat rooms for women who do not have time to participate in meetings.

It’s always a challenge to keep members involved. We have more of a focus on advocacy today. Young women are anxious to have their voices heard. When we go to Congress, for example, our voice is very powerful.

How do you get younger Jewish women excited about Israel and Hadassah?

That’s our biggest challenge. We are trying to find ways to have affordable trips to Israel. When you go, when you see it and feel the country and interact with the citizens there, that’s so important. We see bringing young people to Israel as a crucial goal of our organization. When they come back, there is no question. They get it. That’s what it takes, taking them to Israel, giving them the understanding.  

You went through some rough times with the recession and the Bernie Madoff scandal. Hadassah took a big hit, didn’t it? The hospital went into bankruptcy. 

Hadassah is like every other organization in that time. Madoff is in the past. We have streamlined. We have cut back our staff. We are in a rebuilding mode. We have negotiated an agreement with the government of Israel. For the first time, a privately owned hospital will receive support from the government. We will receive 2 billion shekels ($560 million) in support.  It’s very meaningful and unique. We remain the owner, and we remain in control. We are a partner with the State of Israel. It’s been a very challenging period.

What are your goals over, say, the next five to 10 years?

Our immediate goal is to finish rebuilding the [Sarah Wetsman] Davidson [Hospital] Tower at the facility at Ein Kerem. It should be finished next year. 

We want to increase the involvement of younger women. One example of our kind of advocacy and empowerment of women is to call attention and help in the research of heart disease. It’s the No. 1 killer of women. We want to improve financial literacy of women to give them a better handle on their worth. We want them to be able to take control and understand their financial situation. We have started a leadership program for women. We are trying to reach people, to be connected somehow.  

Anything you’d like to add?

Our hospitals treat everyone. When politicians and visitors go through the door, they see what we do. We don’t stage it. They see Ethiopians, Russians, the French, Arabs. The patients in the rooms are the same. We treat them all. We know there are those who question our commitment to treating all, but we do it.