Calendar: March 10-16, 2017



cal-casablancaNoah Isenberg and Monika Henreid discuss Isenberg’s new book, “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie.” Its focus is the award-winning film that was released in 1942 featuring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and a memorable supporting cast. Isenberg, a film historian, reveals the myths and realities behind “Casablanca’s” production. Through extensive research and interviews with filmmakers, film critics, family members of the cast and crew, and die-hard fans, Isenberg reveals why the film remains so revered. He also focuses on the major role that refugees from Hitler’s Europe played in the production (many cast members were immigrants). The book is filled with fresh insights into “Casablanca’s” creation, production and legacy. 3 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.



Shalom Hanoch and Moshe Levi perform their final show in the United States. 8 p.m. $100. The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills.



cal-born-survivorsWendy Holden chronicled the stories of three young mothers who were torn from their families by the Nazis in her powerful book “Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope.” The three women were strangers, but all a few months pregnant and in need of help to keep it a secret from their Nazi captors. Despite the odds, they all defied death to give their children life. Meet one of the Holocaust survivors, Hana Berger Moran. 7:30 p.m. Free; registration required at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 556-3222.



cal-david-wolpeAs the debate over Israel rages on across college campuses and in living rooms throughout the United States, is “Zionist” still a term of support for Israel, or is it now a loaded term? How do younger Americans interpret “Zionism”? Join the Jewish Journal and Hadassah’s Defining Zionism program as we explore how tomorrow’s leaders are thinking about and engaging with the Jewish state, and how their relationship with Israel differs from that of previous generations. Moderated by Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Sarah Bassin; 30 Years After co-founder Sam Yebri; and Jewish Journal staff writer Eitan Arom. 7 p.m. $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.


How does our Jewish tradition understand the concept and practice of mercy and how do we live up to this ideal, which is one of the highest qualities we look for in a human being? Rabbi Steven Silver will discuss “Catholic and Jewish Concepts of Forgiveness.” After lunch, there will be a screening of “Stolen Summer,” a Project Greenlight film about a young Catholic boy who goes on a quest to help a dying Jewish friend get into heaven. 11 a.m. $14; $12 for members. The Rosenberg Cultural Center at Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444.


Harkham-GAON Academy (at the Westside Jewish Community Center) is hosting this event for high school juniors and seniors to gain insight into Jewish life opportunities at college campuses across the country. The event will include a panel of experts on Jewish life at college with the opportunity to ask questions. You will also hear about challenges Jewish college students face. 6:30 p.m. Free. Harkham-GAON Academy, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 556-0663.


In response to the recent wave of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers nationwide, and the vandalism at multiple Jewish cemeteries across the country, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will hold a town hall addressing security issues at Jewish sites. Los Angeles Police Department officials and senior representatives from the FBI will speak. 5 p.m. RSVP required at; no walk-ins. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.



cal-FabrizioLelliFabrizio Lelli will discuss the extraordinary spiritual rebirth of contemporary Judaism by comparing it with other intellectually significant phases of Apulian Judaism in the past. Lelli studies the history of Apulian Jewish culture, concentrating on written and oral testimonies of former Jewish refugees who were in transit camps in the region of Apulia. Lelli teaches at the University of Salento in Italy. Sponsored by UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. 4 p.m. Free. Pre-registration required at or (310) 267-5327. UCLA, 314 Royce Hall, Los Angeles.

Hadassah taps new national president

Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America has elected Ellen Hershkin, currently a national board member, as its new national president.

Hershkin, of Dix Hills, N.Y., was elected the group’s 26th president on Monday at its annual meeting in Philadelphia.

She will succeed Marcie Natan, the president since 2011 whose term ends Dec. 31. Under Natan’s leadership, the historic agreement between the government of Israel, Hadassah Medical Organization and Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America was negotiated.

Hershkin has been a member of the 300,000-member organization for 42 years, and has served on Hadassah’s national board and executive committee. She has been a national vice president and secretary, and served as the national coordinator or chair for several departments.

She also is a former board member of the Jewish National Fund and the United Israel Appeal Board.

Hershkin studied speech and education at Hofstra University and Jewish studies through a program of the Melton School of Jewish Education/Hebrew University. She was a travel consultant for 20 years and specialized in Israel travel.

Ex-Hadassah chapter treasurer sentenced for theft

A suburban Chicago woman who stole $21,000 from a Hadassah chapter she served as treasurer was sentenced to two years of probation.

Rozann Morowitz, 68, of Wheeling, Illinois, paid back the money she took from the Buffalo Grove Hadassah chapter when she was treasurer from 2011 to 2013. She paid $16,000 in restitution when she pleaded guilty in June and the remaining $5,000 on Monday in court.

Morowitz was ordered by the court not to have no further contact with the group.

She wrote 86 checks from the charitable organization that she cashed for personal expenses such as a trip to Florida, the Chicago Tribune reported, citing Cook County prosecutors. She had a prior theft conviction in California.

Bernice Tannenbaum, longtime Hadassah and Zionist leader, dies at 101

Bernice Tannenbaum, a former national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America who earned the group’s highest honor for her legacy of contributions, has died.

Tannenbaum, a former JTA vice president and national secretary, died Monday. She was 101.

She joined Hadassah in 1944 and became its national president in 1976, serving until 1980. Tannenbaum initiated the organization’s practice of periodically holding its annual convention in Israel, convening the first such Jerusalem gathering in 1978. She also launched Hadassah’s first strategic planning initiative, resulting in key structural changes.

She served as chair of the Hadassah Medical Organization from 1980 to 1984. In 1983, she founded Hadassah-International, which is now represented in 21 countries. She served as international coordinator of Hadassah International for 10 years.

As chair of the American Section of the World Zionist Organization, Tannenbaum spearheaded the U.S. campaign for repudiation of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism, which came to a successful conclusion with its repeal in 1991. In 2000, she played a central role as spokeswoman for Hadassah’s successful campaign to achieve NGO consultative status at the U.N. Economic and Social Council.

She was co-president of the World Confederation of United Zionists for 15 years, then honorary president. She served as vice president and national secretary of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, vice president of the United Israel Appeal and national vice president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

In 2003, Tannenbaum received Hadassah’s highest honor, the Henrietta Szold Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service, and in 2009 the Hadassah Foundation established the Bernice S. Tannenbaum Prize, which recognizes innovative contributions to advance the lives of women and girls in Israel and the United States.

“We mourn the loss of a great leader not only of Hadassah but of the Jewish people,” said Marcie Natan, Hadassah’s current national president. “Bernice was one of the most beloved and productive Hadassah figures of the past half century. She was a tower of strength and a fount of wisdom. The legacy of accomplishment and inspiration that she leaves is immeasurable.”

Tannenbaum studied at Brooklyn College, earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature and art.

Ruth Popkin, Hadassah past national president, dies at 101

Ruth Popkin, who served as national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, from 1984 to 1988, passed away on Friday, January 2, 2015 at the age of 101.

“We have lost a leader of great dignity and accomplishment,” said Marcie Natan, Hadassah’s current national president. “Ruth was a pillar not only of Hadassah but also of the Zionist movement. We are grateful for her years of dedication, her passion for Israel and the example she set.”

During Mrs. Popkin’s presidency, Hadassah’s projects in Israel made advances that are still felt today. At the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, high technology gained momentum, reaching new frontiers in imaging and lasers, in transplant surgery and genetic engineering. Youth Aliyah took in its first wave of students from Ethiopia—students who were later helpful in absorbing a much larger wave of olim in the early 1990s. In America, Hadassah pressed forward in the struggle to repeal the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism—a campaign that came to a successful conclusion in 1991.

Prior to serving as national president, Mrs. Popkin had served as chair of the Hadassah Medical Organization. Among the other programs, projects and departments she chaired during more than 60 years of service to Hadassah were Youth Aliyah, Youth Activities, Fundraising and Purchasing and Supplies for Israel.

One of the things for which Mrs. Popkin is most remembered is serving as co-chair of Hadassah’s first National Convention in Israel, in 1978. Dubbed the “Convention Without Walls,” it was attended by more than 3,000 delegates who were transported on 65 buses to meetings and special events all over the country. She also served as co-chair of Hadassah’s 1977 convention in New York.

Mrs. Popkin was also active on the broader stages of the Jewish community and the Zionist movement. In 1987, she was elected Chair of the Presidium and President of the World Zionist Congress, the first woman ever to hold those positions. She served as a Hadassah delegate to seven Zionist Congresses, from 1966 to 2002.

Immediately after her presidential term at Hadassah, she served as president of the Jewish National Fund (1989-93).

Mrs. Popkin served as vice president of the National Jewish Community Relations Council (NJCRAC). She also held positions on the boards of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Zionist Movement, American Israel Friendship League, American Friends of the Hebrew University, United Jewish Appeal, Israel Bonds and Temple Israel of Great Neck. She participated in Hadassah study missions to the Soviet Union in 1966 and China in 1979. She returned to the Soviet Union in 1988 as part of a special mission to visit refuseniks.

Ruth Popkin was born Ruth Willon in Brooklyn. She studied philosophy at Brooklyn College and once worked as a buyer of coats and suits for Stern’s Department Store. In 1939, she married Morris Popkin.

Mrs. Popkin joined Hadassah in Brooklyn, where she was president of the Judith Group. After moving to Great Neck, Long Island, she served as president of the Great Neck Chapter and later of the Nassau Suffolk Region.

Along with her husband, who died in 1979, Mrs. Popkin was a major donor to Hadassah. The Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine has a Ruth and Morris Popkin Chair in Health Administration. There is also a stone-paved mall on the campus of the Hadassah Medical Center named for Morris Popkin. The dining room at the Hadassah Neurim Youth Village is named for Mrs. Popkin.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Popkin was also predeceased by her daughter, Vicki Popkin. She is survived by her daughter Louise Popkin, son and daughter-in-law Michael and Lisa Popkin, and two grandchildren.

The language of pleading eyes: A Mother’s Day story

“The music of his life suddenly stopped.” So reads a line in Chaim Nachman Bialik’s powerful poem, “After My Death.” 

My mother’s music suddenly stopped 30 years ago, but she is still alive.

At the age of 53, Elaine Wolpe, a university administrator, fundraiser and — most taxing — mother of four boys, suffered a stroke, a cerebral hemorrhage. Since that time, she has been almost unable to speak.  

Before her stroke, my mother was the emotional center of a voluble and intellectual family. A president of the local Hadassah, active in a variety of community events, a rebbetzin in a large synagogue, her most adroit diplomacy was mealtime management. At our table, especially when we had others over to dinner, we (the four boys and my moderating father) would quip, argue, try to outdo each other, make heroic efforts to make the others laugh (special points if their mouths were full), and my mother would remind us to be kind to the hapless guests. Trained as a teacher, she taught each of us to read when we were small, and she made our dinner herself, despite volunteer commitments, every single night.  

This is not to say she was never sharp-tongued herself. Once my older brother Paul brought a girlfriend home from college. In the middle of dinner, he reminded my mother that she had promised to get him an electric blanket for the cold Philadelphia winter nights. Arching her eyebrow (my mother had eloquent eyebrows) she looked at my brother’s girlfriend and asked, “Do you want dual controls on that?”

I was in rabbinical school when everything changed. My mother screamed out my father’s name, collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. She spent weeks in a coma, then awoke. After an extended vigil in intensive care, she was periodically alert.  Her right side was immobile, and although she could make sounds, she could not really speak. It was as if her spirit was in there, trying to emerge, yet unable to force its way through. Her soul kept bumping up against walls it could not see, like a firefly in a glass jar. 

In time, we brought her home. Progress was slow. There were other effects of her stroke: emotionality that resulted in tremendous rage; the bewilderment of being betrayed by her own body. But those agonies were small compared to her inability to explain what she felt, to give voice to what was going on inside. Expressive aphasia impairs or destroys the ability to speak and process language. Syntax is garbled, the wrong words present themselves, simple expressions are mislaid in the mind and cannot be retrieved.

Occasionally, a word would emerge to explain the horror of her condition. Early on, after a good deal of struggle, she managed to pronounce something she had been trying to say for some time: “Prison.” She repeated it again and again with a sort of mantric regularity. Prison. Prison. Prison. 

Prison alternated with a nonsense word, a common symptom among victims of expressive aphasia. For almost a year, “kisskove” served as the catch-all for anything she wished to say. In moments of tenderness or fury, when words are just whips we use to lash or the cords we use to draw close, kisskove served as well as any other.

From left:  Gerald; Elaine, holding baby Danny, Paul; Steve; and David in a Wolpe family portrait. circa 1965.

Realizing at times just how wearying it could be on everyone to hear the same sound, my mother herself would make fun of it, raising and lowering her voice, wringing a few laughs from a situation at once tragic and absolutely ludicrous.  Gradually, over time, the word became less frequent, and then disappeared altogether.

Isolation became etched into my mother’s expression. Surrounded by those she loved, she was alone.  Hers is the language of pleading eyes. So often, we simply could not understand. The words of Rabbi Hama Ben Hanina in the Talmud proved apt: “God’s gift of the power of speech was as important as the creation of the world.” 

Decades have passed since the moment my mother’s words were stolen from her. Five years ago, my father died.  Not only did we all lose a wonderful, warm and eloquent man, but my mother lost the one who could give voice to her memories. My father knew more and shared more than anyone else; although he was frequently wrong, he was the likeliest to guess correctly what she intended to say. When he left, she not only lost her life mate, but her conduit to the world.  

Where is the mother’s voice in our history? In the Torah, we have moments when we hear the voices of our matriarchs and of Hannah and Naomi. But those moments are few; the voices of our female ancestors have been largely lost to us because their insights and ideas were not written down as were those of prominent men. Mothers determined much of our history in the way they raised children and in the influence they had on their husbands and communities, yet all too little was recorded of their teachings. The great Baruch Epstein, author of “Torah Temimah,” writes of his mother’s frustration in being barred from learning and teaching Torah. I have experienced the voice of my own mother disappearing, not through neglect or bias, but from tragedy.

The ability to follow a conversation, to read, to form clear opinions — all of these abilities were victims of my mother’s stroke as well.  Sometimes, even today, my mother is sharp as can be, nodding in agreement to a point, or vigorously disagreeing with a “No!” At other times, she cannot follow what is happening and lapses into resigned silence.

When I am with her, I recount what she has done for me in the past. In my mind, as in the memory of my brothers, my mother still stands, eyes covered, illuminated by Shabbat candles. She is spreading a white tablecloth, carrying a plate.  She is laboring over the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. My mother is the one who tried to get four boys to dress for synagogue (my father, the rabbi, left early to lead the service), and somehow got us there. 

Not always easy. Once, sitting next to her in synagogue, I saw on her face a look of amused despair. “What?” I asked. “Look down,” she said. I looked at my shoes. “I understand wearing two different socks, but David, this is the first time I have seen someone wear two different shoes!” One was black and one was brown. I weakly protested that I got dressed when it was barely light out. She, um, didn’t buy it.

Elaine Wolpe, March 2014.

Once, when I was in high school, I asked her if she deprived herself of anything for us. She pointed to my oldest brother, “This is my fur coat.” My second brother, “Here are my diamonds.” To me, “You are my precious gems.” And my younger brother, “And this is my fancy car.” She instructed us that she was so tired of hearing “Mom” all day long, that after 6 p.m., we were to call her “Matilda.”

My brothers and I all have memories of sitting next to her in synagogue, playing with her jewelry, asking for candy to keep us quiet, sitting at attention when my father spoke. My mother was very solicitous of my father’s dignity. If someone whispered while he was speaking, they had to endure a glare that would derail a freight train. Dress inappropriately, run in shul or fail to honor the rabbi and you would endure the full — and considerable — weight of my mother’s disdain. 

Each year, as Mother’s Day approaches, my brothers and I think anew about all she once was, and how much we lost when she was so grievously diminished. But certain moments remind us that the stroke did not steal her soul.

A few years ago, after my father died, the four of us gathered in Philadelphia for her birthday. We took my mother out to dinner in a local restaurant. After the meal, my brothers and I pulled out our credit cards. My mother looked at us with scorn, and loudly said, “No!”

We were shocked. Surely she didn’t think that we would let her pay for us? Dutifully, we put our cards away. She looked at us again, and crowed triumphantly, “Dessert!”

The Talmud speaks of honoring parents as the most difficult mitzvah. It can be burdensome; as comedian Roseanne Barr memorably reminded us, parents can push our buttons because they installed them. Some find it challenging, because parents can be unkind, heedlessly invasive, bruising in one way or another to their children. But it is also difficult to be near the sadness at the end of life, to share in the grief of a parent unable to fend for herself, a parent whose pain is palpable at each moment, in each look, with every unspoken word.

I could cry when I realize how hazy my memories have become of her speaking. Still, without speech, a lot of extraneous communication is burned away. My mother cannot relate many of the specifics of her day, and she grasps and remembers only a bit of what we tell her of ours. For all the essential tragedy of the second half of her life, however, she has given us the blessings of a Jewish mother — worried, warm, involved, emotionally intense, filled with expectations and standards and fire and dreams.  

And in return, through the quiet and pain of her life, her children and grandchildren never fail to tell her how much we love her.

David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple. You can follow his teachings at

Sarah Palin’s dog and Hadassah

Is it good news or bad news for Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization, that it now shares a name with former Alaska governor/Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s dog?

With its Jerusalem hospital in financial crisis and its membership aging, the venerable Jewish women’s group could use any positive publicity (er PUPlicity?) it can get.

On the other hand, Palin, who Kveller reports has named her new black lab Hadassa, is not exactly a popular figure among American Jewish women — a demographic even more loyally Democratic than the American Jewish population as a whole. And, while many people adore their pets, comparing someone to a dog — especially a female one — can be insulting.

Then there’s the issue of Sarah, despite the final “h” in her own name, dropping the final “h” in christening her pup.

Let’s just say, it’s probably not going to give Hadassah the same boost the group got 14 years ago when Hadassah Lieberman, wife of another unsuccessful vice presidential candidate, came onto the public stage.

Hadassah crisis opens divisions between the hospital and women’s organization

The Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower stretches 223 feet skyward, welcoming visitors in a bright, expansive lobby strung with banners celebrating both the State of Israel and its premier hospital, the Hadassah Medical Organization.

Opened in late 2012 at a total cost of $363 million, the tower is the largest building project undertaken at Hadassah in 50 years and a symbol of the hospital’s ambitions for the future.

Now that future is in peril as the hospital, saddled with nearly $370 million in debt and an annual deficit exceeding $85 million, struggles to chart a course back to solvency.

Last month, Hadassah hospital declared bankruptcy after two large Israeli banks cut off its credit lines. The Jerusalem District Court gave the hospital a 90-day stay of protection from creditors, after which the medical organization will be restructured or liquidated.

Both the Israeli government and the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which built the hospital and partially funds it, have agreed to provide $14 million in emergency funding to help weather the crisis. Amid the financial tumult, the hospital staff went on strike for two weeks.

“This is a crisis that had its origins a long time ago,” said Avigdor Kaplan, who became the hospital’s director-general last year. “Now it’s gotten to a point where it can’t go on.”

Founded in 1939, Hadassah is widely regarded as one of Israel’s finest health care facilities, pushing the boundaries of medical research while providing first-rate treatment not only for Israelis, but often for patients from around the Middle East, including citizens of countries technically in a state of war with the Jewish state.

The institution, which employs 6,000 people and doubles as the main teaching hospital for the Hebrew University medical school, is a symbol of both the best in Israeli medicine and the American Jewish contribution to building the state.

But with the budgetary woes impossible to ignore any longer, rifts have opened among the hospital, the Israeli government and the women’s organization. All the parties agree that the hospital must change the way it does business, but they remain divided on the source of the crisis, who is at fault and how best to move forward.

The government has pointed to employee salaries, which it says are “significantly higher” than typical pay at Israeli hospitals. The women’s organization blames long-term financial mismanagement, describing hospital administrators as children who expect that someone will always be there to bail them out. Hospital officials blame government regulations that they say penalize them for providing the country’s best care.

Diagnosing the problem will be critical to the hospital’s recovery, but no explanation has been complete. Soon after a Feb. 11 Knesset committee hearing on the crisis, the health and finance ministries appointed a joint panel to investigate. Recommendations are expected to be released this month.

In Kaplan’s view, the hospital’s problems stem from a bad deal the hospital was pressured into reaching with Israel’s government-funded health insurance companies. Israeli hospitals typically give volume discounts to the companies in an effort to attract more business, but Hadassah’s appear to be larger than the average.

In 2013, the hospital gave the insurance companies an average discount of 26 percent. A 2010 government report found that the nationwide average that year was 18 percent.

According to Kaplan, the arrangement effectively penalizes Hadassah for performing more complex and expensive procedures. As a private hospital, Kaplan said Hadassah also covers employee pensions and malpractice insurance that at public hospitals are paid for by the government.

“The government didn’t take care of us as it should have,” Kaplan said. “They gave overly large discounts to the providers, even though we give the same kind of service to Israelis.”

The Hadassah women’s organization first noted the hospital’s deteriorating finances in 2008 and asked administrators to make changes. At the time, the executive vice president of the women’s organization, Barbara Goldstein, said the hospital had no idea which departments were making money and which were losing.

The women’s organization funds nearly all of the hospital’s research and development budget, including $250 million toward the construction of the Davidson tower. It funds 4 percent of the hospital’s daily operations budget, and over the years also has stepped in to cover deficits in the $570 million operating budget.

From 2000 to 2012, the organization gave $885 million to the hospital.

The 2008 recession and the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, which cost the women’s organization tens of millions of dollars, hurt the group’s ability to funnel large sums to the hospital.

Goldstein told JTA that the women’s organization has appointed a representative to attend hospital board meetings in an effort to exercise greater oversight. But she also acknowledged that the organization’s willingness to make up for past budgetary shortfalls contributed to the current crisis.

“They always think we’ll always come through,” Goldstein said. “There were many times when a director-general called and said, ‘Maccabi owes us 20 million, can we borrow it from you?’ It’s like loaning money to kids.”

Unlike his predecessors, Kaplan is not a physician. He holds a doctorate in medical administration and previously served as the CEO of Israel Aircraft Industries. He told JTA that the key to resolving the crisis is cutting staff and salaries.

Goldstein predicted that Kaplan will have the hospital on a sound financial footing within five years. Hospital staffers understand that cuts will be a necessary part of the restructuring, she said.

“I don’t think they’ll strike again,” Goldstein said. “Either they’re going to survive and move forward, or there’s going to be nothing.”


Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital teetering near financial collapse

Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem is on the brink of financial collapse, the Forward reported.

The hospital is facing a $300 million deficit, including $80 million accrued in the last year, according to the newspaper.

Efforts by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America to save the medical center have resulted in a break with the hospital leadership in Israel. The organization has not been able to increase its funding for daily operations of the hospital, the Forward reported, and cash-flow problems caused hospital employees to receive only a partial salary in November.

Last year, during the Hadassah organization’s 100th anniversary celebrations, the group dedicated a state-of-the-art hospital tower fully funded by the organization through a national campaign. The tower is not yet fully operational, however, requiring another $45 million to reach that level.

The four Israeli members of the Hadassah hospital board resigned in October after they were excluded from negotiations with the Israeli government over government funding of the hospital. American representatives of the organization comprise 51 percent of the hospital board and can control its decisions, according to the Forward.

The American Hadassah organization has faced financial difficulties resulting from the world economic downturn and fallout from the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.

In Israel, Sharon Stone meets her biggest fan, visits Hadassah Hospital

It’s unclear whether this guy is a fan of Sharon Stone or a fan of campy t-shirts. Either way, he had what was surely a surreal moment yesterday when, dressed in a “Basic Instinct” shirt, he bumped into Stone on the streets of Tel Aviv.

The photo went viral — so far it has close to 375,000 views. The irony factor is definitely bringing on the clicks, but we think it’s also got to have something to do with Stone’s sweet, gracious demeanor.

The actress is doing more in Israel than just posing with random admirers.  She was also photographed hanging out with Israeli and Palestinian kids at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, and tonight Stone will join Dr. Barbra Streisand and Bill Clinton at  President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday party.

Hollywood star Sharon Stone, a long-time activist to find a cure for AIDS, visited Hadassah University Hospital Ein Kerem today to meet with Professor Dan Engelhard, head of Hadassah’s pediatric AIDS unit which  has developed an integrative method of treating children who are HIV positive in Israel and around the world. She was greeted by representatives of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and said “I believe in the work you do, one person at a time, building this wonderful place. I urge everyone to do whatever they can do to help Hadassah. Photo courtesy of Hadassah

Congress passes more expansive Violence Against Women Act

Congress approved the more expansive version of an extension of the Violence Against Women Act that an array of Jewish groups had backed.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved the Senate version of the bill after it had rejected a Republican rewrite that omitted the Senate's new protections for undocumented immigrants, the LGBT community and Native American women.

In both Houses, the bill was passed with the assistance of some Republicans who defected from the party line, and in the House, it was facilitated by the decision of Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) to allow the Democratic-led Senate's version to reach the floor after the Republican version was defeated 257-166.

The House passed the Senate version 286-138, with 89 Republicans joining the majority.

Of the chambers' Jewish members, only Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, voted against it.

Among the Jewish groups backing the more expansive version were the Jewish Federations of North America, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Hadassah, B'nai B'rith International, Bend the Arc, the Reform movement and Jewish Women International.

President Obama said he would sign the act, which authorizes $660 million in funding over the next five years.

Dorothy Gould, former Hadassah Beverly Hills president and volunteer, dies at 89

Dorothy Gould, a former Hadassah Beverly Hills chapter president and dedicated volunteer, died on Feb. 18. She was 89.

Born in Chicago, Ill., in 1923, the youngest child of Max and Sarah Stein, Gould grew up in Ventura, where she attended Ventura College and worked as a legal secretary for the Ventura County District Attorney. 

In October 1947, she married Joseph “Joe” Gould, founder of Gould & Co. Transportation and later Hollywood National Bank. Gould dedicated her time to charitable organizations, serving as a past president of Hadassah’s Beverly Hills chapter, as a board member of the Julia Ann Singer Center and as a board member and former sisterhood president of Temple Israel of Hollywood. She was also involved with March of Dimes, United Way and the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Gould is predeceased by her husband. She is survived by sons David (Deborah Chankin) Gould and Marc (Cyndi Goldman, z”l) Gould; grandchildren Sarah (Yonah Schmeidler) Chankin-Gould and Rabbi D’ror (Cantor David Berger) Chankin-Gould; and great-grandchildren Matan Berger-Gould and Yona Chankin-Gould.

A funeral was held at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles on Feb. 22. Contributions in her memory should be sent to the Beverly Hills chapter of Hadassah and United Way

Hadassah wires $10 million to hospital in Israel to help cover deficit

Hadassah transferred $10 million to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem to help cover its subsidiary's $50 million deficit.

The New York Jewish Week reported Monday that the Zionist women's group took the unusual measure after learning of the deficit run up by the hospital, which was founded nearly 80 years ago.

Meanwhile, the medical center's director general, Ehud Kokia, has submitted his resignation. The medical center's board chair, Esti Dominissin, will fill the position until a replacement is found.

Hadassah National Director Marcie Natan said the organization would hire the services of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consultancy firm, to help reduce the hospital's debts.

“The firm will analyze finances, accounting policies, administration and cost centers and will explore strategies for reducing expenses and increasing revenue,” Natan said in a news release. “Based on its review, it will make recommendations on how our medical center can maintain its record of excellence while achieving greater efficiency.”

Spread out on two campuses, Hadassah Medical Center is one of the largest hospitals in Israel and the only one specializing in head trauma.

Israel to plant more than 3,000 trees to memorialize Newtown victims

More than 2,000 people have donated funds to plant a grove of more than 3,000 trees in Israel in memory of the victims of the Newtown shooting.

Hadassah has raised more than $61,000 toward the planting of trees honoring the 26 victims of the Dec. 14 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The trees will be part of the Beersheva River Park, a 1,700-acre water, environmental and commercial area being constructed by the Jewish National Fund in Israel’s desert city.

The idea for the Newtown grove grew from a request made by Veronique Pozner, whose son, Noah, was the only Jewish victim of the shooting at the Connecticut school. Pozner said memorial contributions could be directed toward the planting of trees in Israel.

The president of Hadassah, Marcie Natan, said her organization decided quickly that it wanted to honor all the victims of the massacre, not just Noah.

“Everybody was so affected by the massacre and wanted to do something to express their solidarity with the families,” Natan told JTA. “Each of us have had the experience of non-Jews who have found it very meaningful when a tree is planted in the Holy Land. We felt no one would be offended by this and we thought it would be a very appropriate way to honor the memory of the victims.”

The trees will be planted in a section of the park that Hadassah already had committed to populating with trees. At $18 per tree, the gifts in memory of the Newtown victims thus far are enough to cover more than 3,300 trees.

Jewish groups ready to weigh in as Supreme Court considers same-sex marriage

With public acceptance of same-sex marriage growing, liberal Jewish groups are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that they have long opposed.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases related to same-sex marriage: an appeal of a federal court ruling that struck down a California ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage, and one of the federal court rulings invalidating provisions of the act, known as DOMA, which prevented federal recognition of same-sex unions.

Since DOMA was passed in 1996, Jewish groups such as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the National Council of Jewish Women have been among the liberal religious groups arguing against its provisions. At the time, they were pushing against the widespread perception that religious groups almost by definition were opposed to same-sex marriage.

That is no longer the case, said Rabbi David Saperstein, the Religious Action Center’s director and a witness during congressional hearings on DOMA.

[Related: A more modern view of homosexuality]

“There is an increasing religious consciousness across an ever wider spectrum that providing legal protection and religious sanctification to two people who want to create their lives together reflects our highest values,” Saperstein told JTA.

Saperstein said the RAC was planning to file or sign onto an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage.

Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director of the National Council of Jewish Women, said that recent victories for same-sex marriage in state referenda vindicate NCJW’s activism against DOMA.

“We saw in the last election popular support for marriage equality, with wins in Maine, Maryland and Washington, and voters in Minnesota rejected” a law that would have entrenched the ban on gay marriage in that state, she said. “We've seen tremendous popular support, and we see it’s growing.”

Orthodox groups, active also during the 1996 congressional hearings before the passage of DOMA, are considering amicus briefs since the Supreme Court agreed last week to consider the two cases.

Orthodox groups have opposed same-sex marriage, maintaing that marriage should be defined as union between a man and a woman. They also have expressed the concern that the push for same-sex marriage will end up infringing upon their religious liberties.

“We do plan to file and let our views be known in reference to DOMA and Proposition 8,” the California referendum that banned same-sex marriage and that was overturned by a federal appeals court in January, said Abba Cohen, who directs the Washington office of Agudath Israel of America. “We don't know whether we'll file on our own or with others — it’s too early for us to make that decision.”

The Orthodox Union was still considering whether to file, said Nathan Diament, the group’s executive director for public policy.

An array of liberal Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, NCJW, Hadassah, Bend the Arc, and a number of Reform and Conservative bodies had joined in an amicus brief filed for the lower court appeal of the DOMA case, U.S. v. Windsor, in which the widow of a New York woman is appealing the taxes levied on her late wife’s estate that would have been exempted had she been married to a man.

Now that the Supreme Court is considering the cases, the groups and others are considering whether to join others in amicus briefs or file on their own.

Marc Stern, the associate general counsel for the American Jewish Committee, said his group would file a brief backing same-sex marriage but cautioning against a ruling that would be too sweeping and compromise the rights of religious institutions that oppose it.

“You could imagine theories that would lead to that result that would preclude the possibility of protection of religious institutions,” he said.

As Israel’s economy grows, more Israelis are giving to charity

At Hadassah's centennial celebration in October, 2,000 guests heard about two major philanthropic projects being undertaken by the women's Zionist group: a new tower and a new cardiovascular wellness center at its Jerusalem hospitals.

The tower, which was dedicated at the centennial, cost $363 million. And a $10 million gift from American philanthropist Irene Pollin came with the announcement of the cardiovascular center. Most of Hadassah’s members and donors are American, and every year most of its $100 million budget goes to Israel — as it has for a century, well before Israel was a state.

For virtually all of Israel's history, the philanthropic highway between the United States and the Jewish state ran in one direction. Now, with the growth of Israel's economy and an expanding class of affluent citizens, Israeli initiatives have begun to encourage giving by Israelis for Israelis.

Still, experts say, building a culture of philanthropy remains an uphill battle in Israel.

“Israeli philanthropy is not very well developed, even though there’s [been] a lot of Israeli wealth in the past 10 to 20 years,” said Debra London, project manager for Sheatufim, which helps donors and nonprofits become more effective. “It’s about recruiting them to the idea that they have to give.”

Since well before the founding of the state, American Jewish philanthropy has been instrumental in establishing and sustaining Jewish settlement in Israel. This funding model persisted even as the state established itself and grew into a thriving industrial and information-age economy. American donors still fund many projects and organizations in Israel, while many Israeli outfits have established fundraising arms in the United States.

On the whole, Israelis are less philanthropic than Americans. In a recent paper, Hebrew University professor Hillel Schmid found that in 2009 Israeli philanthropy constituted 0.74 percent of Israel’s GDP, compared to 2.1 percent in the United States. In total that year, Israelis donated $3 billion. Part of the reason, Schmid says, is the high income tax that Israelis have pai d traditionally to support a robust social safety net. Many Israelis also feel that their years spent in compulsory military service provided a significant contribution to the state.

“We all go to the army, we pay a high income tax, so we think we give a lot,” Schmid, the director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy in Israel, told JTA. “There are a few good philanthropists, but there’s no movement of philanthropy.”

That’s changing. Schmid noted that in 2009, Israeli nonprofits received a majority of their donations from Israelis, not from abroad — a departure from previous years.

New philanthropic models are emerging, too. An organization called Takdim in the coastal town of Ramat HaSharom hopes to duplicate the successful North American Jewish federation model, where one central institution in each community manages collective Jewish giving. More than two-thirds of the funds raised by Takdim will go to projects in the central Israeli city, while 30 percent will fund projects across the country. A communal board will determine which projects to support.

“We need to have a change in outlook and show people that if they want to help the community, they need to help in both senses, to volunteer and to help financially,” said Revital Itach, Takdim’s project manager. “Our goal is not to depend on two or three donors but to draft the whole community.”

Founded a year-and-a-half ago, Takdim has 120 donors and is embarking on its first major fundraising drive. Itach hopes to raise $256,000, much of which will go to building a new park that will be accessible to disabled children.

“There was a sense of community” years ago, Itach said. “As the city grew and brought more people in, the feeling of community got weaker. There was a desire to bring back that feeling of togetherness, to look beyond your own sphere and to do something for all of the residents.”

Another initiative, called Committed to Give and run by Sheatufim, aims to expand the top echelon of Israeli donors, defined as those who give more than $64,000 annually. London estimates that 10,000 Israelis can give that amount. Twenty donors who already give that much are running the initiative.

A rise in Israeli philanthropy does not necessarily mean a drop in U.S. Jewish giving, says Becky Caspi, director general of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel office. Caspi recognizes an emotional drive in American Jews to help Israel and does not anticipate a significant decline in donations to Israel.

Federations have been involved in helping launch Takdim and Committed to Give, and Caspi sees a growing number of Israelis “who can assist in carrying the burden to care for the most vulnerable in Israeli society.”

“There are so many people who see Israel hurting and want to help,” she told JTA. “When Israeli philanthropists are exposed to that strength and resilience, it’s a source of inspiration.”

In 2011, JFNA allocated $237 million to overseas funding, the bulk of which goes to Israel. It was a decrease from previous years: In 2010, $249 million went overseas from JFNA, while the figure was $258 million in 2009.

While Israel’s philanthropic culture is still growing, the country does have an established volunteer culture. Yoram Sagi Zaks, chairman of Israel’s national volunteering council, estimates that 46 percent of Israeli youth volunteer in some capacity, and that 800,000 Israelis volunteer in total. Many draw on their military experience to volunteer with security institutions, like the police force.

While Sagi Zaks appreciates rising philanthropy in Israel, he hopes that it doesn’t replace the culture of volunteerism.

“There’s a trend that more people are giving money because they can, and that needs to rise in all sectors of society,” he said. But, Sagi Zaks added, “It’s easier to give a monetary donation. A donation of yourself connects you to society.”

A Jewish revival meeting: Is religious pluralism possible in Israel?

In a packed synagogue hall on Monday night, Nov. 26, Israel’s Consul General David Siegel posed a question: How many people present care deeply about religious pluralism in Israel?

A sea of hands went up.

Jews are odd, right? The rockets have just stopped falling on Israel, a hot war in Gaza is barely cool, and yet 280 people of many ages and denominations came together the night after a long vacation weekend to wrestle not with issues of war and peace, but of synagogue and state.

Organizers of the town hall on religious tolerance in Israel planned the event back in October, prompted by the arrest of Israeli civil-rights activist Anat Hoffman. 

On Oct. 16, Hoffman, executive director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center and chair of Women of the Wall, was leading a group of 250 visiting women, Hadassah members, in prayer at the Western Wall — the Kotel — while wearing a tallit and reading from the Torah. Jewish women around the world are free to do both those things. In Israel they are illegal at the Kotel.

Jerusalem police arrested Hoffman, handcuffed her, took her to jail. They strip-searched her and locked her up overnight.

The arrest prompted an outcry from American-Jewish groups.

The Israeli police who arrested Hoffman were following Israeli law. But here in Los Angeles, it was Siegel, the Israeli consul general, who initiated the town hall-style conversation to discuss and debate the concerns the arrest generated. 

Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Senior Rabbi Laura Geller assembled an inclusive, cross-denominational panel: Rabbi Nicole Guzik of Sinai Temple (Conservative); Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea (Orthodox); Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue (Reconstructionist; she is also president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California); Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie of Chabad of Yorba Linda (Orthodox); and Shep Rosenman, an Orthodox attorney and a founder of LimmudLA. I served as moderator.

Numerous other synagogues joined in as co-sponsors — the audience was rife with rabbis.

Following the outbreak of the Gaza war, some community leaders pulled their support for the Town Hall, saying such a discussion was inappropriate in light of current events. It was Siegel who insisted the event go on as planned.

“These are important issues that concern Israel’s future,” he explained. In short, keep calm and carry on.

As Rabbi HaLevy explained in her introduction of Siegel, these issues for him are also personal. He is the son of an American rabbi who moved to Israel and helped start the Conservative movement there. 

In his presentation, Siegel used his personal history to chart what he said was the good news: the burgeoning variety of Jewish religious expression in Israel.

“When my father started,” he said, “nobody in Israel had ever heard of a Conservative Jew. They called the movements ‘Conservativi’ and ‘Reformi.’ There weren’t even Hebrew words for them.”

Today, he said, more than 500,000 Israelis claim membership in non-Orthodox movements. He displayed an image on a screen that showed the logos of dozens of organizations in Israel that promote progressive approaches to Judaism, including progressive/Orthodox.  

Dozens of Knesset members, including the maverick member of Knesset, the Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, are working to wrest control over many aspects of Israeli civil society away from the Orthodox rabbinate. The trend is toward a more inclusive approach to Jewish practice, more in keeping with Sephardi, rather than strict Ashkenazi, traditions.

“The message is clear,” Siegel said. “If you care about Jewish revival in Israel, you’re not alone.”

The other panelists agreed: Israeli Jews are awakening to the variety of Jewish engagement long enjoyed by Jews abroad.

But as much as the consul general wanted to direct the audience’s attention to the good news, many on the panel and in the audience remained focused on the very real current problems.

Israel has no constitution spelling out religious rights. Founding Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion cut a deal with Orthodox religious leaders in 1948, granting them authority over marriage, divorce, burial, holy sites, the Sabbath — all “personal status” issues. He argued for a strict standard of religious observance in order to avoid “splitting of the House of Israel into two.” 

The consequences have ranged from the inconvenient to the dire, as progressive religious-rights groups like Hiddush have documented. Thousands of secular Israelis must go abroad to have a non-Orthodox wedding. Israeli soldiers killed in battle, whose Jewish conversions the rabbinic courts do not recognize, cannot be buried in Jewish cemeteries. Public transportation shuts down on the Sabbath — leading to an increase in drunken-driving deaths. 

Jewish life may be blossoming, Rabbi Geller acknowledged, but, she added, “I can’t be the kind of Jew I want to be in Israel.”

Rabbi Guzik, who heads Sinai Temple’s Israel Center, posed this question: As an educator trying to instill a love of Israel in Jewish children, how can she teach a young woman here to don a tallit — a prayer shawl — when she could be arrested for wearing it in Israel?

Rabbi Eliezrie argued for strict observance of Jewish law. Traditions of thousands of years should not be tossed aside, he argued.  He also cautioned against painting Israel’s Orthodox Jews, the Charedim, as a monolith, or as the enemy. Not only are there major distinctions among them, he said, they also need to become integrated into Israeli life, as much as more progressive Jews. Eliezrie argued that the religious awakening among Israel’s Jews is heading in the direction of more religious practice, not less.

“I think the return to religion in Israel will never mean a return to Orthodoxy,” Rabbi Kanefsky, who leads an Orthodox congregation, countered.

At the same time, Kanefsky cautioned against drastic changes that undermine the Jewish nature of the Jewish state.

“Coherence is not a luxury,” he said. “Coherence is survival.”

Yes, agreed the other panelists, but change is also inevitable. Israeli society, in general, is liberalizing. More stores and restaurants are staying open on Shabbat. Last May, the government announced it would allow non-Orthodox rabbis to receive state funding. And the High Court of Justice ordered a religious court near Jerusalem to seat a female Reform rabbi. These developments came after much time and long fights, but the consul general and most of the panelists acknowledged the trend is clear.

But what about Anat Hoffman?

When it came time for audience questions, it was clear her arrest still serves as a distressing symbol of religious oppression.

“I prayed with Anat Hoffman at the Wall,” said Helen Grossman, 22, a Temple Emanuel member. “It changed my life.” The young woman said Hoffman’s arrest and harsh treatment crushed her. How could she see her way to embrace a country that did that?

“I think we all agree that what happened was unacceptable,” the consul general responded. An investigation into the police actions is ongoing, he added. He also pointed out that in a country of laws, those who engage in civil disobedience and break laws must not only be prepared to pay the price, but to reflect on what that would mean if everyone, including those you disagree with, did the same.

Meanwhile, Siegel urged Grossman to use the arrest as a spur to more involvement, not less.

“We need to see ourselves as a coalition,” he said. “Be inspired and not turned away.”

The way out of despair, Rabbi Geller told her, is clear. “Change will really happen when Israelis want that change,” she said. “Anat Hoffman is that Israeli.”

Rabbi Kanefsky pointed out that holy sites like the Kotel may, in fact, be the most difficult places to effect change. On the one hand, such sites are charged with symbolism. On the other, as polls have pointed out, they simply don’t matter as much for the daily life of Israelis.

“The Kotel is the end of the process,” Rabbi Kanefsky said.

The process of change must include American-Jewish support, Siegel said. A Reform synagogue in his own Jerusalem-area neighborhood closed for lack of funds, and groups that work toward religious pluralism, including many Orthodox ones, struggle to survive. Looking out on the big audience, the consul general suggested one good first step would be to gather a task force of concerned L.A. Jews to work and study with their Israeli counterparts.

Acts of civil disobedience like Hoffman’s may help draw attention — it led to Monday’s town hall — but actual changes in Israel’s approach to religious pluralism will be the result of something much less dramatic.

The end of religious discrimination in Israel will come when Israelis themselves, alone or in groups, with the support of their Jewish counterparts abroad, rise up and push for changes through the legislative and court system.

That’s not dramatic — that’s just democracy.

For a list of Pluralistic Jewish Organizations in Israel, visit

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism

Jewish Women’s Conference: Putting women first

The talk at the second annual Jewish Women’s Conference of Southern California focused not so much on the Jewish part, as on the women’s part. Some 300 women (and one man — a devoted husband, perhaps?) filled the ballroom of UCLA’s Covel Commons on Nov. 11 for a series of sessions on activism, feminism today, women’s health, the effects of the recession on women, plus one session on Israeli women and another on rabbinical interpretations of women’s equality within Judaism. 

The hall’s main ballroom was packed for the general sessions, and the breakouts were also well attended — there were very few of the usual renegade gossip-sessions in the hallways. Throughout, the thirst for connection on the topics and for engagement in the larger world was obvious. This conference, still nascent but growing in size and organized by the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), is clearly fulfilling a need, despite — or perhaps building upon — the longtime presence in the Jewish world of activist women’s organizations like Hadassah and Na’amat, let alone the many sisterhoods of synagogue congregations. 

Why do Jewish women need to hear from other leading Jewish women? Perhaps because we don’t hear from them often enough. Abby Leibman, in a panel I moderated titled “Jewish Women’s Voices in Activism,” pointed out that as the president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, she is one of only a handful of women top executives nationally in Jewish organizations not solely focused on women’s issues. Women are present in executive positions throughout the Jewish world, but most often not as the most senior. Which means that women professionals too often are not seated at the boardroom table, or, at best, are under-represented in a roomful of men. 

Why does this still matter, and will it change? Younger women bristle now at the thought of being labeled “feminists,” preferring to avoid the gender identification. But the generation who grew up forming the women’s movement, or who were early joiners — the boomers, in other words — are aware that being identified as women and as leaders remains important, because it’s crucial to help shape the conversation. 

“Women’s issues are the defining domestic issues in this country,” Leibman said. It is all too often the single mothers who find themselves without adequate money to feed and house their families, abandoned and unable to work and pay for basic needs. The discussions that took place over the course of the last election cycle regarding not just the right to choose to have an abortion, but also of “legitimate rape” and even access to birth control, brought women out in droves to the polls, electing for the first time 20 women to the Senate. (Is 20 percent representation really enough to celebrate? That question arose at the conference, too, and the consensus was: Clearly, it’s a move in the right direction.)

Robin Sax, an attorney and legal analyst for Fox 11 News, as well as a frequent legal commentator on many other TV programs, was also on the activist panel, and she pointed out that women make up the major audience for daytime TV, which is when she usually appears. “In my world, women are valued,” she said. “Women are the No. 1 target audience.” So she’s taken it upon herself to tell tough stories that are often overlooked, notably her recent series about domestic abuse of both women and children. “If media and consumer products need us,” for our buying power and as viewers, she said, “why not use them to tell our stories?” 

It is the forgotten women, the sex-trade workers in Guatemala, that have become the cause of Jodi Finkel, an associate professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University. She is also founder of MuJER, a wholly volunteer effort in Guatemala to teach literacy to women working in red-light districts, thereby helping to free them from believing they can survive only by selling their bodies. Finkel’s inspiration for this effort came just from hearing an interview with one woman on National Pubic Radio, and with the aid of her students, Finkel set out to find this woman and teach her to read — which they did, empowering her to find new jobs.

Can men focus on these same issues? Of course, and they do. President Barack Obama has spoken eloquently on the importance of protecting women’s rights, and this fall at the United Nations, he gave a major speech on the need for a worldwide effort to combat modern-day slavery, from child sex slaves to migrant workers (a speech, by the way, that was overshadowed in the mediasphere by chatter of whether the president should, or could have, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on that same day). Women’s health, safety and well-being are not just women’s issues, but they often need women’s voices to keep them front-and-center.

Gatherings like the Women’s Conference enable women to focus, to encourage participation — to inspire. It seems so obvious, but it takes an organization like NCJW to put in the work-intensive effort to pull it off. 

Twenty women in the Senate, 300 women in a ballroom — it really isn’t enough. But it’s a move in the right direction — and next time around, hopefully, there will be more.

Susan Freudenheim is executive editor of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. She can be reached at You can follow her on Twitter by clicking here: 

Local Hadassah members celebrate in Israel

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.

Opinion: More women are needed as leaders

Pride and chagrin: It’s rare that the two emotions are experienced simultaneously. But that is how we are feeling at Hadassah.

We feel pride because women now hold three of our top professional positions: Janice Weinman is our new executive director and CEO; Osnat Levtzion-Korach is the new director-general of Hadassah University Hospital-Mount Scopus in Israel; and Rabbi Ellen Flax is executive director of the $10 million Hadassah Foundation. And for the first time a woman, Esther Dominissini, chairs the board of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel, an influential role in Israeli hospital management.

Of course, as a national women’s organization, our national presidents all have been women, our legal counsel is a woman, our Israeli office is headed by a woman, and female doctors head numerous departments at both of Hadassah’s hospital campuses. On Capitol Hill and in Israel, Hadassah continues to advocate strongly for women.

Yet despite Hadassah’s strong focus on women and the many of us who serve in high-level leadership positions, we also feel chagrin because 100 years after our founding, it remains all too unusual for women to hold top professional positions in any organization.

We want to set the model, not to be the outlier. Salary-based and hiring discrimination against women in the workplace are still an issue, but there is another dynamic at play. The desire for a “work-life balance” we hear so often about of late demonstrates just how complicated it can be for women to take time away from their families to work—or away from their jobs to raise their children.

Women comprise 51 percent of the population, yet more than nine decades after we received the vote, and nearly five decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we still lag in leadership.

Just 17 women hold seats in the U.S. Senate and 73 in the House of Representatives. Only six states have women as governors. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reports that of the 1,248 cities with populations exceeding 30,000, just 217 have female mayors. The Fortune 1000 list includes just 39 women as CEOs.

Things are no better in the Jewish world, where only two of the 20 largest Jewish federations have women at the helm. The Forward newspaper’s most recent salary survey shows that women head just nine of 76 national Jewish organizations. A number of women have chaired their local federations and, finally, a great woman now leads the umbrella organization for the federations. But on the top staff level, it’s just not the same.

We need women in every kind of leadership role, and even though many women have risen through the ranks in recent years, we are nowhere near where we should be. This is not to disparage the many excellent men who hold leadership positions in our Jewish and national life, but we take special pride when we see women in those roles.

More important, we know that women often bring a different voice to the public square. It was, for example, only when women brought so-called women’s issues to the workplace—increased maternity leave, for example—that men, too, rightfully demanded paternity leave.

Women care about foreign policy, but we also want to help those in poverty in our own country. Women care that the United States has a strong military, but we also strive to ensure that health care and education top priority lists.

Research has demonstrated that gender diversity matters. A 2007 McKinsey study found that “companies with three or more women in senior management functions score more highly on average (on nine dimensions of company excellence).” These criteria include accountability and innovation. A 19-year study for the European Project on Equal Pay, conducted by Roy Adler of Pepperdine University in the 1980s and ’90s, found a strong correlation between profitability and the number of women in executive positions.

A 2011 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that “if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.”

We’ve certainly seen that happen on our nonprofit boards, but we can’t be truly effective until women hold more of our professional leadership positions.

For years, women have had to buck a paternalistic society, particularly in the Jewish world. Yet we can’t solely blame society for the low numbers of women in leadership positions. We have to hold ourselves accountable as well.

Too often we’ve been content to sit back and let the men lead. We have been quiet at board meetings and allowed the baritone voices of our male colleagues to overtake our own.

If we want change, we must be its catalysts. We must demand that search committees try harder to find—and recruit—women to fill top jobs. We must encourage women to run for office. We must insist that our nonprofit boards pay closer attention to the makeup of professional staff—not just how many men and women are employed, but also the numbers of women in management and how their earnings compare with their male counterparts.

If this sounds like affirmative action, or something that might have been written 30 years ago, so be it.

It is only when it is no longer novel to point to the first woman in a given position—or even the second or third—that we will have begun to achieve equality.

(Marcie Natan is national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.)

Young Judaea’s separation from Hadassah begins

Young Judaea is en route to full independence from Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

Hadassah’s board had voted for the separation in June 2011, and both organizations announced this week that the move to independence had begun.

Simon Klarfeld was hired in December as Young Judaea’s executive director.

Hadassah will provide $7 million in transitional funding over the next three years, as Young Judaea works to secure independent funding, according to a spokesperson. Hadassah chapters also will continue to raise scholarship money for the youth organization and Hadassah will have representation on Young Judaea’s board.

“The fact that this is Independence Week in the United States has not been lost on us and is certainly appropriate in the evolution of Young Judaea,” Marcie Natan, Hadassah’s national president, said in a statement. “Like a child leaving the nest, Young Judaea will always be part of the Hadassah family. Hadassah members take tremendous pride in how effective Young Judaea is in creating permanent connections between American youth and Israel.”

The spinoff comes as Hadassah, which supports two hospitals in Israel and other programs, has faced funding difficulties in recent years, both due to the poor economy and $45 million it was forced to return in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scandal.

Hadassah also recently announced the $71.5 million sale of its New York headquarters.

Founded in 1909 as a Zionist youth organization, Young Judaea serves 5,000 Jewish youngsters and young adults through U.S. camps and Israel programs. The group had been supported entirely by Hadassah since 1967.

Hadassah probe exonerates Falchuk, Natan

A Hadassah-commissioned probe has exonerated two top officials, Marcie Natan and Nancy Falchuk, of financial abuse allegations.

Natan, Hadassah’s national president, and Falchuk, the organization’s former national president, had been accused by Hadassah’s chief operating officer, Larry Blum, of misuse of organizational assets. Blum outlined the charges in a Jan. 12 letter delivered while he himself was on administrative leave following allegations that he had misused his corporate credit card.

Hadassah responded by asking a committee of Hadassah board members to investigate Blum’s charges, and the committee appointed attorney Dan Kurtz of the firm Skadden Arps to head up the probe.

“After performing an extensive investigation, the conclusion we reached regarding the Blum allegations was that none of them were supported by facts,” Kurtz said in a statement released Thursday by Hadassah. “No volunteers, including Marcie Natan and Nancy Falchuk, breached any fiduciary duties owed to Hadassah in connection with the allegations. Hadassah does not need to take further action with respect to the Blum allegations.”

Blum remains on a leave of absence while an internal staff investigation probes the allegations against him.

“We are pleased with the conclusions of the committee and the Skadden firm and we are thankful to everyone for standing by us during this time,” Natan and Falchuk said in a statement released by the organization.

Hadassah will mark its centennial in October.

Opinion: Hadassah feminists

Amid all the boozing, smoking and jumping from bed to bed in “Mad Men,” there’s a certain 1960s persona that’s missing from the popular TV show — and that’s the sort of dedicated young woman who devoted herself not just to her husband and family, or even to her work, but to causes.

The type who may have been a stay-at-home mom, but nevertheless spent virtually all her time working — in service to her community. In Judy Wilkin’s case, that cause was Israel, and Hadassah. That’s who Wilkin was and still is — a Beverly Hills champion of Hadassah for 50 years, a member of a group dubbed Elana, originally just 12 women who met in 1962, all of them legacies of their mothers’ involvement in the volunteer Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

I caught up with Wilkin last Friday morning; she was baking for a family wedding coming up but answered her phone to tell me, “This is a good day!” Not because it was about to be Shabbat, or in view of the upcoming nuptials, but because it was, in fact, the day of the 100th birthday of Hadassah’s founding in New York by a small group of women led by Henrietta Szold. And there’s another anniversary celebration coming up, too, Wilkin noted — the 50th for Elana, scheduled for March 4, this Sunday afternoon, at the Culver Hotel in Culver City.

It’s clear, even after her five decades of active involvement, how much joy Wilkin derives from Hadassah; her words spill out fast and furious as she remembers the day when a group of about 12 newlywed women in their 20s met and were told they would be founding a new Beverly Hills Hadassah chapter. Some, unbeknownst to them, were already members — signed up as lifetimers by their mothers, sometimes almost at birth. The idea, initially, was to create a social group, but with a purpose. One early charge was to sell $1 tickets to a Hadassah luncheon — and anyone who sold 18 tickets got a free lunch for herself. “Some of us could afford the full $18, others just $10 or had to raise it all,” she said. And it was a foray into fundraising that would pay forward.

There were lessons that came with their charge, an education in what Hadassah did — and still does to this day. “We learned about youth in need, because we sold our tickets through our knowledge,” Wilkin told me. In the early years, one focus was on teen survivors of the Holocaust living in Israel; later they worked to help Ethiopian refugee children there, and now they’re helping a wide range of Israeli at-risk teens. Over the years, they also learned to raise money for Hadassah’s extraordinary medical services, both at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem and the Hadassah University Hospital at Mount Scopus. And they learned how to be community leaders.

Being part of Elana, Wilkin said, “taught us how to speak up — how to speak in public, how to chair committees.” In addition to her work for Hadassah, Wilkin became a PTA president at her children’s schools and a board member of the academic decathlon, while others have served as docents at the Skirball Cultural Center and the Hammer Museum, among many local organizations and cultural institutions.

I asked Wilkin how her membership in Hadassah differed from, say, involvement in a synagogue, and she explained that Hadassah involves a great deal of exposure to people who, while all Jewish women, nevertheless can represent great diversity. “It’s interdenominational — we have Democrats, Republicans, observant and non-observant,” she said. But one thing they make sure of: “We are non-political.”

Starting with those $1 donations, the Elana group has gone on to raise more than $4 million over the years, and today about 300 women are on the books as Elana members, Wilkin told me, with many offshoots into other groups for different ages, including younger women. It’s just one of a variety of Hadassah groups that exist locally. There are currently 7,300 members of Hadassah in the greater Los Angeles region, and 300,000 nationally, a number that gives the organization considerable clout in its advocacy on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

I asked Wilkin what Hadassah is doing to enlist those younger women, at a time when so many work full time, whether mothers or not. She said that Hadassah has formed groups specific to the interests and needs of many particular cadres, including for young professionals, such as a nurses council, where lectures offer continuing education hours, and a medical professionals council. There are also very active groups specifically for Iranian women, and a new group is forming for Iraqis.

“I always say that Hadassah members were the first feminists,” Wilkin said, and she calls herself a “professional volunteer.”

“We were a feminist organization before the word was invented.”

I have to admit, I was a bit in the dark about Hadassah — not its good deeds, but about what might be in it for me. But hearing Wilkin talk about the friendships she’s formed over the years, the book groups, movie groups and other social activities that have developed out of that first involvement, I felt a little jealous. So I went to the Web site to look into what it costs. It’s very reasonable, only $212 for a lifetime membership; I signed up.

If it sounds like I’m won over, it’s because of Wilkin’s subtle salesmanship — all learned through Hadassah. It’s also been her ticket to witness history. In 1959, Wilkin’s Hadassah-member mother brought her to Israel to look at a hole in the ground that would become the world-renowned medical center. Now, she said, she’s looking at a huge new tower, the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower at Hadassah Medical Center, opening as part of the centenary celebration this year, and Sunday’s event will benefit the mother-child center there.

Hers is a story with none of the “Mad Men” decadence, but it’s a pretty good yarn, never-

Palestinian conjoined twins separated at Hadassah hospital

Surgeons at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem separated conjoined twins in utero.

The babies shared a placenta and major blood vessels. Their lives were in danger in the womb of their 25-year-old mother, from a Palestinian village, who was in her 20th week of pregnancy.

The babies’ blood supply was separated using a laser device inserted in the womb.

Hadassah SoCal executive director retires

After more than 14 years as executive director of Hadassah Southern California, Laura Kaplansky stepped down on Aug. 19. Elissa Berzon, former director of the Metro Area of Hadassah of Southern California, has replaced Kaplansky, taking on the new title of director of Hadassah Southern California.

“I’ve been thinking about retiring for a very long time, and I’ve watched mentors, former colleagues retire early, and I always thought that would be a good thing to do,” Kaplansky said in an interview.

During her tenure, Kaplansky oversaw the organization’s activities from San Diego to San Luis Obispo. She fondly recalled the bond between the women who make up the membership-base of the organization. “The climate of sisterhood amongst the members, what the members do for each other was most inspiring,” she said.

Kaplansky plans to devote her time to her hobbies — reading, volunteering and spending time outdoors.

My goal is “having fun while I’m still able to do it,” the Sherman Oaks resident said.

Kaplansky has been “a wonderful executive director,” Berzon said. “She mentored all of the staff, and it’s big shoes to fill, and I’m going to miss her.

“My goal is to really continue the work that Laura started,” Berzon continued, including fostering “relationships with our volunteers.”

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, counts approximately 300,000 members nationally and 20,000 members locally. It runs the Hadassah Medical Center in Israel, conducts advocacy campaigns and offers education, youth services and more.

Founded in 1912, the organization will celebrate its centennial next year.

Sue Urfrig, governing cabinet chair of Hadassah Southern California, pointed to Kaplansky’s humble attitude in the workplace: “She doesn’t like to be getting all of the kudos. She’s in the background.”

Recalling all the years she spent at Hadassah, Kaplansky sounded content with all she’d achieved. “I feel pretty good about my tenure,” she said. “There is always the next challenge, but that isn’t mine to accomplish anymore.”

A retirement party for Kaplansky is scheduled for Sept. 12 at the Luxe Hotel in Bel Air.

Hadassah offices closing as lifetime members increase

Sixteen Hadassah offices are closing in the United States as more than 24,000 women became life members of the organization this year.

The closure of the offices nationwide, and the consolidation of five others, is part of an ongoing plan to streamline the organization and reduce costs that began three years ago.

“These days, the organization just doesn’t need so many individual brick and mortar campuses; what we need is to bring people and resources together to share ideas, and Hadassah is proud of the great progress it has made in doing so,” a Hadassah spokeswoman told JTA.

“With the speed of communication these days, we just don’t need as many offices; people can call each other up or send e-mails in order to get in touch. Even as a nonprofit—in fact, especially as a nonprofit—like all businesses, Hadassah works to be as efficient and effective with its members’ contributions as it can.”

Closures include the office in Cleveland and the consolidation of three offices in Boston that are located a few miles from each other.

Hadassah has 28 regions throughout North America, which include 597 chapters and 408 groups.

In 2009, the organization laid off 80 employees across the country, roughly a quarter of its U.S. staff. The efforts at streamlining, which already had been under discussion, came following a downturn in the stock market, as well as tens of millions of dollars in losses in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.

The organization announced Monday that national lifetime membership had increased since Jan. 1 by 24,023. The increase came as part of the organization’s Centennial Campaign to recognize the 100th anniversary of Hadassah’s founding. The lifetime memberships were available at the reduced rate of $100 instead of the regular $360.

Combined with annual memberships for 2011, total membership fundraising has hit more than $2.1 million this year.

Food flight: Perusing American Jewry’s past and present

Two relatively new books tell the story of American Jewry, weaving together its past and present by examining tradition and making it relevant to today’s reader.

Where Sue Fishkoff’s “Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority” (Schocken, 2010) is robust and detailed, Leah Koenig’s “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen” (Universe, 2011) is spacious and adaptable.

With the “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook,” Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America has attempted to free itself from the matzah ball-and-chain and community cookbooks of its nearly 90-year past and plunge itself into the present-day reality of America’s Jewish kitchen.

An increased interest in local and healthy food, and the amplified availability of kosher-certified products—with an assist from popular television shows—have created a market of ever-more sophisticated American Jewish consumers, and Koenig doesn’t shy away from using trendy food items such as quinoa, miso and pomegranate.

Food is an important part of the Jewish home during Shabbat and holidays, but Jewish sensibilities don’t always kick in on the days and weeks between. “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook” attempts to fill in the gap.

The recipes are simple and fast—no six-hour braising times or intimidating French techniques. The book is meant to be used, and through its use will continue the story of American Jewish cooking. The recipes are kosher, of course, and Koenig’s tone throughout is clear, concise and friendly. She informs the reader immediately that she is not a chef, and that a more experienced cook should “think of these recipes as flavors and ideas to riff off of.”

Some of its best recipes are among the more unusual. Honey-Glazed Carrots with Za’atar presents a synchronicity of the unexpected sweetness of carrots and honey and the zing of za’atar, a dried spice mixture common in Middle Eastern cooking, and lemon zest. Sweet Potato Kale Soup with White Beans and Caramelized Vegetable Soup utilizes familiar flavors in updated ways.

“Jewish” and Israeli foods make an appearance in the form of Cheesecake in a Jar, an attractive dessert inspired by a classic Jewish sweet; Quick(er) Borscht, a 30-minute remedy to an Eastern European comfort food; and Sabich, a fried eggplant sandwich commonly on the menu at falafel joints.

Generally the recipes in “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook” are global and health conscious, and more often than not vegetarian, reflecting an increased consumer consciousness of non-meat alternatives.

“Kosher Nation” contextualizes how it is that American Jewry got to a point where Walnut Pesto and Portobello Burgers, two foods not at all associated with traditional Jewish cuisine, appear in Koenig’s Jewish cookbook published by a major Jewish organization.

Written with the probing voice of a journalist like the JTA’s Fishkoff, “Kosher Nation” is a series of vignettes: the mashgiach in China hopping from factory to factory; the kosher winemaker experimenting in Napa; the Reform rabbi negotiating kashrut with a conflicted congregation.

Connecting these stories are data and history lessons on the building of today’s behemoth kosher infrastructure that shows no signs of slowing its growth.

“Today one third to one half of the food for sale in the typical American supermarket is kosher,” Fishkoff informs the reader in her opening chapter.

This means that most people who buy kosher products are not even aware of what the small symbol on the label implies, but that many manufacturers see kosher as a hot food trend and kosher often is associated with cleaner, superior food in the American mind.

Kosher can even be connected with “hip”: The popular television series “The Office” in a recent episode had a character slap a “K” on bottles of pesto made by his mother without actually having the product certified. In his defense he remarks, “I meant like, it’s cool, it’s kosher, it’s all good.”

Fishkoff’s book helps make sense of that kind of pop culture reference.

It wasn’t always this way. Until only several decades ago, meat was the primary concern of kosher authorities and strictly kosher food in general was relevant to only a small number of observant Jews. Many Jews kept some form of kosher, refraining from pork or the practice of “eating out,” but American Jews often rejected dietary laws in an attempt to assimilate into the dominant culture.

With an increase in the number of baalei teshuvah, newly observant Jews, who refuse to settle for syrupy wine or processed cheese, combined with the increasing appeal of the kosher symbol to celiacs, vegetarians and many other demographics, the kosher industry has become relevant to manufacturers as far away as Thailand.

Fishkoff explains the rules of kashrut to the layperson, from biblical to Talmudic injunctions to modern-day stringencies that wouldn’t have been an issue even a generation ago. She breaks down the kosher industry, from “The Big Four” certifying agencies to slaughterhouses to kosher caterers, and brings the reader up to date on some of the most relevant issues facing today’s kosher consumer. They include the ethics involved in the scandal at the Agriprocessers meat plant in Postville, Iowa, and the burgeoning New Jewish Food Movement.

Throughout “Kosher Nation,” Fishkoff regards her subjects with objectivity. Even the most zealous figures—like the Chasid on a one-woman campaign to prevent Jews from ingesting insects—become sympathetic and even relatable. It is clear that Fishkoff was fascinated by the subject; the reader cannot help but be fascinated, too.

For anyone who remembers when Oreos became kosher, notices when sushi is served at an Orthodox wedding or simply wants to take a bite out of Jewish Americana, “Kosher Nation” offers a readable, in-depth exploration into the cultural shifts and subtleties surrounding the rise of an industry.

Paired with “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook,” readers have a chance to re-examine food traditions far beyond the holiday table.

Dipping back into the origins of the kosher industry in America and then cooking recipes that reflect a contemporary kosher reality prove a filling and fulfilling experience.

Hadassah awards grants to help women

The Hadassah Foundation has awarded $182,000 in grants for 2011 to help women from diverse cultural groups in Israel and the American Jewish community.

This year, due to the global economic downturn, in addition to funding programs in the fields of economic security for low-income Israeli women and leadership and self-esteem programs for adolescent Jewish girls and young women in the United States, the foundation also funded economic empowerment and financial training programs in the United States.

“The Hadassah Foundation is proud to provide support for activists and advocates who work to create social change for women and girls,” said Linda Altshuler, director of the foundation.  “Over the past decade, we have helped to leverage innovative grant-making as an important vehicle that now energizes a network of partners in philanthropy here and in Israel.”

Among this year’s grantees are the Clinic for Legal Aid for Women in Family Law at Bar-Ilan University; the Public Interest Litigation Project at the Center for Women’s Justice in Jerusalem; Itach-Maaki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice in Tel Aviv; Shalom Bayit, a Project of the Tides Foundation in Oakland, Calif.; Gan Nashim: Growing Strong Jewish Girls through Hazon in New York; and Life$avings: Financial Literacy for Young Women, part of Jewish Women International in Washington.

Hadassah hospitals tap new director general

Dr. Ehud Kokia, a physician and health-care executive for nearly four decades, is the new director general of Israel’s Hadassah Medical Organization.

Kokia, 61, was named Monday as the organization’s eighth director general. The Hadassah Medical Organization includes Hadassah University Hospital Ein Kerem and Hadassah University Hospital Mount Scopus.

He previously served as CEO of one of Israel’s health care funds, Maccabi Healthcare Services. He has worked for the past 37 years as a physician and health-care executive.

Kokia succeeds Shlomo Mor-Yosef, who served in the post for 11 years. Mor-Yosef resigned in January 2010 amid speculation that he was forced out. He then agreed to a two-year extension of his contract while the organization searched for a successor.

“I feel the weight of shouldering the historic responsibility for leading Hadassah Medical Organization with its trail-blazing standards,” Kokia said. “I want to help Hadassah continue on the trajectory of growth set forth by my friend and colleague Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef.”

Yossi Rosen, chair of the Hadassah Medical Organization’s board of directors, called Kokia “a dedicated and gifted physician,” as well as a “medical executive who we believe is the best person to lead Hadassah Medical Organization into the next decade of providing health care for the people of Israel and the world.”

Hadassah picks ex-treasurer for top post

The national board of Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America has nominated its former treasurer to take over the organization’s top lay leadership position.

The board on Sunday officially selected Marcie Natan, currently the national chairperson of Hadassah College in Jerusalem, to become the organization’s president in July. Natan, of Lancaster, Pa., must be approved officially at Hadassah’s annual meeting. She would succeed Nancy Falchuk, who has served as president since 2007.

The organization’s top lay position, the Hadassah president serves as essentially a volunteer CEO, wielding an unusual amount of responsibility for a lay leader at a nonprofit.

Falchuk guided Hadassah through tumultuous waters over the past several years. In 2009, she navigated Hadassah through a PR nightmare when it became public that the organization had invested tens of millions of dollars with Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff while its former CFO, Sheryl Weinstein, claimed to have had a long-running affair with him.

In 2010, Falchuk helped avert potential disaster at the Hadassah Medical Center, which the organization founded and supports, as the staff threatened to strike over the potential ouster of its director general, Shlomo Mor Yosef.

And late last year, Falchuk helped the organization avoid a potential clawback lawsuit when the hospital reached an agreement with the trustee of Madoff’s estate, Irving Picard, to repay $45 million of the money the organization innocently made in Madoff’s scam.

Falchuk will work with Natan over the next several months during a transitional period, according to a statement sent out by Hadassah.

“I am blessed to have this opportunity to express my Zionism in such a meaningful way,” Natan said in the statement about her nomination.