As the personification of women’s empowerment, two of the most influential female politicians in the United States and Israel stood on the stage, greeted by the cheers of more than 1,800 delegates to the 94th national Hadassah convention.
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik had telling messages, embroidered with some warm personal touches.
Pelosi let it be known that she was a mother of five and grandmother of seven, and later noted, “I have more Jewish grandchildren than anyone.” (A pardonable exaggeration, since she has only two Jewish grandkids, who, however, serenade her with “Happy Birthday to You” in Hebrew.)
Itzik couldn’t quite match Pelosi, but countered with her three children, all Jewish.
On the occasion, though, what was most on the minds of the two speakers was the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“We must take the madmen in Tehran seriously,” Itzik urged. “Their nuclear plans threaten not only Tel Aviv, but also New York and Los Angeles.”
Pelosi called for “far-reaching and tighter sanctions that recognize that Iran is a danger to the entire world,” adding that global security “demands that Iran give up its nuclear ambitions.”
The San Francisco Democrat, who led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Israel in May to help celebrate the nation’s 60th anniversary, demanded the return of Israeli hostages held by the Iran-supported Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists.
She said that the wife of hostage Eldad Regev had presented her with a set of her husband’s military dog tags.
“I wore the dog tags when I was meeting the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia and the president of Syria,” she said.
Pelosi also warmly praised the work of the Hadassah Medical Organization and its two medical centers in Jerusalem.
Noting that the Hadassah hospitals were open to anyone, regardless of race or religion, she told the delegates, “Hadassah accepts all patients, not because they are Jewish, but because you are Jewish.”
Pelosi also called for Jewish community support for a series of health-related bills, ranging from stem-cell research to Medicare reform, which passed both houses of Congress, but were vetoed by President Bush.
“But it won’t be long until these bills become law,” she promised. “The next president will sign them.”
Hadassah’s national president, Nancy Falchuck of Boston, standing between Pelosi and Itzik, referred to them jokingly as “Stereo Speakers” and praised them as pioneers who had shattered the glass ceilings in their respective countries.
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has some 300,000 women members in the United States and an additional 30,000 male associate members.
The four-day convention at the Bonaventure Hotel ended Wednesday, July 16, after a crammed program of sessions, workshops and plenary addresses on current politics, the future of medicine, anti-Semitism, women’s health, information technology, being green and projects in Israel.
The opening event with Pelosi and Itzik concluded with a lengthy video presentation intertwining the histories of the State of Israel and Hadassah, from 1948 to the present.
Actor Henry Winkler inadvertently turned the fairly straightforward narration into somewhat of a comedy routine by repeatedly mangling the pronunciation of such words as “Ein Kerem” (the site of the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem) and “intifada.”
Both Winkler and the audience took the lapses in good humor, with the latter frequently shouting out the correct pronunciations. The show was saved by three lovely singers of the Ashira Trio and two talented male actors.
Two women, sitting on either side of this Journal reporter while watching the proceedings, represented two poles of Hadassah membership.
On one side sat Benita Ross of Canton, Mass., a veteran of Hadassah conventions for 30 years. Now serving as the organization’s national chair for Jewish and Zionist education, she represents five generations – from her grandmother to her granddaughter – of Hadassah activism.
On the other side was Svetlana Kaff, who personified the younger, professional women Hadassah is trying hard to attract.
The 34-year old immigration lawyer, one of three San Francisco delegates, arrived in this country as a 16-year old from Odessa and is the mother of two.
“I see few young persons here,” Kaff said. “The main problem is that if you have a job and children, there is very little time left for other activities.”
Kaff, who also volunteers for her city’s Jewish Family and Children’s Service and at her synagogue, said she joined her local Hadassah chapter “to give something back to my community.”
To avoid charges of minority and gender discrimination, The Journal also interviewed Elliott G. Spack, one of 75 members of the male Hadassah Associates attending the convention.
The Edison, N.J., resident is also part of an all-Hadassah family, consisting of his wife Barbara, a board member, and three daughters, all of whom attended Hadassah’s Young Judaea study programs in israel.
Spack, who retired as executive director of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, said that by joining the Hadassah Associates, he and other men “recognize the commitment of our wives and the importance of what they are doing.”