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A chapter of their own?

Focus group to assess interest in new Hadassah chapter for young women

Bergen County may soon be home to an additional Hadassah chapter if a focus group, slated to meet on December 12, confirms what Hadassah leaders in the area intuit: that young women in the area want a chapter all their own.

“We’ve had inquiries and we want to see what these women have in mind – what kind of volunteerism and programming they’re interested in,” said Northern New Jersey Regional President Loren Roth, whose job includes overseeing the 10 Hadassah chapters already in existence in Bergen County.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization, is a national philanthropic organization founded by Henrietta Szold, with the stalwart support of Israel as its predominant goal. It claims 330,000 members and supporters, and works to enhance “the health of people worldwide through its support of medical care and research at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem,” according to its website.

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Lauren Roth

In Bergen County, some 4,500 women are involved with Hadassah through chapters in Bergenfield, Emerson, Englewood, Fair Lawn, Palisades, Paramus, Pascack Valley/Westwood, River Edge, Teaneck, and Wyckoff. According to Gail Black, Hadassah’s Bergen County region membership coordinator, women interested in the December 12 focus group so far come mostly from Teaneck, Tenafly, and the Westwood area.

“Many of the existing chapters are comprised of members who are much older, while others have a range of ages,” Ms. Black said. “The women we’ve spoken to about the upcoming focus group are in their thirties and seem to want to start something from scratch.” Some of the women are new to the community, some are just coming of age, and some want the challenge of starting a unit with its own identity rather than joining an existing group, she added.

Ms. Roth and Ms. Black will have an opportunity to test the waters at the Thursday night gathering, to be held at Shelly’s Vegetarian Café and Restaurant on Cedar Lane in Teaneck at 7 p.m. Women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are invited to join them for pizza and salad and to bring along their ideas.

“This is a new generation of women, and they may want to steer the group in a different direction,” Ms. Roth said. “We’ll take our cues from them.”

Now 101 years old, Hadassah has weathered its share of challenges, both in public and behind the scenes – it took a sharp hit from Bernie Madoff – and is now in the midst of a rebranding campaign to sharpen its image. This, coupled with the recent Pew report that points to the waning of institutional Judaism in America, might lead some onlookers to think that the future bodes ill for this venerable organization.

Not so, say both Ms. Roth and Ms. Black, who consider Hadassah to be one of the bright lights in the firmament of Jewish organizational life.

“In 2012 we celebrated our centennial, and 60,000 new people became life members during that year,” Ms. Black said. “That says a lot.”

“I think Hadassah has been able to flourish because it does not differentiate between denominations of Jews, and some chapters and units are even open and welcoming to non-Jews,” Ms. Roth said. “Hadassah’s mission is about the land and people of Israel, supporting them through medicine and health care, education, youth activity, Jewish identity and continuity.

“These are important values, and that’s what puts Hadassah in the forefront of people’s minds.”

To join the December 12 focus group, email Gail Black at blackfam@hotmail.com or call her at 973-226-1297 before December 6.

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