|Carla Bruni-Sarkozy receives a thank-you gift from Hadassah France at a fund-raiser in Paris on March 5. Devorah Lauter|
PARIS â€“ Singer. Model. First lady of France. Hadassah woman.
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was the guest of honor March 5 at a glitzy fund-raiser in Paris for Hadassah Medical Organization’s hospital in Jerusalem and its global medical aid programs.
Standing at the podium in a sleeveless silky black and white dress, she said in her trademark soft, husky voice to a crowd wearing glittering couture balanced on needle-thin heels, “I’m so happy to have kept my promise.”
Bruni-Sarkozy was referring to a visit she paid to the children’s ward of the hemato-oncology department at the Hadassah hospital in June, when she was in Jerusalem as part of her husband’s state visit.
During a tour of the facilities, she told the hospital’s general director, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, that she wanted to help.
Eight months later Bruni-Sarkozy, whose chiseled features and modern elegance continue to fascinate, delivered by becoming the first French first lady to work with Hadassah, the nongovernmental organization founded by American Zionist women nearly a century ago.
Bruni-Sarkozy’s appearance came at a trying period: Israel is wrestling with the fallout from Gaza, French Jews are worried about another spike in anti-Semitism, and Hadassah has eliminated dozens of jobs.
In short, it was a good time for any sort of image boost that the 41-year-old first lady could provide.
“The image she conveys can help get rid of this vilifying view of Israel,” the president of Hadassah France, Sydney Ohana, told JTA in an interview. “She weighed the importance of a small country like this and understood that the world needs them, too.”
In December, after a year of sidelining as her husband’s glamorous companion, Bruni-Sarkozy signed on as the good-will ambassador for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
It was under the new job title that Bruni-Sarkozy lent her image to Hadassah’s French branch for its 25th anniversary gala to fund the renowned medical research facility and its successful treatment of orphaned Ethiopian children with AIDS. The child mortality rate under the Ethiopian program has dropped from an annual 25 percent to 1 percent.
But her attachment to the Hadassah flagship hospital began before her Global Fund work, when Mor-Yosef said she dazzled patients and employees who “stood crowded in windows” to see her last summer.
Bruni-Sarkozy, he added, was “very touched” by the child cancer patients she met and “impressed” with the facility, which treats both Palestinians and Jewish Israeli patients.
Hadassah’s hospital, which was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, already doubles as an ambassador for some of Israel’s humanitarian efforts.
Ohana adds that in addition to Bruni-Sarkozy’s fresh face alongside Hadassah’s pro-Israel brand, when it comes to activism, the towering Italian-born beauty “does not just show up at gala dinners.”
“She knows the subject [of AIDS] really well,” Ohana said of the first lady, who lost a brother to the disease.
He cited her lengthy, technical discussions with researchers and doctors.
Through her contact with scientists and her Global Fund network, Ohana said Bruni-Sarkozy “can help make sure that Israelis and their researchers are not marginalized and that science has no borders.”
“Other first ladies have come” to the hospital, Mor-Yosef said. “But she’s different because she’s young, she’s beautiful, she’s not the typical first lady, and that’s clear to everybody.”