Hadassah is not an association it’s a way of life," says Deborah Kaplan, former national president of the organization and long-time leader of the Bayonne chapter and Northern New Jersey Region.
The Bayonne native will speak at the Hadassah Legacy Spring Luncheon on Sunday celebrating the history and accomplishments of the Bayonne and Jersey City chapters. The two groups, marking their 70th and 85th anniversaries, respectively, merged several years ago.
Kaplan will talk about the history of the two groups, culminating in their recent merger. "It’s an exciting story," says Kaplan, Hadassah’s honorary vice president and chair, Jewish National Fund. "I was looking through the archives and I realized that the [Hadassah] leadership was the ‘cr?me de la cr?me’ of the Jewish community."
In a conversation dotted with detailed historical references, personal reminiscences, and a clear passion for the work of the organization, Kaplan, who says she has been involved in Zionist groups since she was 8 years old, told The Jewish Standard that "if Hadassah had not been founded by Henrietta Szold in 191′, we would still have needed to create such an organization."
Kaplan is proud of her group’s accomplishments. She points out that the organization built the infrastructure for a modern medical system in Israel and continues to maintain hospitals "where our doctors perform miracles."
While the average age of Hadassah members in Hudson County is 55 to 75, Kaplan says, "we have a nice group of younger members." One younger Hadassah member Kaplan’s daughter Miriam Aron, a resident of Teaneck has been named president of the organization’s Northern New Jersey Region. "I’m the first national president whose daughter has become president of a region," she says.
Also speaking at the Hadassah luncheon will be Gloria Meltzer Schneider, a Jersey City resident from 1950 through ‘004. According to Schneider, she became active in the chapter "right from the start."
At the time, the chapter had four groups, says the former president of the Northern New Jersey Region, now a member of the President’s Council of National Hadassah. The region had 18,000 members, she recalls. And living now in Pittsburgh, where she has begun to participate in the activities of that town’s local chapter, she can still recall the borders of the New Jersey region she served.
Schneider says she helped keep the Jersey City group going until the merger, but "it was an aging chapter. The mean age was 85."
In its heyday, "we were a premier chapter," says Schneider, "the second chapter established in New Jersey, after Newark. At one point, in the late 40s and early 50s, we had over 1,000 members."
According to Schneider, the chapter’s highly successful Bingo game helped the group meet its $64,000 annual quota. "It was like a real business," says Schneider, "with little old ladies running the operation." When the Bingo game was relocated to another town, the chapter went into decline.
Schneider was brought up in a Zionist home where her father "collected a house full of stuff for Israel."
"Hadassah was a natural place to go," she says.
The luncheon will be held at noon at the Bayonne Jewish Community Center, 1050 Kennedy Boulevard. For information, call Laurette Gold at (’01) 339-41’5.