How Hadassah evolves
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How Hadassah evolves

Younger members establish a chapter in the metropolitan area 

Natasha Tourial
Natasha Tourial

When Natasha Tourial moved to Union City, she found it hard to find a community of young Jewish women there, or in the New York City metropolitan area in general.

Ms. Tourial was born in New York City but grew up in Calabasas, California, went to college in Georgia, and stayed there for a few years after graduation. Now 29 and a risk manager for a real estate investment trust, she was transferred to the company’s New York office and found herself almost back home.

It was particularly difficult for Ms. Tourial to find community because she moved to Union City in March 2020, as the covid pandemic was starting. “It’s during trying times like that that you really lean on your community, and that’s when I really was looking to forge that sense of community,” she said. “And I noticed there wasn’t anything extremely well established in our area for young Jewish women to get together and to learn from one another, to lead with one another, and to really serve their community.”

The topic came up in a conversation with a friend, Shayna Engler, who lives in New York City. Ms. Engler mentioned that her mother was very involved in Hadassah and that Hadassah offers programming for young women, but not in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. Evolve Hadassah is the young women’s division of Hadassah; it’s geared to women 45 and younger and designed to encourage those who want to make a difference to get involved in the organization.

Shayna Engler

“While there are many Hadassah chapters in the New York/ New Jersey metro area, there was no Evolve chapter, and we found a lack of programming specifically for women in their 20s, 30s, early 40s,” Ms. Tourial said. “That was when the two of us decided to start a chapter ourselves. And that was the beginning of a beautiful partnership not only between me and Shayna, but also between me and Hadassah.”

The two women began a conversation with Hadassah’s national leadership about starting a local Evolve program. As Ms. Tourial learned more about Hadassah’s work, her interest in it grew. Founded in 1912, Hadassah, with 300,000 members, is said to be the largest women’s, Jewish, and Zionist organization in the United States. The White House and State Department often call on its leaders when they want to gather the heads of America’s leading Jewish groups.

Hadassah’s mission involves combating antisemitism and advocating for women’s healthcare rights in the United States. In Israel, it advocates for Israel’s security and supports both the medical care and clinical research taking place at Hadassah’s hospitals and the education, counseling, and love provided to at-risk children at Hadassah’s youth villages. The volunteer organization advances this mission while providing Jewish educational and social action programming for its members, empowering women to lead, inspiring a passion for Israel and a commitment to it, and creating a sense of community.

“As a first-generation member of Hadassah, I’m learning so much about the organization,” Ms. Tourial said. “And I couldn’t be more happy or more proud and excited to be a part of such an organization.”

Leah Felner
Leah Felner, who lives in Jersey City, started working with Ms. Tourial and Ms. Engler to get the new Evolve chapter up and running. Ms. Felner grew up in Fair Lawn, where her mother was very involved in Hadassah, and she spent a lot of time helping out with the organization’s events throughout her childhood.

Ms. Tourial, Ms. Engler, and Ms. Felner chaired the area’s first Evolve event last May and have coordinated one just about every month since then. “We’ve had some incredible programs in the last six months,” Ms. Tourial said. One of the most well-received was a candle-making class in New York City. The group spent about three hours getting to know one another as each participant designed a unique candle. “The event drew amazing women from all over the area,” Ms. Tourial said. “It was so much fun just to be able to get to meet, and get to know, everybody in the room.”

The three also organized an apple-picking trip at an orchard in central New Jersey before Rosh Hashanah. Some women came from as far away as Long Island for it. “People are just really excited to have a sense of community of young Jewish women in the area,” Ms. Tourial said. “We saw the need for that and we’re seeing a really good response to providing it.” Programs tend to draw a mix of old and new faces – a balance Ms. Tourial sees as a great way to build Evolve.

“During every event, we talk about some of Hadassah’s initiatives, and about some of the impact the organization has had,” Ms. Tourial continued. She enjoys seeing participants, some of whom may not know much about the organization, becoming inspired by Hadassah’s work and wanting to get involved. “I think we all just want to see a positive change in the world,” she said.

The programs the new Evolve chapter has hosted so far have been mostly social events because Ms. Tourial, Ms. Engler, and Ms. Felner felt it was important to start by fostering a sense of community. The plan for 2024 is to add meetings focusing on Jewish education and social action into the mix. “We’ve had an incredible turnout, success beyond our wildest dreams, for the chapter only being six months old at this point,” Ms. Tourial said. “We are so happy with how it’s evolving. We have been so happy to see the community of incredible young women that is being built. It’s just been a really insane but beautiful ride for the last six months.”

After an extensive application and interview process, Ms. Tourial and Ms. Engler recently were selected to participate in Hadassah’s Evolve Fellowship program. The program was created last year, and they are part of the program’s second cohort. Ms. Felner is a member of the initial cohort.

The two-year program is designed to train the next generation of Hadassah’s leaders. New fellows meet with Hadassah’s national leadership to learn more about the organization. They also participate in a series of virtual workshops that focus on leadership skills and on ways to inspire others to get involved; a recent session was about effective public speaking and how to convey a message powerfully. The 10-person cohort is scheduled to go to Israel in February to learn more about Hadassah’s work there and to visit the Hadassah hospitals and youth villages.

“I’m learning so much from the fellowship program, and I’m loving every second of it,” Ms. Tourial said. “We’re learning how to be effective leaders, we’re learning more about Hadassah, and we’re learning more about the impact that Hadassah has.” She hopes to use the leadership skills she is gaining to help run the new local Evolve chapter, to become more involved with other Hadassah initiatives, and to take on a leadership role within the organization.

“We’re trying to make an impact in our local communities and . beyond, and we want to spread the word of what Hadassah does in hopes of inspiring younger members to get involved.”

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