Marcie Natan is Hadassah’s 25th national president, and the first one to visit the Northwest.
According to Natan, who spoke with JTNews on an especially soggy Seattle morning, Pacific Northwest chapter president Jacquie Bayley said to her, “I don’t think we’ve ever had a sitting national president come to Seattle.”
Natan responded, “Jacquie, I’ll come!”
Over the course of her barely three-day stop in Washington State, Natan met with small groups in homes, at the Summit at First Hill, with the board and members in Tacoma, and spoke at the Seattle chapter’s kick-off event on September 22, “Daughters: From Generation to Generation.”
The Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization began 101 years ago when Henrietta Szold decided to do something about the disease and starvation rampant in pre-state Israel. Today, the international organization boasts approximately 330,000 women who dedicate time and money to a variety of causes, from medical advances at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem to the Young Judea teen Israel program.
Natan, who is almost halfway through her term, is focusing in particular on two issues: Bringing younger women into the fold, and stabilizing the Israeli side of the organization.
Currently, the Israel-based Hadassah Medical Organization is running a deficit, and the shift in demographic patterns where many women no longer stay home with their children has undermined Hadassah relevance. According to a recent article in the Jewish Voice, Jews under 40 are less likely to donate to causes than older community members, and according to one study, they are more likely to give to Jewish organizations that support “non-Jewish people and causes.”
“My generation of women…was basically home with the kids,” said Natan. “You needed to do something with your head other than change diapers.
“I think the challenge for us is to figure out a way to allow those women to have a Hadassah experience which will connect them to Israel in a way that I don’t think the synagogues really do,” she said.
One of Natan’s projects is the Hadassah Leadership Fellows, a two-year program that includes a trip to Israel and encourages busy young women to commit to the organization.
“Writing the check is still important, but it isn’t the end-all, be-all,” she said.
Meanwhile, the American end of the organization is supporting the Israeli side.
“This American-based organization cannot support the research, do the capital campaign, and be responsible for the operational expenses,” she said.
Natan has been meeting with Israeli government officials, but it’s a challenge, she explained, as the government has no budget.
Despite the challenges Hadassah faces now, the organization is thriving in terms of its research and initiatives.
Among Hadassah’s many areas of research are advocacy for women’s health issues, including reproductive, breast, and heart health. In Israel, they’re working with religious Jewish and Arab communities to encourage check-ups. Lack of information, as well as discomfort due to modesty issues, makes both communities vulnerable, Natan suggests.
“We need to make them aware,” she said.
Because Israel has had no limitations on stem-cell research, Hadassah has contributed to great strides in research.
“We are very far along with ALS research, Multiple Sclerosis, and age-related macular degeneration,” she said. “We are cutting-edge, and a focus of our membership is on the state-of-the-art research that will illuminate the world.”
Natan described her visit to the Pacific Northwest as an “opportunity to meet people, touch people, and talk to people,” and, of course, to do a little fundraising.
“My hope is always to energize the membership,” she said. “At the same time, it is a gift for me…to see the commitment of the grassroots membership, and the passion and the love for Hadassah, for Zionism, for Israel, for the Jewish people — [it] kind of reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing.”