Most Jewish women know the name Hadassah, so often associated with their mothers and grandmothers — as well as their own roles as volunteers, activists for justice, advocates for gender equality, Zionists and champions of a globally renowned hospital of the same name in Jerusalem.
Hadassah Greater Detroit has a home in the community unlike any other Hadassah in America. With a name on the building that speaks volumes — a testament to the communal strength of Jewish Detroit — the Sarah & Ralph Davidson Hadassah House at 5030 Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield opened its doors in 1985.
One hundred years ago, in 1917, it was Sarah (Wetsman) Davidson who started Hadassah’s Detroit chapter with the guidance of the organization’s founder, Henrietta Szold. Sarah’s daughter, Dorothy “Dottie” Gerson, 96, of Franklin continues to be an avid and active supporter.
Until his passing in 2009, Bill Davidson was a supporter as well. A gift of more than $75 million to help build the new 19-story state-of-the-art Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower in Jerusalem was made by Bill and Karen Davidson on behalf of Guardian Industries. The Tower stands today at the forefront of medical technology and patient care in Israel.
Carol Ogusky, president of Hadassah Greater Detroit, and Executive Director Evelyn Diskin provided a quick tour of Hadassah House.
“In general, we a have a full schedule of chapter meetings, speakers and events here,” Diskin says. “On any afternoon, you might find a women’s group playing cards in one of the conference rooms or just here to socialize. We also have a steady stream of traffic as people drop in to donate items or make tributes. I believe one of the reasons Hadassah Greater Detroit is so energized and productive is because we have this beautiful building. We call it Hadassah House, but really it’s a home.”
A happily retired psychotherapist who owned a clinic with her husband, Ronald, for many years, Ogusky has found in Hadassah a worthy place for her people skills, her energy and newfound role as a professional volunteer and community leader.
Diskin, “a fifth-grade school teacher in another life,” has served as executive director for 28 years. Working in close partnership with Gail Katz and Roberta “Bobbie” Malin, who run the office, she emphasizes that Hadassah Greater Detroit is a powerful volunteer organization with approximately 4,200 members in the greater Detroit area. They are a vital part of the largest women’s, largest Jewish and largest Zionist organization in America, with 330,000 members, associates and supporters nationwide.
“Hadassah has a member in every Congressional District in the U.S.,” Ogusky says. “We were founded in 1912, before Israel was a state and before women could vote. We are and always have been a proactive organization. I believe our new tagline says it all: ‘We are the power of women who do. And we do heal, educate, advocate, connect and engage.’”
Hadassah works to bring its volunteers, partners and communities together on critical issues, such as women’s health and medical research initiatives, equity in the workplace, domestic violence prevention, gun control, women’s empowerment and leadership development.
In Israel and worldwide, Hadassah supports leading-edge medical research, setting the global standard for patient care though the Hadassah Medical Organization, which provides care for more than 1 million patients a year regardless of race, religion or nationality.
With close ties to other Jewish community organizations, Hadassah Greater Detroit is never far from the pulse of the community, its events and its pool of volunteers.
Volunteers, of course, are the lifeblood of on-going projects and activities that reside at Hadassah House:
- Doll Project: Every Thursday morning, a “sewing circle” of women gathers in the front room of Hadassah House to cut, stitch, stuff and dress dolls — made with love for children in hospitals as well as other patients in need of comfort and cheer. Hadassah has supported this project for 25 years, sending more than 80,000 dolls throughout the nation and to the Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel.
- Bookstock Collection: Hadassah Greater Detroit serves as a drop-off site for donations to Bookstock, Jewish Detroit’s Colossal Used Book and Media Sale supporting literacy.
- Backroom Boutique and Annual Rummage Sale: No telling what people will bring and what treasures they can find: boutique items include high-end, gently worn or nearly new clothing and accessories.
- Nurses Council brings in speakers and sponsors a variety of health events throughout the year, offering nurses the opportunity to earn continuing education units (CEUs).
- Domestic Abuse and Human Trafficking Awareness: Working with NCJW, Hadassah has sponsored speaker events and continues to partner on programs.
- GirlForce: A self-esteem program for girls in grades 4-6, GirlForce focuses on healthy eating habits, exercise, body image consciousness and Jewish identity. The program has gone to Tamarack Camps, Temple Israel and Hillel Day School with the generous support of the Jewish Women’s Foundation.
Something For All Woman
Why should women choose Hadassah?
“I’m so glad you asked that question,” Ogusky says. “We talk endlessly about how to engage young people. We want continuity and strength in our numbers. And, here we are, so happy to have two new chapters installed this year, suggesting that we are indeed filling a need for new members to join our ranks.”
All it takes is the power of one. As Ogusky explains, the newest chapter of Hadassah Greater Detroit started when Melissa Liverman, a young woman from Montreal, walked through the door and asked, “Do you have a Hadassah group for me?”
The answer: “Yes, we do now.”
As Ogusky recalls, “We put our heads together, made some calls, gathered our friends, including past president Beverly Fine, who was eager to serve as adviser. Today, we have a wonderfully cohesive group of women and a chapter named Leorah — named after Melissa’s grandmother. How sweet is that?”
The second group to officially become a chapter this year can be described as “born again.” They were Hadassah members from four previous groups that had disbanded.
“All it took was an invitation,” Diskin says. “We had a core group of women with interest in starting anew, and when we invited them back, they decided to return.” The new chapter is named Aviv.
When asked about her own Hadassah journey, Ogusky says she started about eight years ago with a trip to Israel and a tour of Hadassah Hospital with her husband.
“He was so impressed he suggested I become a Hadassah member. I agreed, but you know how it is — you come home, fall into your old routine and the time slips away,” she says. “My husband had to remind me about it. And when I called the office, and they told me the different ‘levels’ of membership, I thought I’ll just become a Life Member and be done with it.
“Well, you can see how that worked out for me, and judging from the stack of work on my desk today, I’m now hooked in the best way possible. For life!”
Vivian Henoch Special to the Jewish News
This story first appeared on Federation’s myjewishdetroit.org, where Vivian Henoch is editor.
11:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 23
Congregation Beth Ahm,
1-4 p.m. Aug. 20
Marsh Bank Park, West Bloomfield
No charge, bring your own lunch
6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8
Detroit Institute of Arts Rivera Court
For details or reservations, contact Greater Detroit Hadassah at (248) 683-5030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.