Deep roots inspire local Hadassah leaders
Longtime Essex County Hadassah members Stephanie Bonder and Jill Tekel were named to the top leadership roles of the organization’s Northern New Jersey Region: Bonder was installed as president, Tekel as vice president.
Bonder of West Caldwell has been a member of Hadassah for 22 years; Tekel of West Orange for 43.
The region comprises 26 chapters and two groups covering an area extending from Staten Island to Morris Plains and from Pascack Valley to Cranford.
Bonder, a lower school teacher at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, said she is “ultimately responsible” for the region’s fund-raising. In Israel, Hadassah funds the Hadassah Medical Organization, three youth villages for children at risk, and handicapped-accessible parks and forests it is building in partnership with the Jewish National Fund.
Bonder will also serve as a link between the local chapters and the national organization, and is charged with educating the Jewish community about Hadassah’s work.
“It’s been intense since Day One,” she said. She assumed the post in June.
Bonder, 49, is the youngest regional leader of Hadassah in the country. “I am actually the same age Henrietta Szold was when she first traveled to Palestine [in 1909] and saw the desperate conditions of the people living in Jerusalem,” Bonder told NJ Jewish News. “That visit spurred her to do something, and within three years, she convinced her women’s study group — first called “Daughters of Zion” — to found Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, in 1912…. For the next 35 years she dedicated herself to building Hadassah into an organization that helped establish the State of Israel and build its modern health-care system.”
Bonder’s own connection with Hadassah goes way back. “I am from a five-generation life member family,” she said. Both her grandmothers were presidents of their chapters — Anne Zimmer of Bridgeport, Conn., and Sarah Fellman of the Belleville/Nutley chapter. Bonder grew up hearing about the organization’s work from her mother, Joan Zimmer, who was involved with Hadassah in Livingston and then, after she moved, in Delray Beach, Fla.
The organization, Bonder said, “represents everything that is important to me: Zionism, feminism, advocacy, health care, education, Judaism, and tzedaka. This is the glue that has kept me attached to Hadassah.”
As a teenager, she was president of United Synagogue Youth, and she met her husband Alan while both were counselors at JCC MetroWest’s summer camp. She got involved with what is now the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ after returning to the state after college. She and Alan and their two daughters are members of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell.
Bonder became president of the Caldwell chapter of Hadassah in 2002, moved on to the region board, and became the organization’s vice president in 2012.
She said the region is also raising money to plant trees to honor the soldiers who died in the latest Gaza war, and to carry out advocacy work in the United States on a wide variety of issues, ranging from equal pay for equal work, to reproductive rights, to support of Israel.
“Although this is a great deal of work on top of my job as a teacher at Golda Och Academy, it is extremely fulfilling,” she said. “The role models I see in the women of Hadassah are amazing. I only hope I can live up to their example.”
Tekel joined Hadassah in 1971 when her mother-in-law Yvette made her a life member. “Yvette was always active in Hadassah, as was her mother, Esther Gitlow, who started the Spring Valley, NY, chapter after Israel became a state in 1948,” said Tekel.
Now 89, Yvette remains on Hadassah’s national board.
Tekel herself has been a president of the Livingston chapter twice. “Over these past 43 years, holding most positions within the chapter — education, American and Zionist affairs, fund-raising coordinator, chairing conferences within the region, attending and participating in leadership training symposiums and national conventions — I have learned skills that have served me well,” she said.
Tekel works as a volunteer speech pathologist with stroke victims. She is the advisory chair of the Adler Aphasia Center, a satellite facility of the Adler Maywood Center, which Hadassah helped start at JCC MetroWest in West Orange. “We also have an Adler Aphasia Center at Hadassah College in Jerusalem,” she said.
Tekel represents Hadassah on the Community Relations Committee of the Greater MetroWest federation, and is on the board of trustees of B’nai Shalom in West Orange.
“Working with Hadassah and its members continues to amaze me,” she said. “The women are smart and passionate. The national leadership is spirited and energetic and their concern for success in Israel, their love for Zionism, our two hospitals, and all of the youth projects we support both in Israel and the United States is contagious.”