Four generations of a family devoted to Hadassah — and whose connection stretches back to a fifth generation — gathered in Monroe to celebrate the Zionist organization’s 100th anniversary.
All members of the Old Bridge chapter, they shared their stories at the annual Myrtle Wreath Luncheon of the Southern New Jersey Region, held at the Forsgate Country Club March 25.
Melissa Herring, 11, of Hamilton became the latest in her family’s line of Hadassah supporters when she was made a life member of the chapter by her great-grandmother, Suzanne Balaban of Monroe.
“Hadassah saves lives through its medical research,” said Melissa. “I know it supports Israel. Young people are needed by Hadassah to continue this support.”
Suzanne said her own mother, the late Johanna Katz, a Czech native, joined the organization with her daughter in the ’40s in Elmhurst, NY.
In 1961 Suzanne founded what is now the Old Bridge chapter, moving to Monroe 11 years ago. Sitting at a table taken up by members of her family, she recalled how she helped arrange the chapter’s opening gala in the local firehouse.
“They took out the truck for us,” said Suzanne, 90, who also recounted raising money by selling designer merchandise out of the trunk of her car.
Calling Hadassah “an important part of my life,” Suzanne said its emphasis on education and empowering women has always resonated with her.
Like her great-granddaughter, Suzanne cited Hadassah’s role in founding the modern State of Israel and spoke with pride of its building the first hospital.
Her daughter, Renee Balaban of Monroe, said that commitment to helping others, a hallmark of both Hadassah and Israel, remains as strong as ever. She talked about the country’s quick response to the medical crisis in Haiti following 2010’s devastating earthquake.
“Israel was the first one to get there and the last one to leave,” she said.
Beyond its strong ties to Israel, Renee said, she has always found strength in Hadassah’s support for women’s issues.
“I have always liked that Hadassah works hard to promote women’s rights,” she said. “Women have a right to do what they want with their bodies. When I listen to these politicians trying to take us back to the 18th century and then I see Hadassah right up front leading the fight for women’s rights, I am proud to support the organization.”
Amy Herring, the mother of Melissa and eight-year-old twins Jenna and Carly, said Hadassah has been “a way of life” for many women.
“It’s been part of my life since I was born,” she said. “My grandmother was always writing or speaking or running some fund-raising event. I feel our chapter is one big happy extended family. It gives me a lot of hope.”