For 18 years Hadassah “Keepers of the Gate” have helped fund the women’s organization’s lifesaving and Zionist mission. “Keepers” give a minimum of $1000 annually in support of medical care and research at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem.
On Aug. 27 about 50 members of Hadassah Southern New Jersey and male associate members — many who make annual pledges through the Keepers program — gathered at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County in Freehold.
The program honored the 100 members whose gifts ranged from $1000— Annual Keepers — to two Golden Keepers, each of whom gave $5,000 this year.
This year, the Keepers’ contributions amounted to $100,000 in total.
Region president Sherryl Kaufman said the Keepers program allows the organization to budget ahead of time, knowing the needed funds will be there.
“Hadassah is an all-volunteer organization that inspires a passion for and commitment to its partnership with the land and people of Israel,” she said.
The region’s fund-raising co-vice presidents, Debbie Kestin-Schildkraut and Michelle Krasner, said the majority of Keepers in the region — which covers from southern Somerset County through to the southernmost point of the state — pledge $1,000 per year.
At the gathering, keynote speaker and Hadassah national secretary Judy Shereck spoke of the many medical advances made as a result of that financial support. She characterized the medical center as “a bridge to peace,” treating both Arabs and Jews.
“Everyone is treated alike,” she said. “In some cases both the victim of a terrorist attack and the perpetrator are treated together. You see Israeli mothers and Arab mothers sitting together. In this instance they are nothing more than parents of a sick child.”
She said recent medical breakthroughs include a stem cell transplantation treatment for dry eye-macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness in the Western world; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the treatment for clinical trials.
Shereck said Hadassah was the first to discover how the BRCA gene mutation, which significantly increases a women’s risk for breast cancer, is 10 times more likely to occur in Ashkenazi women than in the general population.
A Hadassah oncologist recently developed a blood test that can predict the presence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Through a technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, an egg is fertilized through in-vitro fertilization and three days later is examined to see if it is carrying a breast cancer mutation. If a BRCA mutation is found, that embryo is not implanted, ensuring that the women’s children will not carry the mutated gene.
“These researchers are not only saving the lives of these women, but they are saving the lives of the children of these women,” said Shereck, a resident of Montvale and a member of Hadassah’s national board and executive committee.
Hadassah researchers have also led the way in conducting promising research using stem cells to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). They are also conducting an “unprecedented” trial injecting stem cells directly into the cerebrospinal fluid of the spines of multiple sclerosis sufferers, which, Shereck said, “could bring help to 2.5 million people worldwide.”
As part of its commitment to help all Israelis, Shereck said, Hadassah researchers have also developed a “cutting-edge” program to test and evaluate developmentally delayed Arab children in east Jerusalem.