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Relishing friendship, creativity, service at Hadassah reunion
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Relishing friendship, creativity, service at Hadassah reunion

Women recall volunteering for ‘a cause they believed in’

Hadassah members Norma Papier (left), Roz Staras (center), and Anita Kasrel in 1974.
Hadassah members Norma Papier (left), Roz Staras (center), and Anita Kasrel in 1974.

Rose Kahn, now nearing 99, was a newlywed when she moved to Princeton nearly seven decades ago. Looking to do “something worthwhile” — instead of just “playing cards and mahjong” — she and other young women joined Hadassah to devote themselves to “working for Israel.” Being active in the venerable organization, she told NJJN, “played an important part in our lives.”

Kahn was one of three dozen women at a reunion of members of Princeton Hadassah who shared memories of their activism and friendships for nearly 80 years of the chapter, working for Hadassah and its support of community health and well-being, Jewish values and continuity, and strengthening connections to Israel and Israelis.

Founded in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America is now among the world’s largest Jewish volunteer groups. The funds its members raise bolster health initiatives and programs in Israel, key among them the Hadassah Medical Center, a leading research hospital in Jerusalem. Hadassah advocates on behalf of women’s rights, religious autonomy, and the American-Israel relationship; in Israel, the group also supports women’s initiatives, schools, and programs for underprivileged youth.

NJJN talked to a number of the attendees at the reunion, which was held on Oct.14 at Windrows, an independent-living community near Princeton.

For many who joined Princeton Hadassah, which was consolidated into the Greater Princeton chapter in 2013, in the 1950s and ’60s the organization’s role went beyond being a means for these committed Zionists to help the State of Israel and the Hadassah Medical Center, said Ruth Schulman, who served as chapter president in 1969-70; being active in Hadassah, she said, kept them “sane.”

Irene Goldfarb was first a member of Hadassah in Morristown before joining the Princeton chapter in 1963. Photo by Fred Edelman

“We were smart women and didn’t work. We had kids and needed adult company,” she said. In Hadassah, “we learned skills that those of us who wanted to go back to work in the future could use: organization and administration, managing finances, and working with volunteers to accomplish goals we had set.”

Schulman said the idea for the reunion came from Hazel Stix, who had suggested, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got together some of the women from the old days and talked about Hadassah?” So the call went out to reach women from any and every year. The committee members who planned the event included former chapter presidents Stix (1963-65), Schulman (1969-70), Fran Zeitler (1965-66), Sandie Rabinowitz (1971-73), and other Hadassah chapter leaders Fran Engler, publicity chairperson, and Harriet Heilweil, newsletter editor.

It was in 1940 that Kahn joined what was then Princeton Junior Hadassah when she moved to Princeton from Trenton after marrying Benjamin Kahn (whose parents owned Princeton’s Alpha Dairy). She was the oldest member at the reunion.

During the postwar years, an influx of graduate students created the nucleus of Senior Princeton Hadassah. Beverly Glassman moved to Princeton in 1951 when her husband, Irvin, became an assistant professor of aeronautical engineering at Princeton University. Recalling what was then a small town of 7,000 with very few Jews, she said she can remember walking down the town’s Nassau Street looking for potential members. She and the other members had been told that “a lot of the owners of stores were Jewish. We went in and out of every store, to find out who was Jewish and whether they were married and had a wife,” said Glassman, who served as chapter president, 1956-57.

Maxine Gurk gave haircuts in her home to raise money for Hadassah. Photo by Fred Edelman

It wasn’t only the opportunity to serve Israel and their fellow Jews that drew members to the group. For Carol Horowitz (president, 1977-78), it was hearing the words, “They have babysitting,” not long after she gave birth to her third son in 1966. 

Schulman first heard about Hadassah at a pool party, shortly after her move to Princeton in 1964. Hearing that Schulman had spent a year in Israel as a young woman, Zeitler said to her, “You lived in Israel. Well, you have to join Hadassah.”

Anne Brenner recalled that when her mother asked, “Why don’t you join Hadassah?” she said her response was, “I couldn’t conceive of myself as being that grown up.” But when she was “very pregnant,” she said, she joined and became treasurer.

Phyllis Marchand’s initial introduction to Hadassah was from “a man wearing a collar.” Soon after she moved into a house on Cherry Hill Road in 1966, someone wearing Christian clerical garb came to her door and invited her to pray with him. After she told him, “You’re not my persuasion,” she said, he asked where she planned to worship. “I don’t know the name, but at a synagogue,” she told him.

The minister, apparently a friend of The Jewish Center’s then-religious leader (Rabbi Everett Gendler, a prominent activist in the civil rights movement and other progressive causes, often referred to as the “father of Jewish environmentalism”), made the connection, and Marchand soon received calls from the rabbi, from B’nai B’rith Women, and from Alice Gerb, who invited her to a meeting of Hadassah, where, Marchand said, “I met some of my dearest and long-term friends.”

Phyllis Marchand said it was through Hadassah that she “met some of my dearest and long-term friends.” Photo by Fred Edelman

At a fundraiser in about 1976, Marchand remembered screening a sold-out film for the broader community as well as Hadassah members about renowned violinist Isaac Stern playing on Mount Scopus, with a short about Hadassah Hospital. Marchand said of this fundraiser, “I was so happy we had sponsored something that was Jewish, about Israel, and other people were coming in to see the work of Isaac Stern and the work of Hadassah Hospital.”

Irene Goldfarb, a member of Hadassah in Morristown starting in 1953, then the Princeton chapter from 1963, recalled giving her husband, Sam, a choice of attending either a professional dinner or a Hadassah gathering because she had a ticket to each. He chose Hadassah, and the next day, she said, people asked, “How did I get the courage to let my husband loose in a whole group of Hadassah women?”

Rabinowitz came to Hadassah after “having been an ardent Zionist since before Israel was a state.” At 10, she collected money in pushkes for Palestinian Jews. Later, she and fellow members of Hashomer Hadati, a religious Zionist youth organization, would take the subway in New York, “and we would make speeches and raise money for Israel.” So Hadassah was a natural fit for her.

Engler said she joined Hadassah most likely because “my friends did” and “it was a way of meeting other Jewish women.” She added that she appreciated the educational side of Hadassah and “felt a connection to the work they were doing in Israel.”

Women at the reunion relished sharing the creative projects they had done to raise money for Hadassah — in addition to their work on the yearly donor luncheon.

Maxine Gurk said she put her hair-styling skills to use to benefit the chapter. “I blithely used my playroom as a hair salon, and Hazel was one of my steady customers. I remember Karen Lowe once ended up with a nip on the earlobe, which bled, but she didn’t turn me in. And where else could you have gotten a $2 haircut?”

Two years before Zeitler’s presidency, she and other organizers were cleaning up after a rummage sale — with proceeds also going to B’nai B’rith and The Jewish Center — and she recalled her sale cochair, Suki Lewin, saying, “Gee, I wonder where my coat is?” Zeitler said she responded, “I hope you got a good price for it.”

Ruth Schulman said it wasn’t that the chapter members “were pretty faces, it was that we had a lot of energy.” Photo by Fred Edelman

In November 1964, after Rabinowitz returned from 16 months in India — where her husband, Irving, a Princeton University professor, was part of a team setting up a mainframe computer at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur — she decided to hold a fund-raising dinner featuring Indian cuisine. “I made my own chutney, and somebody said, ‘Why don’t you go into business?’” In fact she did, but closed it when she couldn’t afford to expand her kitchen. To earn money for Hadassah, Rabinowitz created a whole wardrobe of Barbie clothes, which she had done previously for her daughter, including knits and a wedding gown, the pearls sewed on one by one.

Stix recalled when Princeton store owner Harry Ballot “gave us suits that were no longer exactly in fashion.” She and Harriet Feldman took them to secondhand stores in Trenton, she said, but “they wouldn’t buy them.” However, when she got home, her husband, Tom, was happy to try them on — as was Feldman’s husband. The result? “We sold them all,” Stix said, to Hadassah husbands.

Marge Horowitz described a sale of items formerly owned by famous people to raise funds. After writing to Joan Crawford, Horowitz received a monogrammed handkerchief from the Hollywood star. But it was of such poor quality, Horowitz said, “that when I put it up for bids, I couldn’t get any more than $1.75. I was so ashamed to do that, I paid $2 and kept the handkerchief.”

Debbie Glick, who joined in 1996 and served as copresident from 1997 to 2001, talked about the 2013 transition from the Princeton chapter to the consolidated Greater Princeton chapter, which over two decades had come to include women from chapters in West Windsor, East Windsor, North Brunswick, South Brunswick, and Trenton-Lawrence.

With about 1,000 members on its books, Greater Princeton Hadassah is raising funds for Hadassah’s 360 Degrees of Healing campaign to renovate, modernize, and add floors to Hadassah Hospital’s 65-year-old “round building” and to fund a trip to Israel through the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project.

Stix said that when she was a young mother raising her children, “working with Hadassah felt so great.” Part of that was “being with wonderful women who have remained friends all these years,” and volunteering with the organization made her feel she was “contributing something to Israel and to the world.”

Recalling the many awards the chapter won, Schulman said, “It wasn’t just that we were pretty faces, it was that we had a lot of energy. It wasn’t that people were wealthy — we worked hard, we were organized, we wrote things down, and we knew what we were doing.”

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