Esther Panitch’s first Hadassah memory is attending meetings as a little girl with her mother and grandmother. She would eat chocolate chip cookies and be doted on by the ladies.
As she got older, she needed to find out whether Hadassah was right for her. She was living in Miami after law school and became the president of the local young women’s Hadassah group.
Life moved quickly. She got married and had kids, and her law practice grew.
In 2004, when her husband was transferred to Atlanta, she was house hunting in the suburbs. “I was looking at this house and saw a Hadassah sticker on the fridge,” she said. “The owner was beautiful young woman. I thought, ‘OK, this will be good.’ The next thing I know, I’m active” in Hadassah Greater Atlanta.
Panitch, 44, is an energetic partner in her own law firm, a whip-smart legal correspondent for CNN and a busy mother of three. Her involvement in Hadassah is limited, but she attends nearly every Hadassah convention.
In 2007, a group of Atlanta Hadassah women learned that a $1 million collection for stem cell research was short. In the middle of the National Convention gala, five women, led by Panitch, solicited pledges for the last $25,000 and met the goal.
On her return to Atlanta, Panitch created three events to educate the community about stem cell research. More than 300 people attended.
Working with Panitch to plan the young women’s reception and #HadassahRocks concert at National Convention is bright and bubbly Renée Rosenheck, a native Atlantan.
Rosenheck and her sisters were given life memberships by their mother. Her family joke is that Hadassah memberships were on sale.
Several years ago Rosenheck was recruited by Holly Strelzik to initiate young Atlanta women. (Full disclosure: I also attended those meetings with young, intown Hadassah members.)
She was asked to apply to the Hadassah Leadership Fellow program and was “catapulted into the leadership of Hadassah. I met 22 people from across the nation. We met in New York. We went to Washington, D.C., for advocacy and the Power of Hadassah on the Hill. We were influencing legislation in the U.S. and Israel. Then we went to Israel for a week.”
In Israel the fellows looked at Hadassah’s work and learned about women’s equality and the demographics of Israeli society. She recalled meeting female entrepreneurs and the first female speaker of the Knesset, Dalia Itzik (one of the speakers at this year’s convention).
Rosenheck is an up-and-coming Hadassah leader and maintains a large role in planning National Convention next week. She recently started her own global business consulting firm. Yet she maintains an unfailing dedication to bringing younger women into the fold through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“Hadassah is very focused on engaging younger women. They are doing the best to cater to us in any way they can. Younger women don’t want to go to events for younger women planned by older women,” she said. “A lot of people were given a life membership and don’t know what to do with it. But it’s what you make of it.”
National President Ellen Hirshkin understands the many entry points of Hadassah. “Some women are looking forward to meeting in the evenings to get out of the house and meet other like-minded people. Others only have time for an occasional book club or Hadassah meetings with substantive programs where they can make a difference.”
She added: “Younger women are engaged in the advocacy program. They have a disposition of ‘Yes, I want to make a difference, but what’s in it for me?’ Hadassah offers something for everyone.”
Raychel Robbins, 35, is a returning member of Hadassah. She spent years working for Hadassah after college in Florida’s Broward County. After remarrying, becoming a stepmother of three teens and relocating to Atlanta. she is ready to jump back into Hadassah.
“The best thing Hadassah did for me was teach me how to talk about Israel. I grew up Zionist, and my parents were involved in synagogue. Hadassah gave me tools to combat anti-Semitism and talk about the medical research and technology coming out of Israel,” Robbins said.
She plans to volunteer at National Convention to connect with other women her age, plan events at the local level and get involved with advocacy.
“There’s no pressure to do more once you’re at a Hadassah event,” Panitch said. “Come take advantage. When I was young and going to meetings, the women were some of the brightest women I’ve met. Leadership comes from growing up with Hadassah. We get things done.”