ée Rosenheck, Virginia Saul and Lois Frank. (Photo by Chuck Robertson Photography)
Meet some of the women who have kept Hadassah thriving and growing in Atlanta through the decades.
Hadassah Greater Atlanta president
Paula Zucker has an undeniable energy. Originally from New York, Zucker has lived in Atlanta for 35 years and jokes that she is still awaiting her native status.
“I can’t wait for convention. There are new people every time. And I can’t wait to discover a new nugget of inspiration,” she said.
The Hadassah Greater Atlanta president became a life member at 18 when she got married. At 22 she and her husband moved to Charleston, S.C., where he was a busy physician. “I wanted to connect with the community,” she said. “Hadassah is wonderful because no matter where you go, they embrace you. They made my family their family.”
Her best friends — among them Toby Parker, Ruthanne Warnick, Rita Leventhal, Rachel Schonberger and Anita Levy — have laughed, cried and celebrated many phases of Hadassah.
Zucker raised her son and daughter to appreciate the rich history of Hadassah. Her son, an Emmy Award-winning photographer, contributes to local auctions. Her daughter, a 21-year-old college student, receives advocacy alerts from Hadassah and contacts her congressional leaders.
“Hadassah speaks to us as a family,” Zucker said. “Not only for its love and support of Israel, but for its love of humanity.”
Before achieving her current leadership position, Zucker was employed by Hadassah Greater Atlanta. She was inspired by the exuberance of her professional peers as well as volunteers. “I didn’t feel like a paid person. If volunteers were there working, I was there working. There was such passion exhibited by Hadassah volunteers. They always came to a board meeting. In fact, board meetings were often standing room only.”
Along with Parker, Hadassah’s Southeast Region president and daughter of activist Laurel Weiner, Zucker plans to present a comical talk on “How to Survive in a Southern City in Two Minutes or Less” at the convention.
Centennial honoree and 70-year member
Native Atlantan Virginia Saul has been a Hadassah member for nearly 70 years. She and her husband have three grown children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
There is no mistaking the spunky 87-year-old’s Southern drawl.
“Laurel Weiner would knock on your door and tell you to do two things: Join Sisterhood at the synagogue and join Hadassah,” Saul said with a laugh. “The first day I was home from my honeymoon, Laurel knocked on my door and said, ‘I want you to give me three checks. One for Sisterhood dues, one for Hadassah dues, and give me $36 for Federation.’”
During the 1950s Hadassah recruited members by taking the show on the road. Women would visit synagogues in the Southeast and host coffees. Saul recalled visiting Spartanburg, Columbia and Hilton Head Island, S.C., as well as Macon, Ga.
“We traveled all over the Southeast with the Hadassah Caravan. We educated women about water problems in Israel with music, songs and dancing. We told them the history of Israel. It was board training in a fun way. Usually people who (attended) joined,” she said.
During one trip, Saul’s mother joined her. “I went to give a speech, and I was speeding on the way home when I got pulled over. My mother told the officer, ‘You cannot give her a ticket. My daughter just gave an important speech about the Middle East.’ And he said, ‘Ma’am, just go on and tell your daughter not to speed.’ ”
In 1964, Saul was president of the Atlanta chapter when she traveled to Los Angeles for National Convention. She and Dorothy Cohen Levy, past president of the Columbus chapter, went to lunch at the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel.
“The maitre d’ told us we didn’t want to sit in the main dining room, and he led us around to the back. There was Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Michael Wilding, all in the back room of the Beverly Hills Hotel,” Saul said. “Lunch was $18. That was a lot of money back then.”
Beyond the fond memories and fun, Saul wants people to know about the medical advances Hadassah has brought to the world.
People “think it is a little old woman’s organization. But Hadassah took a stand on education, took a stand on civil rights, took a stand on troubled children,” she said. “Hadassah has been my lifeline.”
Phyllis Cohen, who is chairing the centennial celebration of Hadassah in Atlanta and is a 40-year member of Hadassah Greater Atlanta, was newly married when she was invited to her first Hadassah event by Toby Parker.
“I was invited to a membership coffee to hear about Hadassah. I was not yet a mom, teaching at E.R. Carter Elementary on Ashby Street. We lived in northwest Atlanta on Bolton Road because I grew up in that area at AA Synagogue. My parents lived nearby, and my husband commuted to downtown,” she said.
“I was looking for something else to get involved in, something meaningful. I heard about Hadassah and felt it would be my window to the world. They did good work. I liked the people. That has remained true,” said the grandmother of six.
Atlanta’s dedicated supporters struck Cohen, who now is deemed an integral part of Hadassah’s history here. She served as chapter president three times and chaired many political, educational and social events.
Parker was on Cohen’s first trip to Israel. The close friends gave birth to sons at the same time and three years later gave birth to daughters. Both women stayed active during the ups and downs of Hadassah Greater Atlanta.
“I made lifelong friends in Hadassah,” Cohen said.
As she prepares for National Convention in Atlanta, she looks forward to seeing the big picture of Hadassah.
“Meeting women from across the country, standing at the opening ceremony and singing ‘Hatikvah’ with 2,000 women who have the same aspirations, goals and level of excitement — you have chills. It unites us as one strong organization,” she said. “Your voice is heard.”
Rachel Schonberger and Linda Hakerem
Leaders in health and wellness
She’s now the chair of the Hadassah Medical Organization, but in 1971 Dr. Rachel Schonberger was simply looking for Jewish friends in Atlanta. A neighbor invited her to a Hadassah meeting.
“It was a natural fit,” Schonberger said.
Second in a line of four generations of Hadassah supporters, Schonberger said her connection is genetic. She can count members and supporters in her mother, husband and sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughters.
Linda Hakerem, also part of a four-generation Hadassah family, began her love affair with Hadassah in Miami in 1970. She now serves as Hadassah’s national health and wellness team leader.
Together, Schonberger and Hakerem are promoting a heart-healthy program called Every Step Counts at the Hadassah National Convention. Members walk virtually from Hadassah in Jerusalem to the convention in Atlanta.
Participants track all types of exercise on a device like Fitbit. When that information is downloaded to Walker Tracker, the app Hadassah is using to map the virtual walk, members see where they and their friends are on the journey to Atlanta. All levels and abilities can take part in the program.
Every Step Counts encourages health goals, walking groups and friendships in healthy competition.
Not only is Schonberger tracking her steps around town, but she also bikes at the gym and swims. She joked, “My grandchildren call me Buff Nanny.”
Hakerem vowed to use Every Step Counts to take charge of her life.
“Every Step Counts gave me the motivation to change my life. I made a choice to be healthier, and I will be in the best shape of my life by my next birthday,” said the grandmother of eight. She will turn 70 in January.
Every Step Counts evolved from the research of Emory cardiologist Nanette Wenger, who researches gender differences in heart disease. Wenger, scheduled to speak at the convention, is a pioneer in women’s health.
To date, 1,000 women are involved in the program, and 720 million steps have been taken — 14 times around the world for cardiac health.