The ballroom of the Marriott Marquis was electric Monday, July 25, on the opening night of the Hadassah National Convention while women danced across the stage to “Happy” as they were introduced as club leaders.
Granted, some were more comfortable than others doing the bump and grind in high heels, but the spirit in the room was palpable as 993 attendees represented Hadassah’s 330,000 members.
“The Power of Our Dreams” was the theme of the four-day 98th national convention. I have been a member for years but never before understood the full magnitude of the good work done by Hadassah.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens kicked off the gala opening plenary before the appearance of Oscar-winning movie star and lifestyle personality Gwyneth Paltrow.
Olens told of losing his mother as a 5-year-old and being sent from Miami to New Jersey to be reared by his Hadassah-loving aunt. He said he learned the power of giving and tikkun olam (repairing the world) when the family bakery gathered leftovers to donate to the needy rather than sell the next day.
Olens, Georgia’s highest-ranking Jewish elected official, emphasized three ways he’s making the world better as attorney general: the annual food bank collection competition among law firms and law schools; education for high school students about the hazards of prescription drugs; and a crackdown on sex trafficking.
“No more $100 fines,” Olens said about those who abuse teens for sex. “They can be put in jail.”
Janice Weinman, Hadassah’s executive director and CEO, outlined Hadassah’s life-altering medical progress and its challenges. She also vowed to fight the double standard under which “it’s OK to murder Jews and pull innocent people out of their homes and beds.”
She talked about Hadassah Medical Center’s top ranking and its progress in using embryonic stem cells to improve eyesight in patients with macular degeneration.
Weinman told about a Palestinian woman whose life was saved through a new artificial liver support system. The woman sent a thank-you note calling the Israeli doctors “angels.”
Turning to Hadassah’s membership, Weinman touted programs to engage members using social media and to combat the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement by educating women who might be in corporate boardrooms. Another program will use action alerts in a nonpartisan way to reach out to politicians.
Hadassah is challenging younger women from each region to get involved and identify their peers as possible members, she said. (The crowd appeared to be largely composed of older women.)
Finally, Paltrow appeared in a peach blush pantsuit. She did not disappoint as she accepted her first award from a Jewish organization “based on the example she sets using Hadassah’s values.”
Paltrow, the daughter of non-Jewish actress Blythe Danner and Jewish film and TV director and producer Bruce Paltrow, referred to herself as a “power shiksa.” She said she looks “waspy” but is “mostly Jewish” because her mother married a nice Jewish boy descended from rabbis in Poland.
“Bruce was strongly intertwined in Jewish values,” she said, adding that the family celebrated all the holidays.
Paltrow, who now identifies with a kabbalistic approach, said the matrilineal definition of who is Jewish seems antiquated, “but who am I to challenge?”
She told the delighted audience that her boyfriend is TV writer, producer and director Brad Falchuk (“Glee,” “American Horror Story”), son of former Hadassah President Nancy Falchuk. Paltrow looked toward Nancy Falchuk and said, “I hope you can tolerate a few Easter eggs thrown into the mix.”
Joseph believed in dreams, Paltrow said, and “Hadassah dreams in a way that women’s power alleviates darkness around the world by channeling light and bringing peace.”
She promotes a healthy lifestyle through her Goop website and product line, but she said the Goop approach is to have “vodka or french fries on occasion” while concentrating on eating nutrient-dense foods.
Some jewels surfaced during Paltrow’s question-and-answer session with Hadassah President Ellen Hershkin:
- Paltrow has never been to Israel. Hadassah executives immediately offered a tour, to which she said, “Game on.”
- Her most challenging film role was the title part in Jane Austen’s “Emma.” She had to learn to play piano and speak with a British accent.
- Her favorite role was Margot Tenenbaum in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
- Sometimes the challenging films come out terribly, but she has to soldier on to finish them.
- Her best friend (unnamed) lives in Atlanta.
- Winning the best-actress Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love” was emotional and bittersweet because her father and grandfather were too ill to attend the 1999 ceremony.
- She has a lot left to accomplish by pivoting careers to her Goop platform. She even learned to analyze a profit-and-loss statement.
“I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew,” Paltrow said.