Above: Georgia Gov. Ernest Vandiver presents Hadassah’s Atlanta chapter with the state flag to be flown at the dedication of the new Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Accepting are Sara Alterman, Sara Levin, Louella Shapiro and Laurel Weiner.
One autumn afternoon in 1916, Becky Jacobs opened her house for a meeting. Seventeen other women joined her to discuss the Atlanta charter of a new women’s Zionist group called Hadassah.
Local legend has it that Sadye Jacobs, who later served as chapter president, had a sister-in-law who was Hadassah’s national president in New York, and that is why Atlanta was first introduced to Hadassah.
The stand-in president, Lil Buchman, provided an outline of the organization’s cause. Dr. Hyman Solomon described the work of Hadassah in what was then still the Ottoman province of Palestine. A call was made to charter the chapter, elect officers, schedule meetings and collect monthly dues. The first dues collection among the 18 charter members totaled $4.75.
On Nov. 1, 1916, the Alliance Chapter of Hadassah was official.
A century later, more than 3,600 Atlanta-area women are members of Hadassah, an organization known for its dedication to medical advances, political advocacy and research in Israel and throughout the world.
As the Alliance Chapter thrived that first decade, Hadassah members beautified and improved the growing city around them. The women planted trees on Stone Mountain Road. They placed milk fund containers in Davison’s Department Store on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta to ensure a glass of milk each day for each Jewish child in Palestine.
Sewing circles produced supplies and organized clothing collections to ship to the Palestine Supplies Bureau.
During the late 1920s, the chapter minutes noted that despite hard times, quotas for all projects were met, including the local Infant Welfare Fund.
In 1933 Hadassah opened the Hadassah-Hebrew University Hospital on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. As World War II began in Europe, Hadassah launched emergency shipments of medical supplies, drugs and clothing to Palestine. Mobilized to support the U.S. war effort, the Alliance Chapter embraced National Hadassah’s campaign to sell $200 million in U.S. war bonds.
The Alliance Chapter movers and shakers included Rae Rosenberg Frank, Annie Levy, Ida Levitas and Bert Travis.
Atlanta members were continually recognized for zealous efforts in fundraising. The Alliance Chapter women surpassed national goals to the benefit of Hadassah Hospital and Jewish National Fund. The chapter received high praise from the Palestine Supplies Bureau for the expert workmanship, quality and quantity of supplies created by the 135 members of the six Hadassah sewing groups, which spanned from brides-to-be to great-grandmothers.
Israel’s War of Independence created strenuous demands on Hadassah’s resources, but in 1948, Atlanta Hadassah joyously celebrated the declaration of the new Jewish state.
Sadye Jacobs, the Atlanta chapter president in 1931 and 1932, became Atlanta’s first life member — a term that holds high esteem in modern-day Hadassah membership. Jacobs was known as an indomitable worker in membership and fundraising.
From 1945 to 1950, Hadassah bounced between massive losses and monumental celebrations. Notably, Hadassah founder and visionary Henrietta Szold died in 1945. Her passing was mourned worldwide.
On April 13, 1948, 78 Jewish doctors, nurses and hospital personnel were killed when their convoy to Hadassah Mount Scopus was ambushed. Dr. Haim Yassky, the director of the Hadassah Medical Organization, was among those who died. He had spoken at an Atlanta Hadassah luncheon a few years prior.
Israel became a nation in May 1948, and at the May 20 meeting of Senior Hadassah both the American and Israeli flags were presented. Local membership totaled 1,556. Fundraising chairs reported $11,532 for the emergency drive and $4,157.13 for JNF. The Southside Grandmothers Sewing Circle produced nearly 2,000 garments for Hadassah Supplies, which shipped out of Beth Jacob Synagogue on Boulevard near downtown Atlanta.
Atlanta members held a letter-writing campaign to urge senators to vote for the 1948 Displaced Persons Bill to protect survivors of the Nazi reign of terror from further persecution.
In 1949, Golda Meir visited Atlanta. The chapter continued to grow in size and in fundraising efforts, supporting children, the Hadassah Medical Organization and JNF.
With Israel established and four decades of existence behind it, the Alliance Chapter had a relatively quiet decade in the 1950s. National Hadassah pledged to sell $30 million in Israel Bonds and to concentrate on fundraising for a new medical center. Bon voyage parties celebrated every visit to Israel, which were rare at the time.
The 1960s saw the Hadassah Bargain Store open on Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta, and Camp Judaea came to fruition through the efforts of Lila Reisman, Laurel Weiner and Malcolm Minsk of the Atlanta Zionist Council.
In November 1967, 1,000 Atlanta Hadassah families and friends joined Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. and Israeli Consul General Zeev Boneh in welcoming Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. As a remembrance of his visit, Kollek, an archaeology buff, was presented with a pottery relic from the Etowah Indian mounds in Cartersville.
Atlanta was one of only three U.S. cities visited by Kollek.
In 1970, Hadassah Atlanta chapter President Hazel Karp led the charge with new Mayor Sam Massell, Atlanta’s only Jewish mayor, for a beautification project at the Civic Center as a tangible link to growth and development in Atlanta.
When catastrophic Hurricane Fifi (later named Hurricane Orlene) devastated Honduras in 1974, the Hadassah Bargain Store provided clothing and blankets to the victims. The Atlanta chapter was consistently recognized for fundraising and growth, winning awards at conferences and conventions.
In 1976, JNF honored longtime Hadassah advocate Weiner with the dedication of the Laurel Weiner Forest in Israel.
Atlanta’s booming population demanded a change in Hadassah’s structure. To meet the needs of members, the chapter created interest groups. In 1983 those groups transitioned into five chapters with individual presidents.
Three-time chapter President Phyllis Cohen lived through the growing pains. She recalled that groups were based on location, interests and age.
“At some point there were so many groups it was difficult to deal with programming and leadership. So we tried several large chapters with no groups. But there was one big disadvantage: There was no single large voice and face of Hadassah,” she said. “It was confusing for the community.”
Atlanta caught the attention of National Hadassah, which realized the great potential for growth and leadership in the city and the Southeast. Reorganizing as one large chapter, the group was renamed Greater Atlanta Hadassah in 1994 to address an evolving membership. National Hadassah financially supported a new office in Sandy Springs, professional administrative staff and outreach measures.
Atlanta became the first city and staff placed in a hub and served cities across the Southeast. Greater Atlanta Hadassah reached members from Alpharetta to Riverdale.
Current Greater Atlanta President Paula Zucker said: “Like any major organization — and we have watched it happen with the Federation, the JCC and ORT — as you restructure, change is hard. Sometimes the organization has to shift to survive and thrive. If you never change, you’re going to die.”
Zucker added that members struggled with the decisions to reorganize. “Members asked why we did it this way, why we moved the building, why we are regrouping. Despite the feeling that it is personal, they’re trying to make Hadassah better. It’s almost like having children. If you don’t let them try something and allow for failure and experimentation, they never learn to improve.”
The 1990s were a pivotal decade for Greater Atlanta Hadassah. Three major programs were established: the Chesed Student Awards, an annual event to recognize exemplary students in Jewish day and religious schools; Check It Out, a breast cancer prevention program for high school girls in partnership with Northside Hospital; and Training Wheels, a Jewish education program for preschoolers and their families.
Greater Atlanta Hadassah joined the League of Women Voters of Atlanta/Fulton County to sponsor a political forum featuring candidates for the U.S. Senate and the 4th and 5th congressional districts.
Hadassah remained firmly planted in the political arena as Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act.
Weiner, a fearless and beloved Hadassah leader, died in 1996 from cancer. The same year, numerous Hadassah members volunteered for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, including Holocaust survivor Helen Spiegel, who ran with the torch. The Israeli Paralympic team was honored by Greater Atlanta Hadassah and the Atlanta Jewish Federation.
Greater Atlanta Hadassah was one of 10 chapters selected in 1998 to participate in the Hadassah Leadership Academy, a pilot of a multiyear program in Jewish women’s history, Zionism, community leadership and social advocacy.
In 1999 Greater Atlanta Hadassah, along with the Atlanta Jewish community, observed National Hadassah’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Atlanta received the National Award for Excellence in Women’s Health Education for its initiatives in health issues. Two thousand national delegates descended on Washington for the largest Day on the Hill event in Hadassah’s history.
In the first decade of the new millennium, Greater Atlanta Hadassah’s health professionals group led community forums on women’s health topics, including genetic disease, heart disease and breast cancer.
Today, Hadassah in Atlanta is a source of continuity and leadership. Members advocate gender equality in medical research, women’s preventive health care, affordable child care and laws to stop human trafficking. Hadassah stands for mission trips, education and Zionism. Hadassah stands for all.
As Ellen Hirshkin, Hadassah’s national president, said: “You don’t have to be Jewish to sign on to our programs and advocacy efforts. Hadassah is for everyone. We reflect at every level: age, economic stratum, religious observance. We reflect the power of women who do.”
A Century of Leaders
Atlanta Chapter Presidents
1916-24 Lil Buchman
1924-29 Annie Levy
1929-31 Ida Levitas
1931-32 Sadye Jacobs
1932-34 Esther Taylor
1934-36 Annie Levy
1936-38 Bert Travis
1938-40 Charney Abelson
1940-42 Rose Klotz
1942-44 Dena Chait
1944-46 Belle Rosenfeld
1946-48 Pauline Manning
1948-50 Jean (Benamy) Turry
1950-52 Jennie Fitterman
1952-54 Irene Schwartz
1954-56 Sarah Levin
1956-58 Dora Smith
1958-60 Sara Alterman
1960-62 Alice Caplan
1962-64 Joyce Levow
1964-66 Virginia Saul
1966-68 Colleen Weston
1968-70 Hazel Karp
1970-72 Sonya Rabinowitz
1972-74 Helen Spiegel
1974-76 Rae Sternberg
1976-78 Betty Selfridge
1978-79 Roz Levey and Virginia Saul
1979-81 Ernie Dreyer
1981-83 Leslie Jablow
Hadassah in Atlanta split in the 1980s into five groups: Ein Kerem, Ketura, Mount Scopus, Neurim and Nitzanim.
1983-85 Susan Tourial
1985-87 Carol Rubin
1987-89 Linda Weinroth
1989-90 Janice Nodvin and Debbie Sonenshine
1990-92 Janice Nodvin
1992-94 Gerry Taratoot
1983-84 Phyllis M. Cohen
1984-85 Rita Loventhal
1985-87 Carol Lynn Birnbaum
1987-89 Nancy Isenberg
1989-92 Arlene Glass
1992-94 Judy Viness and Susan Schlansky
1983-84 Shirley Michalove
1984-86 Rachel Schonberger
1986-88 Manuela Bornstein
1988-90 Fritzi Lainoff
1990-92 Sandie Beskind
1992-94 Martha Sanders
1983-85 Margie Franco
1985-87 Vicki Newman
1987-89 Elaine Antman
1983-84 Marilyn Perling
Greater Atlanta Hadassah was renamed and reorganized in the 1990s.
1992-93 Phyllis Cohen
1993-95 Arlene Glass
1995-96 Arlene Glass and Susan Schlansky
1996-98 Susan Schlansky
1998-2001 Marsha T. Shulman
2001-02 Judy R. Viness
2002-04 Anita Levy
2004-06 Rachel Schonberger
2006-08 Ruthanne Warnick
2008-10 Toby Parker
2010-12 Diane M. Fisher
2012-14 Sue Rothstein
2015-today Paula Zucker