With several successful events already under its belt, the newly merged North Shore chapter of Hadassah is off to a good start.
Officially formed on Jan. 1, the chapter has participated in multiple in-person gatherings, starting with a luncheon at the Sylvan Street Grille in Peabody on Jan. 27, followed by a “Know Your Heart” event in Swampscott last month in recognition of February as American Heart Month. Guest speaker Diane Thaler of Stoughton discussed her memoir, “Baby Steps,” which is about surviving a near-fatal heart attack in 2013.
“Our goal is to do some more diverse programming,” said co-president Judy Dunn. “Now that the [COVID-19] pandemic is winding down, we’re trying to get people involved again.”
“We’re looking forward to a more active year,” co-president Barbara Sigel said. “Three years of COVID really stopped us from meeting in person.” Noting that 22 people attended the January luncheon, Sigel said, “It was a really good start for us.”
The North Shore chapter is the result of the merger of Shalom Hadassah and the Lynn/Swampscott/Marblehead chapter. Sigel is the former president of Peabody-based Shalom Hadassah, serving in that capacity for over 15 years. Dunn is the former president of Lynn/Swampscott/Marblehead, and Sigel was its adviser.
“We became really good friends,” Sigel said. “We decided it would be a really good move for the whole community to come together.”
The new chapter numbers about 1,000 members representing communities across the North Shore, including Marblehead, Swampscott, Salem, Peabody, Danvers and Winthrop. The co-presidents have been involved in Hadassah for decades. Sigel credited her involvement with instilling confidence in public speaking. Dunn calls the organization a forum that has helped her address issues she cares about, from the Hadassah hospitals in Israel to women’s issues in the United States.
Overall, there are 300,000 members of Hadassah, also known as the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The organization website notes that it predates both the founding of the State of Israel and the extending of the franchise to women in the US.
Founded shortly before Purim in 1912, the organization was named after the Hebrew name of Queen Esther, the holiday’s heroine.
According to the Hadassah website, the organization created clinics and hospitals in what is now Israel at a critical time in world history, coinciding with World War I and its aftermath. Hadassah credits its health care efforts in that era with helping stem the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, along with combating a maternal mortality rate of 50 percent. It also founded the Hadassah Medical Organization, which currently operates two major hospitals in Jerusalem: Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus.
Dunn and Sigel have toured Hadassah facilities in Israel, including hospitals and Youth Aliyah villages. Dunn remembers the 12 stained-glass windows designed by renowned artist Marc Chagall in the Abbell Synagogue at the Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Kerem that was dedicated in 1962, a half-century after the founding of Hadassah. Sigel recalls the Round Building at Ein Kerem, begun in 1953 and now an anchor of the hospital landscape.
Sigel said that the hospitals are “state-of-the-art. During the [Boston] Marathon bombing, Hadassah actually sent some doctors to MGH to help treat … some of the victims of the terror explosion that took place.”
“The research they do is unbelievable,” said Sigel, whose most recent trip to Israel was in November to attend the Hadassah National Convention. “They do collaborate with the different hospitals around the country. They’ve had some of their doctors on fellowships come to some of the Boston hospitals, including MGH.”
The North Shore chapter aims to fundraise for the Hadassah hospitals, while holding other activities such as book groups, study groups, crafts, speakers, and social gatherings. Earlier this month, the chapter participated in a Hadassah Shabbat Across the Regions event. Θ