Hadassah. Most Jewish women know the name Hadassah, so often associated with their mothers and grandmothers – as well as their own roles as volunteers, activists for justice, advocates for gender equality, Zionists and champions of a globally renowned hospital of the same name in Jerusalem.

But do you know? Hadassah Greater Detroit has a home in the community unlike any other in Hadassah in America. With a name on the building that speaks volumes – a testament to the communal strength of Jewish Detroit – the Sarah & Ralph Davidson Hadassah House, on 5030 Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield, opened its doors in 1985. Formerly the West Bloomfield Library, the building that Hadassah now calls its home was purchased by the William (Bill) Davidson (z”l) family to honor Bill’s mother and father.

One hundred years ago, in 1917, it was Sarah (Wetsman) Davidson who started Hadassah’s Detroit chapter with the guidance of the organization’s founder, Henrietta Szold. At the age of 96, Sarah’s daughter, Dorothy (Dottie) Gerson, of Franklin, Michigan, continues to be an avid and active supporter. Until his passing in 2009, Bill Davidson remained one of Hadassah’s greatest supporters.   A gift of more than $75 million to help build the new 19-story state-of-the-art Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower in Jerusalem was made by William and Karen Davidson, on behalf of Guardian Industries. The Tower stands today at the forefront of medical technology and patient care in Israel.

 Warm greetings on winter’s day

On a snowy afternoon in January, we find the Hadassah House unusually quiet as we arrive for a meeting with Carol Ogusky, President, Hadassah Greater Detroit, and Evelyn Diskin, Executive Director. Standing ready at the doorway, Carol greets us like guests at a party and launches into a quick tour of the building: “It’s three o’ clock and the weather is bad today, but our house really is a busy, active place,” she explains. “In general, we a have a full schedule of chapter meetings, speakers and events here. On any afternoon, you might find a women’s group playing cards in one of the conference rooms, or just here to socialize. We also have a steady stream of traffic, as people drop in to donate items or make tributes. We’re a very happy place to be. As the women who love and support this organization, we’d like to take the credit, but I believe one of the reasons Hadassah Greater Detroit is so energized and productive is because we have this beautiful building. We call it Hadassah House, but really it’s a home.”

Hadassah House
“We call it Hadassah House, but really it’s a home.”

Happily retired, a psychotherapist who owned a clinic with her husband, Ronald, for many years, Carol certainly has found in Hadassah a worthy place for her people skills, her energy and newfound role as a professional volunteer and community leader. Evelyn, “a fifth grade school teacher in another life” has served as Executive Director for 28 years. Working in close partnership along with Gail Katz and Roberta (Bobbie) Malin who run the office, Carol and Evelyn emphasize that Hadassah Greater Detroit is a powerful volunteer organization with approximately 4,200 members in the greater Detroit area – a vital part of the largest women’s, largest Jewish and largest Zionist organization in the America, with 330,000 members, associates and supporters nationwide. “Hadassah has a member in every Congressional District in the U.S.,” Carol stated, “We were founded in 1912, before Israel was a state, and before women could vote. We are and always have been a proactive organization. I believe our new tagline says it all:  We are the power of women who do. And we do: heal, educate, advocate, connect and engage.”

Locally and throughout the United States, Hadassah works to bring its volunteers, partners and communities  together on critical issues, such as women’s health and medical research initiatives, equity in the workplace, domestic violence prevention, gun control, women’s empowerment and leadership development.  In Israel and worldwide, Hadassah supports leading edge medical research, setting the global standard for patient care though the Hadassah Medical Organization, which provides care for more than one million patients a year regardless of race, religion or nationality.

Signature Hadassah Projects, Initiatives and Events

With close ties to organizations like the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Jewish Community Relations Council and the American Jewish Committee ( JCRC/AJC), ORT,  JCC, Tamarack Camps, Jewish Day Schools, synagogues, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit and  Federation,  Hadassah Greater Detroit is never far from the pulse of the community, its events and its pool of volunteers.

Volunteers, of course, are the lifeblood of on-going projects and activities that reside in the Hadassah House. Examples include:

The Hadassah Doll Project: Every Thursday morning, Hadassah Greater Detroit’s “sewing circle” of women gather in the front room of the house, to cut, stitch, stuff, and dress Hadassah’s signature dolls – made with love for children in hospitals, as well as other patients in need of comfort and cheer.  Hadassah has supported this project for 25 years, sending more than 80,000 dolls throughout the nation and to the Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel. “There are other chapters in other cities that make the dolls,” says Evelyn, “but once a week, we turn into a little factory. People from all denominations throughout the city come in to work with us. It’s become part of their routine and they really look forward to being here.”

Bookstock Collection: Hadassah Greater Detroit serves as a drop-off site for donations to Bookstock, Jewish Detroit’s Colossal Used Book and Media Sale supporting the Need to Read. Now in its 15th year, Bookstock is April 23-30, 2017 at Laurel Park Place in Livonia.

Hadassah’s Backroom Boutique and Annual Rummage Sale: No telling what people will bring and what treasures they can find:  boutique items include high-end, gently worn or nearly new clothing and accessories. Rummage sale items include clothing, shoes and coats for men, women, children and teens; household items, electronics, linens and more.

Hadassah’s Nurses Council brings in speakers and sponsors a variety of health events throughout the year, offering nurses the opportunity to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs).

Domestic Abuse and Human Trafficking Awareness:  Working with NCJW, Hadassah has sponsored speaker events and continues to partner on programs.

GirlForce: A self-esteem program for girls grades 4 through 6, adapted from a program originally designed at Vanderbilt University, GirlForce focuses on healthy eating habits, exercise, body image consciousness and Jewish identity. The program has gone to Tamarack Camps, Temple Israel and Hillel Day School with the generous support of the Jewish Women’s Foundation.

Hadassah Greater Detroit’s Centennial Celebration. Planning has begun for a Reunion in May, a Picnic this summer and a Gala this fall.  For updates on coming events, follow Hadassah online or sign up for the weekly newsletter.

Something for every woman?

With so many active, engaging, diverse and inviting Jewish organizations in Jewish Detroit  – all competing for the attention and support of the next generation of volunteers – why choose Hadassah?  “I’m so glad you asked that question!” Carol answers. “We talk endlessly about how to engage young people – as does every nonprofit humanitarian organization in this country. We want continuity and strength in our numbers. And, here we are, so happy to have two new chapters installed this year, suggesting that we are indeed filling a need for new members to join our ranks.”

All it takes is the power of one. As Carol explained, the newest chapter of Hadassah Greater Detroit started when Melissa Liverman, a young woman from Montreal, walked through the door and asked, “Do you have a Hadassah group for me.” The answer was an unequivocal, “Yes, we do now.” As Carol recalls, “We put our heads together, made some calls, gathered our friends, including a past president who was eager to serve as advisor. Today, we have a wonderfully cohesive group of women and a Chapter named Leorah – named after Melissa’s grandmother. How sweet is that?”

The second group will officially become a Chapter this year can be described as “born again.”  They were Hadassah members from four previous groups that had disbanded.  As Evelyn observed, “All it took was an invitation. We had a core group of women with interest in starting anew, and when we invited them back, they decided to return.” It’s a different kind of wonderful and they’re happy to be together again in a new Chapter they named Aviv.

When asked what her own Hadassah journey has been, Carol offers that she started about eight years ago with a trip to Israel and a tour of Hadassah Hospital with her husband. “He was so impressed that he suggested that I become a Hadassah member. I agreed, but you know how it is; you come home, fall into your old routine and the time slips away. My husband had to remind me about it. And when I called the office, and they told me the different “levels” of membership, I thought I’ll just become a life member and be done with it. Well, you can see how that worked out for me, and judging from the stack of work on my desk today, I’m now hooked in the best way possible. For life!”