This month marks the centennial of Hadassah’s Boston chapter. I spoke to Paige LaMarche, a third-generation member of the women’s Zionist organization. She’s the student activities director at Harvard Hillel and just returned home after leading a Birthright trip. We chatted about Hadassah and her work within the Jewish community.
Tell me about Meira, the Hadassah group you organized for women in their 20s and 30s.
A year or so ago, I received the Hadassah Magazine that contained a story about Mayim Bialik. As I read it, I was inspired by seeing a young woman being featured by this 100-year-old organization. It got me thinking about my membership, which I had only used once at a spa night with the Sharon/Stoughton chapter—a great night out to spend with my mom. I had since moved to Boston and got in touch with Hadassah Boston to express my interest in beginning a young women’s group.
I know Hadassah as my Nana’s or my mom’s organization and was afraid that I would look back at Hadassah in 50 years and see that the Boston chapter was no more because of a lack of interest and programming. It is time to inspire 20- to 30-year-olds to become involved so that we don’t look back and say, why didn’t we do anything when we could?
You are the third generation of your family to be a member of Hadassah. Why is the organization so important to you?
My Nana likes to tell me that if you tell an Israeli that you are a member of Hadassah, they will speak to you with very high regard and kiss the ground on which you walk. It took three trips to Israel for me to even test this hypothesis. While it is untrue (don’t tell my Nana), there is definite respect for the incredible hospitals that support the health of Israel and the world! I spent an entire night with a youth group participant in Ein Kerem Hospital after she hit her head, and she received wonderful treatment. I sat in that hospital with the comfort in knowing that I was in a safe and loving building.
Being a third-generation life member of Hadassah means that it is my job to continue the legacy and allow my mom to gift my future daughter a membership for her college graduation, just as I was given. Both my mom and Nana are incredibly strong Jewish women whom I look up to and since Hadassah is a part of their lives, it is also a part of mine.
You just returned from a Birthright Israel trip. What’s your favorite part about leading trips to Israel?
There is something so incredible about seeing Israel through the eyes of a student who has never been there before, especially once the trip gets to Jerusalem. It’s so empowering and inspiring to hear from students that they were always told about Israel and to love it, but never had the true connection until we touched down.
This year, nine students chose to have their bar or bat mitzvah on the trip. After reading the Torah portion, giving a three-minute speech, receiving a blessing from me and my co-staff, and saying the Shehechiyanu together, the rest of the group threw the essential Sunkist jellies at them and then ran up to give them all hugs and wish them mazel tovs. It was at this moment that I was touched by the support they had from their new friends they had made over the last nine days. Not only did they experience Israel for the first time all together, but they were able to express their new connection with Judaism with the group.
In addition to all the work you do in the Jewish community, I understand you are very involved with bone marrow donations. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
I donated stem cells to a 60-year-old woman in 2008. That led me to getting a job with Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation. I had the opportunity to work as the special projects coordinator, which meant that I worked with pre-teens, teens, college students, synagogues, and minority populations. It was two-and-a-half years of inspiring others to save lives, and that is so powerful.
It was actually a Gift of Life drive that I ran at Harvard Hillel that months later landed me my current position at Harvard Hillel as their student activities director. When I get emails that say a match was made from my drive, including four from Harvard, I still get so very excited. I may not work for Gift of Life anymore, but I will always be a stem cell donor who can share my story to potential donors to motivate them to save a life!
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!