Dear Hadassah Friends,
This isn’t a formal Jerusalem Netletter. It’s a personal letter to you, my Hadassah friends. I’m still overflowing with emotion from the first ever Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure in Israel, and want to share that excitement with you. Everywhere I go in Jerusalem, I’m receiving thanks to Hadassah for making this event happen. You deserve those thanks, and I’m passing them on to you.
Join me please for an imaginative visit to Sacher Park, Jerusalem’s “Central Park” on October 28. By 10:30, as I walk through the arc of pink balloons set up by the Jerusalem Municipality, hundreds of women and men are gathering, trying on white and pink T-shirts with the Hadassah logo alongside those of Komen and City of Jerusalem. A number of the early-arrivals are familiar faces, but most have come from afar – villages on the northern border and in the Negev, and from abroad. Then, the buses start arriving with hundreds and hundreds of women. From Haifa, from Beersheba, from a Druze village in the north, from a religious settlement on the West Bank, from the local Arab village of Abu Ghosh, from upscale north Tel Aviv, from factory floors and lawyer’s offices. There are Hadassah nurses and Hadassah patients, moms pushing strollers (like my daughter Hadas and her new Hadassah-born baby Shani) and grandmas holding parasols.
The scorching sun and temperature in the 90’s haven’t discouraged them. The prediction of a desert dust storm turns out to be wrong. We are an army ready to march up the hills of Jerusalem from the park to Gai Ben Hinom, near the walls of the Old City.
An estimated 70 percent of Israeli women have breast cancer checks, which are free with our health insurance. But for 30 percent of the population, low awareness is compounded by cultural issues like modesty, fear of a stigma that would impact matchmaking, and even divorce. This walk will save lives by raising awareness. I’ve already heard of two women who were too scared to have a mammogram but who were encouraged by the Race to do so.
Our President Nancy Falchuk, Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat and his wife Beverly,American Ambassador James Cunningham and his wife Leslie, Komen founder Nancy Brinker, Komen ambassador Hadassah Lieberman and her husband Senator Joe step out first when Israel’s top fashion designer Dorin Frankfurt sounds the starting gun.
Marching up front are 350 Young Judaeans, Year Course participants aged 18 and the college graduates of Hadassah-WUJS. Take Seth Levine, 27, from Los Angeles, whose mom Rachel, a cancer survivor, has arrived from the US to walk with him. “This is fantastic,” said Seth. “We always did the walk together in LA, but walking by the Old City is inspiring. I’m also excited that there are so many more young people walking here than in LA. “
The Young Judaeans were everywhere. No wonder YJ Chair Shelly Sherman and former Chair Judy Shereck, both here from the US, were so proud.
Jennifer Griffin, the Fox correspondent is walking with 20 members of the Fox bureau who covered the intifada and the second war in Lebanon with her. “None of this could have happened without Hadassah,” she told Nancy Falchuk in a tearful interview the night before. One year ago, Griffin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Her hair is short and gray. “I broke the color barrier at Fox,” says the young, beautiful woman.”I’m the first gray-haired reporter.”
Griffin covered Israel for Fox for seven years and married New York Times reporter Greg Myre. Their two daughters were born at Hadassah Mount Scopus. You will remember her positive portrayal of Israel.
(See her interview at www.hadassah.org)
By the time we walk up Bezalel Street, the river of white and pink t-shirted walkers has wound its way through the city. Bus after bus of walkers has arrived, to join the locals. Seventy students and Professor Nava Ben Zvi are here from Hadassah College, as are our nursing students and teachers. Hundreds of Hadassah-Israel volunteers walk and work as Race volunteers. The Jerusalem police estimated that 7,500 marchers are in the streets of the city, beyond all expectations for a first race. “I took part in the first Race in Washington, DC,”
says Hadassah Office in Israel executive secretary Diane Schneider, who raised $1200 for the Race, “We were only 5,000 back then.”
Jerusalem has seen many demonstrations, marches and parades-but never have I seen such a mix of Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, newcomers and veterans marching shoulder to shoulder, soldier to soldier, in determined solidarity and sisterhood. “It was the first time I ever made conversation with an Arab,” an extreme Orthodox Jewish educator who had flown in from Washington admitted sheepishly.
I’m wearing a pink sunhat, and I’m fascinated by the array of other head gear: Hijabs and scarves, sheitels (wigs for cancer patients and religious Jews), bandanas, baseball caps.
“I’m not a survivor, I’m a two-time winner,” Marcie Natan, former National Treasurer and currently Hadassah-College chair, told National Radio. She’s wearing a pink t-shirt. Before the race, women’s organizations on the ground had predicted that Israeli Jews and Arabs wouldn’t want to wear the pink t-shirts that advertise that they have been breast cancer patients. But as the American women-700 visitors came from abroad—slipped into pink shirts, so did their Israeli sisters. “I never thought I would wear this today,”said Hadassah Hospital sabra spokesperson Yael Bossem-Levi who went public for the first time about her own battle with this disease. So did Hadassah’s attorney, Lisa Tross.
Why had so women come from abroad? “It was a promise to myself that I would show that I was fine, and march for this life-saving awareness,”
Debbie Levine, Houston chapter President explained.
Former Vice President Kate Edelstein, from Bellingham, Washington, had the distinction of coming the furthest.
Life member Iris Dankner of New York celebrated her Bat Mitzvah on Friday at the Abell Synagogue in Ein Kerem (home of the Chagall Windows). Dankner was celebrating 13-years of being cancer-free together with her husband and their two young adult daughters. “We knew it was time to come to Jerusalem to celebrate.”
Hadassah-Israel took on the challenge of organizing the 14 women’s organizations, a first ever coalition to work for a single goal. And in the week before the Race, they organized a model breast check in Soda Stream, a seltzer factory in Mishor Adumim. Four Hadassah Hospital physicians visited the factory on the way. Among the 40 factory workers they checked, most were immigrants from the former Soviet Union, from Ethiopia and from the nearby Palestinian villages.
Said Talia Hali-Selassi of the Ethiopian community she comes from, “Among Ethiopian women, there is very low awareness. Many use folk remedies when diagnosed because they can’t understand that they are sick with something significant when they don’t feel sick.
I’m inspired by the volunteers from Hadassah to become an activist to increase awareness.”
Hebrew, English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Amharic, Yiddish, and yes-that’s Russian you hear that group speaking. Our own Lauren Kedem is walking with a bus of youngsters from Meir Shfeya Youth Village, 16-year old boys and girls from the former Soviet Union. This is the first time in their lives they have ever been to Jerusalem. What an entry! Barbara Spack, Youth Aliyah Chair, hugged them all.
The river of walkers winds through King George Street and down Agron.
Soon the walls of the Old City are in sight.
All week long, the city walls have glowed pink at night. In a ceremony that was broadcast on every TV station in Israel, Sara Netanyahu, wife of the Prime Minister, together with Mayor Barkat, flipped the switch that announced Jerusalem would be, as Nancy Falchuk said to the press, “turning the defensive walls of the city to offensive to defeat breast cancer.” Later that evening, the Israel Museum’s landmark Shrine of the Book turned pink, too, and delegates from around the world celebrated in an evening hosted by Ambassador and HMO board member Zalman Shoval and his wife Kenna.
Let’s keep marching. Here’s the group of Arab women from Abu Ghosh community center. They’ve learned about breast health from the program run by the Patricia and Russell Fleishman health center and have become health volunteers and activists. They revealed that before Hadassah had started the center, they had been prohibited by their husbands to walk for exercise and to swim. Now they walk regularly, have swimming lessons, and switched to whole wheat flour in their homemade pita bread. But the most moving comment of all was made by one of the middle-aged women. “We have less family violence now that the men understand we have something important to say.” They cannot hug Hadassah nurse Tal Atzmon enough for the work she has done as coordinator.
Members of the Komen Mission were so moved by visiting Abu Ghosh that they asked to join Hadassah. They had the same reaction when Knesset Speaker Rubi Rivlin used his address to the VIP Komen mission to speak passionately about what Hadassah has meant to the life of the city over the many generations of his family that live here. Indeed, there was a synergy between the Komen supporters, many of whom were not familiar with Hadassah’s work, (most who came weren’t Jewish, and had come to Israel for the first time) and the enthusiasm for Hadassah they were bringing home with them.
Earlier on the day of the visit, Komen officials who support research learned first hand about the newest cooperative projects between Hadassah and Augusta Victoria Hospital which is the main cancer center for the Palestinian Authority. Professor Tamar Peretz, head of the Sharrett Institute of Oncology, was embraced by students and colleagues, who are in constant collaboration with her.
At the end there was music. The singing group that leads off the entertainment is our own Hadassah-Neurim Singers. Picture them, please, kids whose native language is Russian and Amharic, kids who lived on the street until they were gathered into the warm embrace of our healing village, kids who never thought they could face the world let alone appear before thousands of strangers. They’re singing a slightly altered version of “Let it Be” in different languages.
National President Nancy Falchuk is on-stage, singing along with them,
“And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me, shine until tomorrow. let it be.”
We –Hadassah–brought this international Race to Jerusalem.
We provided the bridge to Israel.
We spoke with knowledge and dignity on every podium, sat at every table.
We made many new coalitions.
We brought attention to the life-saving, humanitarian work of our hospitals.
We energized our young people and raised their awareness.
And, as always, we’re working to save and enrich lives
Frankly, we all had reservations about taking on this task. We needn’t have. Our name spread far and wide to a population that needed a reminder about our mission.
We’re tickled pink.
Israel Director of Public Relations and Audrey Shimron, Executive Director and Barbara Goldstein, Deputy Director of Hadassah Offices in Israel
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America–Jerusalem