They come from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Israel, Iraq, UK, Sweden, Columbia, the Former Soviet Union, and Iran. Their ages range from early 30s to women in their 60s. Despite their very different backgrounds—or maybe because of them— they’ve all joined in Hadassah activities in the Boston area. This multicultural group is about to enter the second year of Hadassah’s two-year Leadership Academy, a program designed to bring new members into the organization at a time when volunteerism in women’s organizations is dipping alarmingly low.
Muriel Heilberger, who leads the group, came up with the idea of Hadassah’s outreach to these new Americans. Heilberger’s previous work experience included refugee resettlement and immigrant rights. She told LILITH that she had thought about how the issues on which Hadassah takes positions—domestic violence and abortion rights, organ donation and stem cell research, hate crimes and separation of church and state—would filter through to foreign-born women.
“We’ve created a community of women who have had to recreate themselves, as Americans,” said Heilberger. “Their relationship is very intense.” She notes the diversity of the group, with many members from countries with no tradition of pluralism. All of which, she says, makes for a wide range of perspectives about pluralism in the Jewish community, “being Jewish in America, as part of a larger progressive tradition.”
The group follows a curriculum created by Regina Stein, director of Hadassah Leadershop Academy, www.hadassah.org, that includes up to 10 hours of reading for each monthly session and covers Jewish values and domestic political issues. As part of their study of advocacy work, Heilberger’s group went to Washington, where they met with members of Congress as well as with Dr. Susan Blumenthal, U.S. Assistant Surgeon General. Next year they will travel to Israel together; after graduating from the program, the women will do a year-long internship with Hadassah.