Rhoda Smolow, president of Hadassah – The Women’s Zionist Organization Of America, was in the air on her way to Tel Aviv on October 7 when Hamas terrorists burst through the border with Gaza and perpetrated a murderous attack on southern Israeli communities.
Some 2,500 terrorists infiltrated by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing 200-250 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.
Smolow’s flight was eventually permitted to land at Ben Gurion Airport, but the celebratory event she was supposed to attend was obviously canceled.
Instead, she headed to Hadassah Medical Center to visit patients who had been injured in the savage attacks. She spoke to them and held their hands, telling them that the 300,000 members and supporters of her organization in the US and other countries were with them.
Smolow soon went home to New York but then returned to Israel a week later as part of a delegation of The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“We decided that we are one of the major organizations and I had a responsibility to come back,” Smolow said.
Hadassah, founded in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, is one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world. It owns the Hadassah hospitals in Ein Kerem and Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem and also supports youth villages in Israel. In addition, Hadassah advocates for Israel, conducts Zionist education, and runs Zionist and Israel programs for Diaspora youth.
Hadassah CEO Naomi Adler accompanied Smolow on the second visit. She told The Times of Israel that millions of dollars have been raised since October 7 from all over the world for Hadassah’s emergency fund.
“We are getting small amounts and large. Usually, our members donate by check, but we are also getting an unprecedented and incredible number of online donations indicating that these are most likely new donors — Jewish and non-Jewish,” Adler said.
Both women shared that companies and other fundraising groups with no previous connection to Hadassah are calling to ask how they can help. Also, local officials throughout the US are reaching out to Hadassah volunteers and professional staff asking for education on Israel and the current situation so that they can interact knowledgeably with constituents.
The Times of Israel sat down with Smolow and Adler at the Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem on October 19 to ask them about being here in solidarity with Israelis, their meetings with Israeli leaders and families of hostages held in Gaza, and how Hadassah’s emergency fund will be spent.
Can you tell me about some of the wounded here at Hadassah you have visited?
Rhoda Smolow: I met two people from the [Supernova] rock concert, one of them a young woman who was shot in her legs. All of her friends died around her as she hid. I also met a young man who had been shot in the mouth. He had a tracheotomy, so you didn’t see anything outside, but apparently, the whole internal part of his mouth and trachea were blown away. I rubbed his arm for a very long time. I said to him that he was in the right place and that Hadassah would take care of him. He gave me a thumbs-up, which meant a lot. There was also an older gentleman who was pulled out of his car as they were trying to escape and shot in both legs. They had to amputate one leg. His wife was sitting with him at the hospital and all she kept saying over and over was, “He’s alive. He’s alive. That’s what matters.”
What has being here in this time of crisis meant to you?
Rhoda Smolow: It is the closest I’ve ever felt to Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold. It is like walking in her footsteps as she rescued children from the Holocaust and as she took care of the terrible healthcare in pre-state Israel and made sure that healthcare was going to be great for Israel.
Hadassah created the infrastructure for the healthcare system here and this is our hospital. I feel the extreme responsibility of representing Hadassah’s 300,000 women and associates every time I touch a patient. It is a kind of spiritual experience and I feel I am doing it for everyone involved in Hadassah, and that we have made, are making, and will make even more of a difference from this moment on.
You, together with other Presidents’ Conference members, met with President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders. What was their message to you?
Rhoda Smolow: They want us to go back and give a unified message that we stand with Israel and to try to clarify any negativity and untruths that are going on. It will be our responsibility to share as much [truthful information] as we can to support and encourage the unity of Jews not just in Israel, but around the world. They asked for us to spread the word about the importance of the security of the State of Israel, and the importance of Diaspora Jews getting behind it, and not believing the falsehoods. It is important that if people have questions, they should find out what the real truths are and spread that message.
How is Hadassah going to help fight the Israel-bashing and fake news about what happened on October 7 and the ensuing war?
Rhoda Smolow: We are going to be writing a lot and upping our social media output. We are focusing on positive messaging about Israel and not getting involved in directly confronting [the Israel haters]. I have also been interviewed on television news.
Naomi Adler: We also happened to have a two-day symposium on Zionism scheduled for next week. Now so many more people have registered for it because of what is going on. They want to learn about Zionism and then talk about Israel. We are glad we can give them this education.
Rhoda Smolow: We also ironically conducted a panel on Zionism for Congressional staffers the week before the devastating Hamas attack.
You also met with the families of the hostages and missing. What was the outcome of that?
Naomi Adler: The families are asking us to convey the message that the hostages should be considered in all military or strategic planning… We let them know that we — a very influential and diverse group — care about all the hostages, and not just the American ones.
Rhoda Smolow: We are praying that something is being planned [to rescue the hostages] that we don’t know about. We told the top government leaders that we view the release or rescue of the hostages as a big priority not only for Israel but for the world.
Hadassah is building a new rehabilitation center at its Mt. Scopus hospital. Will it be ready in time to care for the huge number of Israelis who are unfortunately expected to require rehab due to war?
Rhoda Smolow: It is not ready yet. We are aiming for a soft opening in a few months, but there may be a delay now. It is going to be the biggest rehabilitation center in Israel and probably in the Middle East. In the meantime, the government has asked Hadassah to convert a floor of its underground parking garage into an emergency hospital to receive patients for whatever care is needed in the war, which could include rehab.
Naomi Adler: The latest numbers assumed that 3,000 patients, mostly soldiers, would be slated to be cared for at the rehabilitation center, so we’re doing everything possible to speed things up.
Has it been decided yet how the money in Hadassah’s emergency fund will be allocated?
Rhoda Smolow: We’ve created a crisis committee that will sit together and look at the funds and look at the list of needs at the hospital, for our new rehab center, and for our youth aliyah villages. We will make decisions based on what’s needed immediately and longer term. We’re not just handing over the money. We want to make sure that it’s done wisely and strategically. We want to make sure that the donors who are trusting us and giving us their money can know that it’s going where it needs to go and in the best way.
Naomi Adler: Hadassah’s been around for 112 years and every time there’s been a crisis we have been building, rebuilding, and rebuilding again the State of Israel, the health care system, and the youth village system. We have boots on the ground — an office in Israel. We have oversight, and we have a great partnership with the hospitals that we own… People know this and trust that their donations will be going to emerging needs. We’ve already started sending money over. We send money all the time anyway for our various projects, so it’s gratifying to continue that system and amplify our efforts.
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