ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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National Hadassah president Carol Ann Schwartz visits the site of the October 7, 2023 Hamas massacre at the Supernova music festival site, January 2024. (Avi Hayun)
National Hadassah president Carol Ann Schwartz visits the site of the October 7, 2023 Hamas massacre at the Supernova music festival site, January 2024. (Avi Hayun)
Interview

New Hadassah Org. president makes Israeli solidarity trip her first act in office

Carol Ann Schwartz says priorities for her term are Zionist education, fighting antisemitism, seeking justice for women raped by Hamas and addressing Israel’s needs during the war

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

National Hadassah president Carol Ann Schwartz visits the site of the October 7, 2023 Hamas massacre at the Supernova music festival site, January 2024. (Avi Hayun)

Carol Ann Schwartz assumed the role of new national president of  Hadassah Zionist Women’s Organization of America on January 1, less than three months after the worst single day in Israeli history. By January 6, she was already in the country leading a weeklong Hadassah solidarity mission of Hadassah’s past presidents and more than 50 of the organization’s members and supporters from eight countries.

Schwartz and two other Hadassah leaders delivered a petition to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) demanding that the humanitarian organization reach and aid the hostages.

The entire group went to kibbutzim and the site of the Supernova music festival to bear witness to the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7. In Tel Aviv, the women spoke with and hugged hostages’ families and friends at Hostages Square.

“What we saw was horrific and challenging. But it makes me stronger in my convictions and feel stronger about what we do as an organization and what we accomplish in Israel,” said Schwartz.

The women’s packed itinerary also included a meeting with President Isaac Herzog and visits to Hadassah’s hospitals and youth villages.

“There is nothing more important that I could have done as my first act as president than leading this mission. I grew up in a family that taught me to stand up, speak out and show up. People are nervous to travel to Israel now, but I knew I had to be the first in line to show that nothing will stop us and we will continue to do what we do,” said Schwartz, a businesswoman from Cincinnati.

National Hadassah president Carol Ann Schwartz hugs Alon Lev, a member of Kibbutz Nahal Oz in January 2024 at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv. Lev’s friend Carmel Gat has been held hostage in Gaza since October 7, 2023. (Avi Hayun)

The following conversation between The Times of Israel and Schwartz occurred shortly after the solidarity mission ended. It was edited for brevity and clarity.

I understand you are from a four-generation Hadassah family. What was your Zionist upbringing like?

I grew up in a Zionist home. It was in everything we did and I didn’t even think about it. There was this huge pencil sketch of [Zionist founder Theodor] Herzl in our family room above the couch and I thought everyone should have that picture in their family. It was normal. My mom had a little box that when you pulled the string it played [the Israeli anthem] “Hatikva.” We went to Israel, and we supported it.

I remember being in synagogue as a child and hearing that the Yom Kippur War had broken out. The next day, my father sat at the kitchen table with our synagogue’s Israeli cantor and other friends. My father asked the cantor what Israel needed from us. It was a litany of things, not only cash… I watched this all occurring and then and there I decided I wanted to [grow up and] be at that table making a difference.

One of your three children immigrated to Israel. What has that been like for you?

Our eldest son, who is now 33, made aliyah 13 years ago. He served in the IDF in combat engineering and fought in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. I know what every Israeli mother goes through because I felt it personally.

From left to right: Executive director of Hadassah offices in Israel Suzanne Patt Benvenisti, immediate past Hadassah president Rhoda Smolow, and Hadassah national president Carol Ann Schwartz deliver a petition signed by 5,000 demanding action on the hostages held in Gaza to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tel Aviv, January 8, 2024. (Avi Hayun)

The first thing you did upon arriving in Israel this time was deliver a petition to the ICRC office in Tel Aviv. 

The petition was signed by 5,000 Hadassah members and supporters as a follow-up to a letter Hadassah sent a month earlier to the ICRC demanding that it take action on the hostages. The ICRC ignored our letter. We got no response whatsoever, which is unacceptable. When you receive a letter from the largest Jewish women’s and largest Zionist volunteer organization in America you respond, and they didn’t.

Two other Hadassah leaders and I showed up in person with our petition and said we wanted to know specifics about the ICRC’s plans to reach and help the hostages. We reminded them that in the Holocaust the ICRC didn’t show up for the Jews and that we are seeing this happen again. The ICRC must be proactive because the clock has already stopped ticking for the hostages.

National Hadassah president Carol Ann Schwartz visits Kibbutz Kfar Aza in January 2024 to bear witness to the devastation by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. (Avi Hayun)

What was it like visiting some of the kibbutzim that were attacked by Hamas terrorists on October 7?

It felt strange as soon as we pulled into Kfar Aza. I’m used to going to a kibbutz and seeing children, families and life. There was none of this. We saw the IDF and empty buildings and destroyed homes. Concrete bomb shelters had bullet holes in them. The destruction was overwhelming. The smell of burnt [debris] was still there 97 days later. I saw melted windows, light bulbs and mirrors. In one house, I saw a refrigerator torn apart and a washing machine shot up. There was an oven that had melted. My God, how hot does it have to be for an oven to melt?… I couldn’t imagine so much evil could be in the world.

People are afraid to visit Israel now and many deny that the events of October 7. What role will Hadassah play in conveying the truth about what happened?

Those who were on our mission are speaking about it across the United States not just in synagogues, but also in churches. We have to talk people to people, to show them and help them understand. Many people took photos and videos [on the trip]. We’re bearing witness, and when you bear witness, you have to share afterward. Some of our colleagues in France, Mexico and Brazil have done media interviews. A man on the mission is a photographer and will be staging an exhibition in Paris. We are making a 20-minute video of our mission and we will share this with our 300,000 members, associates and supporters across the United States and beyond.

National Hadassah president Carol Ann Schwartz lights candles in memory of the fallen and murdered at the Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, January 2024. (Avi Hayun)

Hadassah co-sponsored the December 4, 2023, special session hosted by the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations to bear witness to testimony about Hamas’s acts of gender-based violence and to demand action and justice. Three days later, UN Women finally issued a statement condemning Hamas and its acts of sexual violence against Israeli women.

We are telling UN Women and other international women’s organizations that they cannot ignore what happened to the women. They cannot ignore these atrocities. They have to say something and condemn Hamas, which is a terrorist organization. We are speaking loudly and clearly that these organizations need to listen and speak up.

Hamas viciously attack women and then not only raped them but paraded them through the streets. They cut their breasts off and played with them like they were toys. They treated women as objects, as nothing. And to have every single women’s organization sitting there like “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”… It’s unacceptable.

We will make sure our leadership and membership know about this and continue to speak about it publicly. We have a platform and are putting this out there on social media, and on a billboard in Times Square.

The newly opened Gandel Rehabilitation Center at Hadassah Mt. Scopus, January 2024. (Courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)

How is Hadassah responding to the recent major rise in antisemitism, especially since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war?

We are educating people that Israel has the right to defend itself and that calling for getting rid of every single Jew in Israel is a hate crime. We are educating Jews and also others through partnerships we have, for example with evangelical Christian organizations. We may not agree with everything about these organizations, but we partner with them because we are all focused on saving lives. And if you don’t sit down with someone you don’t agree with, you can’t educate them.

We are working the halls of Congress even more than before to try to nip proposed bills [that would allow hate speech] in the bud so don’t make it to the floor for a vote.

Finally, we have a deep bench of former national presidents who have volunteered to travel the country to explain that you cannot hide antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and you cannot say they’re not interconnected because they are.

A patient room in the newly opened Gandel Rehabilitation Center at Hadassah Mt. Scopus, January 2024. (Courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)

You visited the newly opened, state-of-the-art rehabilitation center at the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus. The first two floors were opened ahead of schedule to receive war-wounded soldiers.

The building was supposed to be finished later this year, but we knew it had to be accelerated when we heard reports about how many people will have to go through in-patient and out-patient rehab. The building is amazing and it has all the latest equipment, much of it designed to give the patients as much independence as possible.

We always work closely with our hospitals, our youth villages, and the Israeli government to prioritize and focus our fundraising efforts. Since the beginning of the war, we have prioritized finishing the building of the rehab center and increasing psycho-social services for those evacuated from the north and south, and for all Israelis.

We had an event in Miami in December where we talked about the urgent need to finish the rehab center, and people responded by writing big checks. Our emergency appeal launched immediately after October 7 has raised around $16 million from more than 10,000 donors, around half of whom are not Hadassah members.

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