I’ve been a national member of Hadassah for more than two years, almost as long as I’ve worked at Nextbook, but only went to my first Hadassah event Monday night. When I tell people that I joined Hadassah, they usually smile and tell me about their mother or grandmother or aunt who belonged. Then they always add, they wouldn’t think of joining. I reply that I’ve always been a Zionist (well, at least since the 1960’s) and I’m proud to be a Hadassah member.
In a certain way, I fit the member profile—I’m middle-aged, liberal, and passionate about supporting Israel. The only difference between me and most other members is that I’m not Jewish.
Still, it was easy to join a group that brags that it’s the largest volunteer organization and the largest women’s organization in America. I love its mission of tikkun olam—making the world a better place, and, to tweak American Express, membership has its benefits. My favorite is the magazine, which tells me about being Jewish and what’s going on in Israel.
Though I keep renewing my membership, I hadn’t until Monday ever participated in local chapter activities. Whenever I get mail from the Manhattan or Brooklyn chapters, requesting recipes for a cookbook or family stories or inviting me to small a group discussion, I toss those invitations in the trash. I was never ready to shed my anonymity. But, when I got an email inviting me to go to a Brooklyn Cyclones game on Coney Island, I couldn’t resist; it was such a tempting antithesis to the group’s cookbook lore.
The local membership coordinator met us outside the gate with our tickets and goodie bags, a bright red t-shirt with the word Hadassah emblazoned on it, a brochure for a men’s auxiliary group, a press release on Israel, and a membership application. Given the recipe requests I’ve gotten so often, I expected something tasty too, but there were no culinary goodies enclosed. We sat together on the third base side, watching the Cyclones beat the Staten Island Yankees, and, behind homeplate, an Orthodox minyan conducting an evening service. We chitchatted and asked one another who was with Hadassah and who wasn’t. In or out. And, although I felt comfortable, I did not disclose to my new friends my exact background and why I never joined their local.
I guess I didn’t want to disappoint the ladies there. They were all active chapter members, excited that an unaffiliated national member might be tempted to join their ranks, and I felt this niggling sense that outing myself as a Catholic would make them uneasy and make me that too. At the same time, the fact is that I share the values of Hadassah; I’m committed to Israel’s existence and to righting the wrongs of the world. Those are values that transcend religious affiliations, or perhaps are what unite them. I feel I’m a part of this organization and a committed part of it, at that. But the question persists, does Hadassah feel the same way about me?