Canadian Hadassah-WIZO (CHW) has been a driving force in the Jewish community for 100 years. Known to many simply as Hadassah, CHW has rebranded in the last decade to be recognized for its full range of activities, using its acronym to also exemplify the work it does for children, healthcare and women in Israel.
Jewish Canadians can take great pride in the many initiatives that have come from the fundraising and determination of CHW women who have helped build the state of Israel.
One of the keystone projects CHW supports is the Hadassim Children and Youth Village, located east of Netanya. Founded in 1947 for European Jewish refugee children, it is one of the largest residential schools in Israel. The school has evolved over the years to house children as young as age 6 who could not safely remain in their homes. These children live in family units, cared for by foster parents who maintain contact with biological parents when appropriate.
With the world refugee crisis, there has been somewhat of a return for Hadassim to its original purpose. As an example, because of antisemitism, more than 60 teens from France have sought refuge at Hadassim through the Na’aleh program, according to CHW national executive director Alina Ianson.
The program, she said, “is an opportunity for Francophone youth to continue their education in their native language. The Na’aleh program has become increasingly important due to the rise of antisemitism, causing many European teenagers to seek out safety and security. CHW Hadassim gives teenagers freedom: freedom to learn, freedom to live, freedom to be Jewish. CHW Hadassim gives teenagers a home again.”
Over the past 100 years, Israel has grown from the dream of a homeland to a high-tech powerhouse. Nonetheless, pressing social issues, particularly for women and children, still exist. Healthcare has changed dramatically but the need for support is arguably more critical because, while there are more life-saving technologies, they can also be quite expensive. For this reason, CHW continues to be as relevant as ever, national president Debbie Eisenberg told the Independent.
Eisenberg highlighted the CHW Vancouver connection. “Four of CHW’s past national presidents have called Vancouver home,” she said. “These visionary past national leaders include Naomi Frankenberg, z”l, Judy Mandelman, Rochelle Levinson and Claudia Goldman. Throughout our 100 year history, CHW has certainly changed the very fabric of Israeli society by supporting essential programs and services for children, healthcare and women in Israel,” she added.
Current Vancouver centre president Stephanie Rusen is proud to head an organization that has made and continues to make such an impact on the lives of people in Israel. Rusen believes that the focus for Vancouver in CHW’s centennial year is the Hadassim Youth Village partly because it exemplifies everything that CHW does right. Those most vulnerable in Israeli society find a home at Hadassim and grow up to meet their potential as active, contributing members of Israeli society.
“CHW Hadassim has been improving the lives of children and families for the last 70 years,” said Rusen. “Many of the children who come to CHW Hadassim are escaping prejudice, persecution, and even violence. Thanks to our generous supporters, as well as the funds raised at last year’s tribute gala, the Claudia Goldman Dormitory Hey at CHW Hadassim was renovated and is now home to 60 students. These children now have a safe place to call home. CHW Vancouver proudly supports CHW Hadassim.”
Rusen has presided over many local changes in how CHW operates. The previous chapter-based format has given way to an organization that plans citywide programs for all ages and interests, while continuing its efforts to fund its projects in Israel. The local annual kick-off event was held on Sunday at the Shaughnessey Golf and Country Club. Entitled “Heroes Among Us,” the event honoured three local women, ranging in age from the mid-20s to mid-80s, who have made a difference in various aspects of the Metro Vancouver community: Courtney Cohen, Lori Yelizarov and Helen Coleman.
For more information on how to become involved with the activities of CHW, visit their website at chw.ca (look for Vancouver centre) or call the office at 604-257-5160.
Michelle Dodek is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.