Remarks by Former U.S. Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro at Hadassah Centennial Event

Official Opening of the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower
Binyanei Hauma International Convention Center, Jerusalem
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

SHALOM, HADASSAH!  And Bruchot HaBa’ot!

Thank you, Judy and Sid, for your kind introduction and for your generous support of Hadassah.  It is an honor for me to be here this evening in the presence of such a distinguished group of Israelis and Americans:  President Shimon Peres, it is always an honor to share a podium with you.

Marlene Post, Marcie Natan, Miki Schulman, Professor Ehud Kokia, Professor Mor-Yosef, the amazingly generous Davidson family, former Presidents of Hadassah Bernice Tannenbaum, Carmela Kalmanson, Bonnie Lipton, Nancy Falchuk, and, of course, to all the Hadassah delegates – thank you for the opportunity to join you tonight.

For me and Julie, my wife and a Hadassah life member – stand up, Julie – it is a special thrill to be able to welcome so many members of this amazing organization, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, 100 years young and still going strong.

You know, the traditional Hebrew birthday greeting is Ad Meah v’Esrim – Until 120.  I think Hadassah is getting to the point where if you say Until 120, it sounds like you are trying to cut things short.  I would say to Hadassah – as I would say to Shimon Peres – Ad Elef v’Esrim – Until 1,020!

The truth is, I can scarcely think of a more iconic, more meaningful, and more treasured example of the deep and loving ties between the people of the United States and the people of Israel than the holy work – the avodat kodesh – of Hadassah – of all of you.  Your presence here, and your persistent, dogged, indomitable advocacy and support on behalf of Hadassah are eloquent testimony to that bond.

Now, as the U.S. Ambassador, I’m proud to say that the United States government has also gotten in on the act, and it enjoys a special relationship with the Hadassah Medical Organization.  Since 1976, with your help and the bipartisan support of Congress, USAID has provided over $54 million dollars in support to Hadassah Medical Center through the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad program.

Our support – which is your money, and my money — highlights the United States’ commitment to Hadassah’s high standard of medical care and education in health fields.  Some of our recent grants to Hadassah supported the procurement of medical and surgical equipment that will be used in the Hadassah’s Nuclear Medicine, Cardiology, Radiology, Internal Medicine, Oncology and Orthopedic departments, and more.

And I’m delighted to report that the most recent grant, in the amount of $1.3 million dollars, will be used to buy ventilators, monitors, mobile X-ray units and Ultrasound systems for use in the new Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, which we are here to inaugurate tonight.  As the United States Ambassador and also as a U.S. citizen – and also as the son of a Hadassah mom in Champaign, Illinois – I can say I am extremely proud that we are able to partner with Hadassah and provide this support, and I have complete faith that these funds and the equipment will be well-used by Hadassah’s skilled staff to increase access for patients to essential, high-quality and advanced intensive care services.

Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem is a regular stop, highly recommended by our Embassy, for senior U.S. government visitors to Israel.  I just met with three U.S. senators, who visited this morning.  Aside from myself, numerous previous American Ambassadors and many other dignitaries, including then-Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton – or as I call her, my boss – have personally visited the hospital to see first-hand the quality of the care there and the equality with which all patients are treated.

In January, my wife, Julie Fisher, my mother-in-law, and I, had the privilege to meet Professor Kokia and his colleagues and tour the hospital facilities. On our tour we caught a preview of the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, which was then entering the final stages of construction.

Without a doubt, the commitment and generosity of Karen Davidson, and her late husband Bill Davidson, to Hadassah’s ideals and goal of providing world-class health care, will be felt for years to come by those living in Jerusalem and beyond.  Tonight’s inauguration of this new tower, named in honor of Bill’s mother Sarah, equipped with cutting-edge technology, and built on environmentally friendly and energy-efficient principles, marks a bright, new chapter in the proud history of Hadassah.

When Julie and I visited Hadassah-Ein Kerem and spoke with Professor Kokia and his colleagues, I was struck not only by the high level of clinical care and the outstanding research conducted at Hadassah, but also by the education Hadassah provides for the next generation of physicians from around the world, and the critical support Hadassah provides to other countries during times of crisis.

When I think about how far-reaching the Hadassah network is, how many bridges Hadassah has built to countries around the world, I picture the map you find in the back of an airline magazine.  You all have seen it—the map where the airline brags about all the places in the world you can fly on their planes by showing lines connecting cities around the world.  I wonder what a map like this would look like for Hadassah—I imagine the lines emanating from Jerusalem would be many more and travel far beyond just the world’s capital cities:

There would be at least 700 lines to public health professionals extending to more than 95 countries, all trained by the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Public Health.

There would be lines reaching in all directions to countries shocked by earthquakes, including Armenia, Turkey, and Greece, where Hadassah brought its critical care to help those hardest hit by natural disaster.

There would be a line reaching to Sri Lanka, where Hadassah sent doctors to lend expertise after the devastating tsunami struck its coasts.

There would be a line to Ethiopia, where Hadassah’s AIDS Center works with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to combat the spread of HIV and provide advanced training on AIDS treatment;

There would be a line to Argentina, where Hadassah shared its trauma expertise with the Argentine National Guard, and lines to Sao Paolo and Caracas where Hadassah has supported advanced training for nurses.

There would be lines across Asia to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, where Hadassah helped teach and train physicians to perform live-saving bone marrow transplants.

There would be perhaps thousands, perhaps even a million lines to Africa, where Hadassah’s ophthalmologists have helped so many Africans retain their eyesight, while training local doctors to fight eye disease.

There would be all these lines, and so many more.  Hadassah’s care and assistance to all those in need, wherever they may be, represents the absolute best of what partnerships between different peoples—partnerships between Israelis, Americans, Palestinians, and all others committed to health and livelihood around the globe— can achieve.

As some of you know, our family’s personal connection to Hadassah reaches back much further than my time in Israel as Ambassador.  In many ways, our visit to the hospital this past January felt a bit like a family reunion.

My mother, Elizabeth Shapiro, was an active local and regional Board member in Hadassah in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois throughout my childhood.  Julie was raised in a Hadassah home in Duluth, Minnesota, where her mother Jane was president of the local Hadassah Chapter.  Jane’s two daughters, including Julie, and six granddaughters, which includes our three daughters, are each life members of Hadassah. I am proud to be a Hadassah Associate.  Our story is the same as that of so many American families.

And so, when I picture that map, with lines depicting Hadassah’s connections, I picture a line to New York and New Jersey, and a line to Boston; a line to South Florida and a line to Philadelphia; a line to Los Angeles, and a line to Cleveland; a line to Chicago and a line to Kansas City; a line to Dallas, and a line to Seattle.

And yes, lines to places like Duluth, Minnesota and Champaign, Illinois.

Hundreds and hundreds of lines to virtually every Jewish community in the United States.  Because in those communities, large and small, for 100 years, Hadassah has been shaping American Jews’ connections to Israel, and giving them a tangible way to contribute to the strengthening and developing of a secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel, which has been a faithful ally of the United States.  And that has made Hadassah’s work one of the most tangible American contributions to the life and strength and health of the State of Israel.

Across America and across the world, Hadassah’s work is looked to as a case study and model, a symbol of hope that demonstrates how a commitment to healing can supersede politics and bring out our best selves.  Even as we celebrate tonight Hadassah’s important position in Israel’s history, we also celebrate the vital role Hadassah plays not only in healing the sick— but also in healing the divides between people.

When Henrietta Szold founded Hadassah in 1912, she strongly believed in peace between Jews and Arabs in Palestine.  The Hadassah organization created health clinics and hospitals in Haifa, Tel Aviv and then, the large hospital here in Jerusalem, all the time serving Arabs and Jews with equal care.  As we walked through the Department of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, it was clear that Hadassah continues to serve as one of our strongest bridges to peace.


We spoke to patients and their families – to 13-year-old Or and his mother from Jerusalem and to 18-year-old Ismail and his father from Gaza. We heard about how Hadassah had successfully trained Palestinian doctors from Gaza, regularly bringing them to Jerusalem, getting permission for the training from the Israeli Government, the Palestinian Authority, and even Hamas.


As you can imagine, this is a monumental achievement in and of itself.  Hadassah’s contributions to the field of medicine transcend ethnic, political, and religious lines and even transcend the conflict itself.  At Hadassah, whether you are Jewish, Muslim, or Christian—it doesn’t matter— you are part of the Hadassah team—part of the Hadassah family, and the top priority is always to treat and help patients


Now, this discussion brings to mind this week’s Parasha.  (You know, when we get together like this – in the Mishpucha – it’s always appropriate to share a few words of Torah.)  This week, in synagogues throughout the United States and Israel and around the world, even in the magnificent synagogue with the glorious Chagal windows at Hadassah-Ein Kerem, we are reading Parashat Noach, the story of Noah.  And I want to wish a hearty Mazel Tov! to the Banot Mitzvah who celebrated at the Kotel this week and whose picture appeared on the front page of Haaretz today.


And at the end of the long story of the flood, of Noah and his wife and sons building the ark, enabling life on earth to carry on, and God’s promise of the rainbow never to destroy the world again, the Torah relates a short tale.  It seems that after Noah’s sons and their descendants repopulated the world, the people of earth all spoke the same language, and they gathered together to build a great city, with a tower reaching into the heavens.


But God saw their attempt to build this tower, and considered it a sign that the people were seeking to aggrandize themselves, to make themselves like gods.  So God came down and confounded their speech, imposing all the world’s languages upon them, and scattering them across the world.  The building of the Tower of Babel ceased.


Now what is the Torah trying to tell us in this story?  Some would suggest that it warns us against falling in love with our technological accomplishments, lest we think of ourselves as on par with the divine creator.  Perhaps.


But I think it also warns us against building monuments and towers for the wrong purpose – to celebrate our own achievements, to make a name for ourselves, to boost our own egos.  When we build towers for that purpose, the result is human discord, division between races and religions, and ultimately, destruction.


But there are huge projects, cities to plan, organizations to develop, towers to build, that can serve a higher purpose.  When the purpose is to help others, to care for the needy, to heal the sick, to take in the widow and the orphan, the result is something quite different.


These are towers of peace and harmony, towers that build bridges between peoples, towers of strength and love and caring that bring a bit of the divine presence down to dwell with us on earth.  Tonight, we celebrate one such tower.


As members of the Hadassah family, we can all take pride in the milestone being marked today by the inauguration of the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower.  It stands as a symbol of the strength of the Hadassah organization, a symbol of hope for the future, and a culmination of Hadassah’s first 100 years of tremendous service.

As President Obama said in his letter of congratulations, Hadassah “exemplifies the quintessential American belief that we are at our best when we work together, and reminds us all of the impact we can have when we are motivated by shared values to lift up the lives of others.”  That tower, that you built, will lift up the lives of every person who passes through its doors.

No matter what country you are from, or where you live, tonight, we all share a common value to care for those in need, no matter who they are.  Together, we are all part of something much greater than any individual here can be on their own, and we can all be proud of Hadassah’s commitment to תיקון עולם, “healing the world,” in every sense.

Congratulations, Hadassah, on your first 100 years!  Thank you and שנה טובה!  – a year of peace and health to you all!