05/06/2012 09:25 pm ET

Hadassah At 100: Honoring America's Jewish Women Leaders (PHOTOS)

By Marcie Natan
Hadassah National President

In 2004, Belle Simon, who lived in New York at the time, needed a kidney transplant. A longtime member of Hadassah’s national board, she was fortunate to have become acquainted with a fellow board member, Katie Edelstein, who lived across the country in Seattle. When Belle got sick, Katie was inspired to fulfill a mission inspired by Hadassah –- helping and healing. She made the amazing gift of donating a kidney to Belle. Today, both are the living, breathing examples of the significance of Hadassah’s Pikuah Nefesh program, which encourages organ donation and builds awareness among families about the importance of letting loved ones know one’s intent to be an organ donor.

Katie and Belle are but two of the 100 women that we highlight today as Hadassah reaches its 100th anniversary. Each of these women brings her own unique experience to the largest women’s and largest Jewish organization in the United States, but at the same time is motivated and influenced by the mission of Hadassah: to strengthen our partnerships with Israel, ensure Jewish continuity and realize women’s potential as a dynamic force in American society.

Today, I am honored to have a very special opportunity to introduce you to Belle and Katie and 98 other women who have made Hadassah what it is today: a women’s Jewish organization more than 330,000 strong that brings women, girls and the men who support us together with a continued determination to improve medical care and research, social action and advocacy, volunteerism, Jewish education, youth programs that foster connections with Israel, and reforestation and parks projects. Jewish American Heritage Month, celebrated throughout May to commemorate Jewish Americans’ contributions to America, seems a fitting time to mark the ways Hadassah has played a role in the American Jewish fabric.

Take a look at the honorees and continue reading below...

Earlier this month, the women of Hadassah opened the doors to our crowning accomplishment of the century, the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. This building is allowing us to do what Hadassah has always done: Provide compassionate, expert care to all patients, regardless of religious or ethnic background.

But it also represents the continuation of a 100-year-old legacy in the power of generations of Hadassah women to not only build a first-rate medical system, but to bring women together across time, oceans, ages and community and advocacy needs. Hadassah’s pioneering work can be found in our members’ endeavors to not only build a strong and healthy Israel, but also to nurture Jewish-Arab relations, both in the Middle East and in the United States, through programs that assist at-risk youth, integrate new immigrants, and of course, develop strong Jewish commitments among Diaspora youth.

Our mission today remains as vital as it did 100 years ago as communities of Hadassah women across the United States mark our centennial year. Last month, we welcomed Shabbat 100 years to the day in the very spot where Henrietta Szold first conjured the ideas that would become Hadassah –- Temple Emanu-El in New York.

As we celebrate our 100th birthday this year, the women of Hadassah are preparing for our next century. But at the same time, we remember and honor our past. What still motivates us today and will guarantee our future is a commitment to the values exemplified by our founder, Henrietta Szold, a Jewish scholar and activist, who was dedicated to Judaism, Zionism, and the American ideal, as well as the many thousands of women who, together, have laid our foundation.

As you look through the photos and short bios of these 100 women, we hope you too will be inspired to positively influence your community. Join us as we look forward to our next century.