Born and raised in Jersey City, N.J., Hadassa Birnbaum (nee Halperin) studied at Douglass College and did her graduate work with an M.S. in Education and Teachers’ Certificate at Hofstra University, and attained an M.S.W. at Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University.
Hadassa made aliya in 1970 with her husband, Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum, and 3 sons. They settled in Midreshet Sde Boker where she assisted her husband in the organization of a high school for English speaking olim and taught English both to English speakers and to Israeli high school and Teachers’ Seminar students.
In 1978 Hadassa began a new career in social work and worked in the Kadima Department of Social Services for 21 years, helping people of all ages, and specializing in geriatric services. After retiring, she served for 10 years as volunteer coordinator of the ESRA Moadon for Young Disabled Men and Women. She filled her days as volunteer social worker with the Shikumon (day-care rehab center) of Yad Sarah and with Netanya’s Dept. of Services for the Disabled. For this work she received an award as “exceptional volunteer” from the City of Netanya Welfare Department.
Several years later she brought to the attention of the ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) leadership the proposal of one of Netanya’s young activisits on Netanya’s city council to establish the Students Build a Neighborhood project. She coordinated this project on behalf of ESRA. Now existing in two neighborhoods in Netanya, students from the surrounding colleges are given rent-free apartments in the neighborhood and they, in turn, work with the children and families to improve the neighborhood from within. This has resulted in a partnership between the City administration and EsrA for the purpose of aiding children in needy areas in their studies and has proved to be one of the most successful projects of both organizations.
For the past eleven years Hadassa has been serving as volunteer social worker for the center for abused women (Café V’Seach) that is run by Hadassah Israel under the auspices of the Department for the Prevention of Violence in the Family. Hadassa was one of four women who decided to “do something” during the years of the intifada when many businesses closed down, causing high unemployment and resulting in many hungry families. These women established the project, Hand in Hand Food Pantry, to provide monthly food parcels for needy families. Hand in Hand Food Pantry also provides lunches for two groups of first and second grade children who are considered at risk of not succeeding in school. They come to the center four days a week after school for reinforcement of their learning skills and receive a nourishing hot lunch, often their only meal of the day.
During the heavy bombing of Sderot and surrounding southern communities, Hadassa was organized a trip from Netanya to bring both moral support and financial support to the embattled residents of the area. The busload of travelers, members of Congregation Bet Israel, bought gifts and lunch at Kibbutz Nir-Am and then spent more shekels in Sderot’s little shops.
A few years ago after reading a book called, The Mascot by Mark Kurzem, that is purported to be the true story of the author’s “father’s Nazi childhood,” the story became personal for Hadassa. Realizing a common surname to her own maiden name and a common town of origin, Koidanov, she thought that the author’s father, the “mascot” of the story, might be a relative of hers. Hadassa’s own research led her to genealogists in the U.S. researching in great depth the Mascot story. These researchers have become convinced that Alex Kurzem is a probable fake … and that is how one of our most interesting speakers, Barry Resnick, came to Netanya and to Bet Israel to speak about Kurzem and his spurious claims.
In her spare time, along with other women from Congregation Bet Israel, Hadassa tutors students in English language at the TALI School. The TALI (Hebrew acronym for “enriched Jewish Studies”) network of schools provides a pluralistic Jewish Studies program to tens of thousands of schoolchildren in over 200 public schools and pre-schools throughout Israel–comprising more than 10% of all secular public schools in Israel. TALI brings Jewish learning to the secular Israeli classroom, connecting pupils with their heritage, and educating towards religious pluralism in the Jewish state.
TALI offers the middle-way in Israel for Jewish education, tradition and the awakening of Jewish identity. Established in 1976, TALI has been sponsored since 1987 by the TALI Education Fund (TEF) which is authorized by Israel’s Ministry of Education to provide educational guidance and resources to all TALI schools.
Hadassa is the mother of three sons and proud grandmother of 10 grandchildren, all living in Israel.