Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has a new CEO with a historic connection to the organization.
Naomi Adler began in her role less than two weeks ago, taking over for Janice Weinman who retired in June after nine years. She told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, “The more I learn about Hadassah, the more excited I am.”
That’s because Adler is passionate about women, Israel and health – three pillars of the organization.
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“Healthcare is the foundation of a healthy nation,” Adler said via Zoom.
“Hadassah has been at the forefront of ensuring medical excellence: research, training doctors and nurses,” Adler explained.
This has become especially true during the last 18 months, as the world has battled the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hadassah experts, for example, were among a team of professionals who helped design a low-cost ventilator whose blueprints, design and codes are completely open-source. Hospital doctors are at the forefront of developing new COVID-19 treatments and have focused some of their research on issues such as whether or not coronavirus vaccines impact fertility.
“There are numerous accounts of expeditious research done as a result of Hadassah’s familiarity with women’s issues,” Adler said. “Across the world, researchers have lately been attuned to the fact that early medical research was usually on men…. The focus of Hadassah on women and families benefits everyone and has changed the world.”
Adler joined the organization with more than 18 years of experience in leading nonprofit organizations. She was the first female CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, where she lives. She also served as the president and CEO of two United Way organizations in New York State for a total of 13 years.
A lawyer by training, she has been a strong advocate for women and girls. She has a reputation as a successful prosecutor in cases of violence against women and children.
A bio provided by Hadassah said she testified as an expert on charitable giving, antisemitism and global public health in local and national legislative forums, including the Ways and Means Committee of the United States Congress. She was also recognized by former president Barack Obama for her efforts during Hurricane Sandy, and by FEMA for her service to the community during hurricanes Irene and Lee.
Her connection to Hadassah began in 1939, before she was born, with her grandmother who escaped persecution and landed in America, where Adler says she “was completely accepted by Hadassah.”
“Hadassah has always been about women’s empowerment for me,” Adler told the Post.
It has also been about Israel, where her family has equally deep roots.
Her grandfather arrived in Israel in the 1920s and established the World Center for Jewish Music, which is now a part of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her great uncle owned Fink’s cafe in the Holy City.
Adler has been to Israel many times and visited Hadassah-University Medical Center. The organization helps fund the hospital as part of a public-private partnership with the Israeli government.
Hadassah has been struggling financially in recent years, including filing for bankruptcy in 2014. CEO Prof. Ze’ev Rotstein stepped down earlier this summer amid controversy, including around the hospital’s financial challenges brought on by COVID-19.
Adler also advocated for making Israel a more pluralistic place to which American Jews could better connect.
In 2016, she expressed her frustration about delays in the development of an egalitarian section at the Western Wall, which she said were a “slap in the face” to liberal Jews.

 SLIHOT AT the Western Wall (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) SLIHOT AT the Western Wall (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

“Many Jews are struggling with this and are aligning how they feel about the entire State of Israel with [the government’s inaction],” Adler said then. “Israel is a modern Jewish state and should act accordingly.”
She said one thing she loves about Hadassah is that a person can support Israel “without taking a political stance.”
Hadassah has 700 chapters across the US and international chapters around the world.
“My first goal is to listen to multiples of people: volunteers who have been stalwart supporters, donors and the associates who all have been working with Hadassah for decades. I want to understand its history and build on those achievements,” Adler said.
“We need Hadassah to remain a leading voice for medical excellence, public health equity, women and families’ issues,” she continued, “and to be known as a great partner and leader in the fight against antisemitism.”

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