Webster’s dictionary defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide.” Other definitions are similar, usually mentioning that the mentor has more experience than the person they are mentoring, and the need to build trust within the relationship. .
I first became involved in Hadassah when I enrolled my two young children in its Training Wheels program. I knew nothing about the organization at that time. Unlike many others, my mother and grandmother had not been members. I joined simply to have something fun and Jewish to do with my two young sons. While I really enjoyed Training Wheels, as did my boys, the best part of it was the beginning of my involvement with Hadassah. It was there that I met the first of many women who would encourage me to step up to leadership roles in the organization. In other words, they were my first Hadassah mentors.
One of the women remains unknown to me, but she mentored me secretly by recommending me for a regional training weekend for up-and-coming young leaders in El Paso, Texas. I honestly don’t know who she was, but if I could, I would thank her. During that conference, I met women from all over the Hadassah Desert-Mountain Region and began to learn all about Hadassah. I remember being impressed that the leaders of the organization, including then Region President Heidi Appel, took the time to get to know all of us newbies, and encourage us to stay involved. I would learn one day that this was the rule in our region, not the exception.
More importantly for me at that stage of my involvement, was that I was encouraged by another Training Wheel mother to sign up for the next class of the Hadassah Leadership Academy. She was in the first Las Vegas group, and thought I should apply for the next class. She saw leadership potential in me and told me so. I did apply and was accepted, and this became one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. The three years I spent in the HLA program were truly life changing. We learned about Hadassah, leadership, and Jewish values. We traveled to Nashville for a Hadassah National Convention and had a fabulous time; we bonded over late night dances and early morning business meetings. We journeyed to Israel together for a 2-week mission that only increased our dedication to Hadassah and to each other. And we learned to support each other through whatever life put in front of us. Our madricha, Lauren Eisenberg, also was a mentor. She helped all of us maximize our leadership skills and not be afraid to use them.
After graduating from HLA, I became a group and then chapter president and returned to attending conferences at the region level. True to our region’s culture, so many women helped me to develop my leadership skills. Kacy Spivack was the first to tell me that she saw me as a potential region president. She would always encourage me to take on new challenges and was there if I needed assistance. Rochelle Edelman was there with advice as I led my chapter. She also taught me to be comfortable speaking in public and then to praise me when I delivered speeches to ever larger groups at our meetings. Cathy Olswing and Barbara Raben assigned me to plan and lead training sessions at our region meetings. Many others were mentors just by being there whenever I needed a question answered or just an ear to listen to my complaints. And all these women grew to be not just mentors but true friends over the years.
And I have been lucky to have the opportunity to mentor other women as they followed their paths to leadership with Hadassah. I have been a sounding board for several of the presidents in Las Vegas. I have also offered to help women just starting out to plan a program or teach them more about Hadassah. I have made the phone calls and built relationships that led to some becoming annual donors. As a region advisor and AVP, I have done leadership training for chapters throughout our region. And, as others did for me, have encouraged women to try a new position that might feel scary to them. I let them know I was there if they had questions or difficulties. That was enough to get them to stretch their wings.
I love our emphasis on both formal and informal mentoring in Hadassah! All women should have the opportunity to learn from those who came before and then pass along the same skills and tips to the next generation. And to learn to support each other, not to compete with each other, and through these experiences develop the lifelong friends I have in my Hadassah sisters.