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Phenomenal Women

Hadassah national president Carol Ann Schwartz delivers Hadassah’s End The Silence petition to the United Nations.
(Courtesy of Hadassah)

These 18 American women are extraordinary Zionists, says Hadassah

Toby Klein is no stranger to standing out and challenging the status quo.
    She successfully navigated coming out as gay to her Orthodox community, chose to do her doctorate researching Holocaust education at the University of Arkansas and spent time doing abortion advocacy work in the conservative southern state before becoming program manager for the Jewish LGBTQ+ advocacy organization A Wider Bridge.
    But Klein’s work advocating for Israel since Oct. 7 has made her stand out like never before. It has earned her opprobrium from LGBTQ+ activists she thought were her friends and praise from Zionists.
    Klein was recently named by Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, to its second annual list of “18 American Zionist Women You Should Know.”
    “My community is hurting right now,” Klein said. “Some people won’t talk to me because I’m a Zionist or because I’m Jewish or because I won’t condemn the State of Israel.”
    Hadassah’s 2024 list, published in May, includes both well-known names and lesser-known ones. Among the honorees are actress Debra Messing, who has used her public platform to speak out about the post-Oct. 7 explosion in antisemitism; poet Tova Ricardo; social media influencer Shai Albrecht; Christian Zionist activist Destiny Albritton; Hillels of Illinois executive director and JUF campus affairs associate vice president Emily Briskman; and Gila Zarbiv, a nurse midwife at Hadassah’s medical center in Jerusalem who lectures internationally on the complexities of life, birth and medicine in Israel.
    Many have intensified their outspokenness in support of Israel in the wake of Oct. 7, taking risks to push back against lies and hate directed toward Israel and Jews.
    “I’m so proud of the women on this list,” said Hadassah National President Carol Ann Schwartz. “They are doing so much work and accomplishing so much. But people don’t always know their names.”
    That’s something Hadassah seeks to change. With almost 300,000 members, Hadassah aims to elevate the profiles of the women on the list and help their Zionist messages—and the larger message that Zionism today constitutes a diverse array of identities and activities—reach a much wider audience.

Ashira Solmon was named to Hadassah’s annual list of 18
American Zionist Women You Should Know for her advocacy for Israel and against antisemitism in the African-American
community. (Courtesy of Hadassah)

    “They are not people looking to start a fight, but people who are educating, correcting misinformation, and getting the facts out there in a positive way,” Schwartz said, adding that Hadassah also wants to help these Zionists let the world know “about the good things coming out of Israel— research partnerships, intellectual partnerships, even AI.”
    Publication of the list is one of several initiatives Hadassah has undertaken since Oct. 7. The organization has also sent two global solidarity missions to Israel during which the groups met with hostage families, among other activities. Hadassah also expedited the opening of a new rehabilitation center at its Mount Scopus hospital so that injured soldiers would have access to the state-of-the-art facilities they need to recover.
    Perhaps the biggest project Hadassah has undertaken since Oct. 7 is its global End The Silence campaign to raise awareness of Hamas’ weaponization of sexual violence and to demand that the United Nations hold Hamas accountable. Central to the campaign is an international petition that, to date, has been signed by more than 150,000 people in 118 countries and shared with the UN. In addition, on and in the run-up to International Women’s Day (March 8), Hadassah held 189 End The Silence rallies and other events in 23 cities in 17 countries.
    Valeria Chazin’s work as a campus advocate for Israel landed her a spot on Hadassah’s 2024 list. The organization Chazin founded 12 years ago while a senior in college, Students Supporting Israel, now has over 200 chapters worldwide.
    “Twelve years ago, we already saw that there was a major problem with propaganda and an anti-Israel atmosphere on campuses, and Zionist students were afraid to speak their minds,” Chazin said. “At first, we were a local initiative on our campus in Minnesota. But we quickly realized that students everywhere need this support.”
    Chazin, who was born in Kiev but moved to Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces, said she tries to inspire students to be visibly pro-Israel on campus. The pro-Israel events her organization holds often take place in the center of campus, and she encourages Zionist students to get into student government in order to increase their impact.
    “It’s important that we are not just on the defensive and fighting BDS but actually bringing resolutions that call for more collaboration with Israeli academic institutions,” Chazin said.

Hadassah leaders meet with Pramila Patten, UN Special
representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in
conflict, to discuss the weaponization of sexual violence around the globe. (Courtesy of Hadassah)

  Having been involved in pro-Israel activism on campus for over a decade, Chazin said she hasn’t been surprised by the proliferation of anti-Israel messages on campus.
    Ricardo, an award-winning Black Jewish poet, social media content creator and Oakland’s 2015 youth poet laureate, embodies the diversity of what it means to be a Zionist.
    The child of an interfaith family, Ricardo says she often spends hours a day talking about Jewish identity, her love for Israel, antisemitism, Jewish pride, diversity, and what it means to be Black and Jewish.
    Since Oct. 7, she has shifted her content to focus on the very real fears that Jews are experiencing, she said.
    “Even Jews who weren’t as involved or aware before are now seeking out community in my space, seeking out others, seeking comfort,” Ricardo said. “I want my work to help people who are struggling in any given moment, who need uplifting in their Jewish story.”
    Also on the list are LA-based writer Eve Barlow, whose social media posts about antisemitism and anti-Zionism reach over 1.5 million people; law student Adela Cojab-Moadeb, who filed a successful federal civil rights lawsuit against New York University for failing to protect Jews on campus from harassment; former Hungarian diplomat Virag Gulyas, a non-Jew who writes the popular blog The Almost Jewish; director of Israel engagement for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta Jenn Handel; Aviva Klompas, CEO of Boundless, which addresses the challenges involved in working to combat antisemitism; Hadassah volunteer leader and Israel advocate Luisa Narins; Michelle Rojas-Tal, a trailblazer in helping young Jews navigate difficult conversations about Zionism and Israel; international speaker Ashira Solomon, who advocates for a secure future for Israel and speaks out against antisemitism in the African-American community; and scholar Samantha von Ende, an expert in modern antisemitism, Zionism and the Israeli political system.
    “Each and every one of these women is on the list because they are wonderful role models for the community,” Chazin said. “It’s very humbling to be part of that list.”
    This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.
    “But what has been absolutely shocking is the intensity of it, the hate, the number of people joining, and the openly antisemitic messages displayed on campuses,” she said. “It’s absolutely horrific.”
Since Oct. 7, Students Supporting Israel has mobilized more than 30,000 students across North America for pro-Israel rallies, vigils and demonstrations. They bring in Israeli speakers, put up Israeli flags and hang posters across campuses with photos of Israel’s hostages in Gaza.
Diana Diner is Hadassah’s Israel and Zionism educator—and one of the 18 women on the 2024 Hadassah list.
“I spend 20 hours a day talking about Israel,” said Diner, who came up with the idea of the annual list a few years ago. “So many people don’t know what Zionism is and they think of it as negative.” The Hadassah list, she said, tries “to reframe that by showing multiple viewpoints about what it means to be a Zionist, and sharing them with the world.”

 Elana Sztokman is a contributing writer to JTA and Jlife Magazine.

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