Bernice S. Tannenbaum, who served as National President of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, from 1976 to 1980, and who later founded Hadassah International, passed away April 6. She was 101.
“We mourn the loss of a great leader not only of Hadassah but of the Jewish people,” said Marcie Natan, Hadassah’s current national president. “Bernice was one of the most beloved and productive Hadassah figures of the past half century. She was a tower of strength and a fount of wisdom. The legacy of accomplishment and inspiration that she leaves is immeasurable.”
Mrs. Tannenbaum’s service to Hadassah, Israel and the Zionist movement spanned nearly seven decades. During her presidency, she initiated the practice of Hadassah periodically holding its annual convention in Israel, convening the first such Jerusalem gathering in 1978. She also launched Hadassah’s first strategic planning initiative, resulting in key structural changes that affected the organization for many years and an approach to governance and innovation which guides Hadassah to this day.
From 1980 to 1984, Mrs. Tannenbaum served as chair of the Hadassah Medical Organization. In 1983, she founded Hadassah-International, transforming Hadassah from a U.S.-based Zionist movement into a global network that is currently represented in 21 countries. She served as the coordinator of Hadassah International for 10 years.
After the United Nations General Assembly approved Resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism, in 1975, pro-Israel groups around the world, supported by the American government and many others, mobilized to have the resolution overturned. Mrs. Tannenbaum spearheaded the U.S. campaign for repudiation, which came to a successful conclusion in 1991 when the UN repealed the resolution.
In 2000, Mrs. Tannenbaum played a central role as spokesperson for Hadassah’s successful campaign to achieve NGO consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
By the time she took on the campaigns against Resolution 3379 and in support of Hadassah’s NGO bid, Mrs. Tannenbaum was a veteran activist in international circles. She represented Hadassah and the World Jewish Congress at the UN Mid-Decade Conference for Women held in Copenhagen in 1980 and the End-of-Decade Conference for Women held in Nairobi in 1985.
Mrs. Tannenbaum co-chaired the Strategic Study Research Committee on Hadassah’s Israel projects, which led to the creation of the Hadassah Foundation in 1998. The purpose of the Foundation was to provide funding to initiatives that share Hadassah’s mission but are beyond the scope of its projects. Mrs. Tannenbaum served for many years as the Foundation’s liaison to the Hadassah National Board.
Beyond Hadassah, Mrs. Tannenbaum held a variety of leadership positions. She was elected twice as Chair of the American Section of the World Zionist Organization, serving from 1982 to 1992. She was a delegate to every World Zionist Congress from 1956 to 2010 and was named an Honorary Fellow of the WZO.
She was co-president of the World Confederation of United Zionists for 15 years, after which she became honorary president. She served as vice president and national secretary of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, vice president of the United Israel Appeal and National Vice President of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
More than any particular post she held, however, Mrs. Tannenbaum was most frequently lauded by people who knew her as a mentor, counseling women and men at all levels of involvement in Hadassah, from upcoming leaders to those who succeeded her as National President and Hadassah International Presidents and leaders.
In Israel, the Bernice S. Tannenbaum Day Center in Kiryat Shemona is named in Mrs. Tannenbaum’s honor. The Tannenbaum Conference Hall at the at the Ein Kerem campus of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem is named in honor of Mrs. Tannenbaum and her late husband, Nathan Tannenbaum.
In 2003, Mrs. Tannenbaum received Hadassah’s highest honor, the Henrietta Szold Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service. Other recipients of the award, established in 1949, have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Golda Meir, Yithzak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel.
In recognition of Mrs. Tannenbaum’s lifetime of service to Hadassah, Israel and the Jewish people, in 2009 the Hadassah Foundation established the Bernice S. Tannenbaum Prize, which recognizes innovative contributions to advance the lives of women and girls in Israel and the United States.
Mrs. Tannenbaum was born Bernice Franklin and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She studied at Brooklyn College, earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature and art. She joined Hadassah in 1944; her impact on Hadassah began in her local community.
What lessons do we learn from the life and accomplishments of such an extraordinary woman as Bernice? To be creative and innovative; forward thinking and risk-taking; coupled with the determination to make a lasting impact through generous contributions to Israel through the Hadassah Medical Organization. She leaves a distinguished legacy!
If you so wish, please send cards and certificates to her granddaughter: Ellen Salpeter 120 Central Park South Apt 14A New York, NY 10019
To make a donation in memory of Bernice Tannenbaum, please go to http://www.helphadassahnow.org/