Volunteering on a kibbutz before her freshman year at Wellesley, Bonnie Freundlich was able to reflect on the history her ancestors had preserved over centuries of diaspora. "It was a fabulous experience," Bonnie says. "I wanted to find a way to get back the following summer, but my parents had told me I needed to have a job. So I said, ‘All right, I'll find a job—and I'll find a job in Israel.'"
Deeply moved by stories of Youth Aliyah and the organization's rescue of Eastern European Jewish children during World War II, Bonnie wrote letters to the group in search of a job opportunity. Months later, her father mentioned Bonnie's determination to a friend who worked for Hadassah in New York City. The woman invited Bonnie to New York for an interview, which resulted in Bonnie's dream job becoming a reality.
Bonnie put her considerable talents to work for Hadassah again in the early 2000s, this time in her home city of Philadelphia. A nonprofit management consultant by profession, she offered her services pro bono. Bonnie wanted to launch a new group, provided that she could test some theories regarding her target: empty nesters.
"There had been a trickle of empty nesters moving back into the Center City from the suburbs, and there was a doughnut hole in Center City where Jews had started moving back, because they loved the history and culture and art and all that our city has to afford."
A pilot group with empty nesters confirmed Bonnie's hunch: "What our grandmothers and mothers did was right for their time, but it was not relevant to us." The new group began to make adjustments, replacing traditional fundraisers with an annual membership fund drive. In lieu of luncheons, they met after work and concluded with dinner. Programs focused on Jewish history and art as well as Hadassah's pioneering work in medicine. Women's rights and other contemporary issues were addressed, always with a focus on Jewish culture.
By 2008, the group's membership had grown to more than 100 women, many new to the Jewish philanthropic community. The group was officially chartered with a name that holds deep meaning for Bonnie—Dona Gracia, after Dona Gracia Nasi of Portugal, who used her spice trading fortune in the 1500s to preserve Jewish historical records and help crypto Jews escape oppression. "She was a fabulous protector of her family and extended family and an extraordinary businesswoman," Bonnie says.
To ensure that the opportunities Bonnie experienced through Hadassah are available for generations to come, she has established four charitable gift annuities with Hadassah. "I'm so proud of my Jewish heritage," she says. "Hadassah tackles issues that are of interest to women: health, education and preserving family life. A long line of people has helped the Jewish people continue. Supporting Hadassah's work enables me to play my role in the Jewish community, now and for the future."
From One Century to the Next
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