Early January was a crazy time for Ellen Hershkin, who stepped up to Hadassah's presidency on New Year's Day. By Sunday, Jan. 10, she was already in Jerusalem, cutting the ribbon for the new surgical complex at Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) in Ein Kerem.
And then came one of the most exciting moments of all: HMO researchers announced breakthrough findings in the world's first clinical trial using patients' own stem cells to combat ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Working with U.S./Israeli biotech company BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics, Professor Dimitrios Karussis, head of the HMO Department of Neurology and lead researcher, found that almost 90 percent of the clinical trial patients showed slowing in the rate of the progression of their disease, and in some cases improvement in lung and motor function—after one treatment.
"That night, I was in Jerusalem on the phone with Prof. Karussis, HMO chair Rachel Schonberger and Hadassah leaders, members, and donors speaking about that morning's announcement," Ellen says. "We presented these findings to people all over the United States and Israel. It was an extraordinary experience."
Zionism in Action
They were an incredible few days—but when you consider Hadassah's mission, they were also exactly what Ellen expects. She takes the promise of Zionism seriously.
"My father taught me the lessons he gained from his experiences in the 11th armored division in World War II, one of the units that liberated Mauthausen," she explains. "I am my father's daughter—I wear his bar mitzvah ring every day." It's a tangible reminder of all that Israel means to the Jewish people—and all that it can offer to the rest of the world.
"It is amazing to see something so positive that may lead to breakthroughs in other areas—multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, age-related macular degeneration. Wouldn't it be wonderful!" Ellen continues. "That is our practical Zionism in action."
Together We Can
Her first task as national president—sharing groundbreaking clinical trial information that originated at HMO—is a shining example of the fruits of Hadassah's work.
"I, Ellen Hershkin, cannot build a medical institution by myself, but kulanu b'yachad—all of us together—we can," she marvels. "When breakthroughs like this come out of Hadassah, they're the Jewish people's gift to all humanity. We support Hadassah, which supports the research, which is a gift to the rest of the world."
That's why for five decades, Ellen has looked to Hadassah to fulfill the promise of Zionism—not just in theory, but on the ground. "It has been my vehicle of choice for practical Zionism," she says, "and taking my turn at bearing responsibility for everything I've been taught."
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The content contained herein is provided for informational purposes only. There is currently no cure for ALS, and the treatment studied in the clinical trial is subject to further research and review. All persons should consult with their own health care professionals prior to embarking, modifying or terminating any course of treatment.