In the 1930s in Nuremberg, Germany, young Helen Wasserman noticed the world around her was changing. She loved to enjoy an ice cream cone in the park with her friends. But then one day she wasn't allowed to buy an ice cream cone. Then she wasn't allowed to go the park. And then came Kristallnacht.
The Wassermans were lucky; they had visas to go to America, so they wasted no time packing bags. But just before they were to leave, "the Brownshirts came into their house, saw everything all packed up, and they were going to break everything," explains Mark Spiegel, one of Helen's sons. "Our grandmother—who was usually a timid, meek person—flashed a document with English on it, saying, 'You can't touch any of this—it's property of the United States government.'" The Brownshirts left to harass another Jewish family, and the Wassermans got out relatively unscathed. They were extraordinarily fortunate.
"My grandfather had the opportunity to leave much earlier than they actually left," Helen's daughter, Liz Goldstein, explains. "But he thought, 'It will pass, it will pass.'" History told quite another story.
Helen never forgot her experiences living in Nazi Germany. "The time leading up to Kristallnacht and the evening after that had a huge impact on my mother," her son Walter Spiegel explains, "in terms of what it was like to see your civil rights slowly taken away."
The Wasserman family had been quite assimilated, but Helen's future husband, Frank Spiegel, had a more traditional approach to Judaism—and Helen took to it. Together they embraced the notion of tikkun olam, the Jewish value of doing your part to repair a broken world.
In the 1960s, Hadassah was one of the primary outlets for a woman like Helen to do activist work, and she dived in, becoming president of the local chapter and then regional president. Through her work with Hadassah, Helen learned how to make an impact on the causes she cared about, speaking passionately and articulately on behalf of others. She parlayed that experience elsewhere in her community, opening a homeless shelter for women in the basement of her synagogue that is still running today, more than 30 years later. In honor of her community service, she carried the Olympic torch in 1996.
So the gift she left in her will to Hadassah makes perfect sense to her three children. "She didn't just give the message, she lived the message," Mark says. "That's why Hadassah was such a big part of her life. She visited Hadassah Hospital [Hadassah Medical Organization] every time she went to Israel and felt a real fondness for the work they do there."
Given her background as a refugee, a Jewish homeland had special significance for her. "She would say that it's important for all of us to leave a legacy," points out Walter. "I think she did feel fortunate, leaving Germany and getting to live the American dream, but she was always cognizant of the fact of how tenuous fortune can be, which is why we need to strive to leave a better world behind."
Contact Planned Giving at 800-428-8884 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how you can help leave a better world behind through your gift to Hadassah.
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