On Sunday at noon, Ellen Zarrow-Nissenbaum smiled broadly as she carefully balanced on a metal ladder and pointed a few feet above her head to a green-and-white Boston street sign replete with history: Hadassah Way.
Surrounded by dozens of women at the corner of Boylston Street, the president of the 100-year-old Boston chapter of Hadassah, a prominent Jewish women’s volunteer organization, re-created a photograph from 58 years ago when the lane was dedicated in the group’s honor.
The snapshot kicked off the Boston chapter’s centennial celebration and, for the more than 100 women who joined the festivities, offered an opportunity to remember and cheer how Hadassah — locally, nationally, and internationally — has evolved over the years.
Hadassah, which focuses on strengthening American ties to Israel and promoting health in the region, in particular through two big medical facilities in Jerusalem, calls itself the largest Jewish organization in America, with 330,000 members and supporters.
Marcie Natan, Hadassah’s national president, came to Boston for the celebration. She said the mission of the group, which has chapters across the United States, remained anchored in the vision of its founder, Baltimore-born Henrietta Szold, who promoted a practical, “hands-on” Zionism.
After starting Hadassah in 1912 in New York (Boston’s chapter came a year later), Szold and her new group soon sent two nurses to what was then Palestine in an effort to bolster the health of mothers and their infants.
The hospital centers in Jerusalem that are owned and supported by Hadassah serve Israelis, Palestinians, and patients from overseas.
Natan said those medical campuses continue the health care work begun by the two early 20th-century Hadassah nurses and that the group’s current members continue the traditions of their predecessors.
“We are different and the same,” Natan said. “If you look at the ladies, we don’t have the white gloves and we don’t have the hats, but we come out in force. We are every bit as committed to. . . Israel” as they were, she said.
Fran Feldman, a 70-year-old Boston resident and retired Harvard University staffer, said being part of Hadassah was a tradition that linked the generations of women in her family: Her mother and her mother’s mother were both members.
“It’s a sisterhood,” Feldman said, “and a way to do tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase that roughly translates to repair of the world.
“This is my service to Israel. It’s what I do. It’s part of my being,” she said, adding that she had been involved with the group for 45 years.
After the photo was taken, Natan, Zarrow-Nissenbaum, and others marched down Hadassah Way to the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. There, in a ballroom adorned with old photos of Hadassah members and congratulatory letters from US Senator Elizabeth Warren and US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, the group held a luncheon.
As klezmer music softly played over the public address system, Freyda Sanders, 89, of Brookline, chatted with women at her table.
Sanders, who has been involved with the organization for almost 60 years, said the group has been intertwined with almost every stage of her life. She recalled going to local Hadassah meetings decades ago, putting her baby in the middle of the circle of women.
A former child psychologist with a granddaughter in the Israeli army, Sanders said Hadassah has been “my ability to express my Jewishness, my interest in Israel, civil rights, health — all the things I thought it was important for Jewish women to be involved with.”
Sitting two seats away was Doris Oser, another Brookline resident who has been involved with Hadassah for more than 50 years; she described her age as “90 and counting.”
She said it was part of “our personality to be a member,” and recalled seeing Hadassah’s work through its hospitals on a visit to Israel. “We’re for Israel all the way, naturally,” she said.
Joshua Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.