When Co-presidents Janis Levine and Faye Grossman adjourn the gathering of Bayonne-Jersey City Hadassah Chapter members on June 10, it will not only be the end of a meeting, but it will be the end of an era.
That meeting will be the last official one the chapter, which has been operating for 78 years, will hold. Bayonne Hadassah was organized at the home of a member in March 1936, but changing demographics and the continuing need of two-worker families, were factors the chapter could not overcome.
Once 800 members strong, the chapter has shrunk to only about a dozen or so active members. In fact, the Bayonne chapter had incorporated the Jersey City one years ago because that group could not sustain itself any longer.
Many know of Hadassah, the worldwide organization founded in 1912. Hadassah promotes volunteerism, social advocacy, health education, and Jewish education and research. Each chapter raises funds through various activities and then sends that money on to the national group.
In Bayonne, one of the biggest projects, and one chapter members were most proud of, was the annual calendar the group created. Soliciting advertisements from local and area groups and businesses, the chapter raised thousands of dollars each year. But the Bayonne Hadassah calendar will print no more.
And while that and other fundraising efforts will be sorely missed by those who benefited from them, local chapter members say that the camaraderie the group instilled will be missed even more profoundly.
For Levine, who was married for about 20 years, but without her husband for decades, the meetings and activities were a welcome diversion.
“I feel sadness. It was a tremendous piece of my life,” Levine said. “When I look at pictures of the chapter, it brings back a lot of memories.”
Levine said that changing demographics were the mitigating factor in having to close the chapter. Many of the current members are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and younger new members are not coming in to fill the ranks.
“We’re all close in age,” said Grossman, also chapter treasurer, who’s been a member for 50-plus years. “We have the same officers for so many years, and we can’t get anyone to take over. We can’t do much fundraising now. It becomes difficult.”
And although the group is open to all those wanting to participate, the waning of the Jewish population in the city has had its effect. Levine said that what was once nearly a quarter of the city’s residents has dwindled to just 300 families.
“There were a lot of Jewish organizations in the city of Bayonne, but that has changed drastically,” she said. “There used to be seven synagogues. There are just three now.”
A lot of the former members have moved not only out of Bayonne, but out of state, and as far away as Florida, Grossman said. Many are in assisted living developments, so even if they’re not far, they cannot make the meetings.
Thirteen women from the chapter board attended a final luncheon on May 29 to discuss the impending closing, talk, and reminisce.
The group’s final meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center, 1050 Kennedy Blvd., the group’s home since 1952. Prior to that, the chapter had met at the city’s first JCC on Lincoln Parkway and at Temple Emanuel on 29th Street and the Boulevard, according to Levine.
“At the meeting, we’ll have a reminiscent type discussion,” Grossman said. “We’ll talk about how we met; how Hadassah affected our lives. I know it made my life very good.”
As the chapter was closing, kudos were still coming in for the members. In December, Roz Felstein, fundraising vice president, was one of the honorees at a luncheon recognizing members from all across northern New Jersey.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at: JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.