Submitted by Rabbi Amy Joy Small
On June 4, 2008, June Walker was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Haifa. The immediate past president of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, June is Chairperson of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a member of JRF affiliate Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit, NJ. Rabbi Amy Joy Small accompanied June and her husband Barrett to Israel for the ceremony. An article on Ms. Walker's honor appeared in a recent edition of The New Jersey Jewish News, attached to this story.
When I was growing up in the '60s and '70s, I wasn't fully conscious of how much I was impacted by the absolute dearth of female role models available to young Jewish girls like me. But it certainly did impact me. In part, we are all products of our environment and culture at its moment in time. Many aspiring Jewish feminists like myself, even before we could claim the feminist mantle, fought hard to become educated, to achieve positions of leadership that opened access for us to contribute to the world in powerful ways. Many of us adored Golda Meir, a beloved leader of our people, a world leader who was also our "Jewish grandma."
Yet we have learned that a small number of extraordinary women were paving the way before we got to there. Their road, preceding the Feminist Movement, was far more challenging than the one my generation faced. And their accomplishments have been truly heroic.
Such is the case for Rockaway, NJ resident June Walker – this generation's Golda Meir. Grandmother to six adoring grandchildren and grandmother-in-spirit to thousands more, June's down to earth, humble and loving manner endear her to all those who meet her. But don't be fooled by her very kind heart to think she's all about nurturing. This petite lady is a lioness – endlessly and fiercely pursuing projects to support medical care, education, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
June's accomplishments were recently acknowledged on June 4th when the University of Haifa conferred an honorary doctorate on her in a glorious, life affirming ceremony. Citing June's great accomplishments, primarily as president of Hadassah, professor Aharon Ben Ze'ev and Yossi Ben Artzi, president and rector of the University, beamed as they welcomed June into their academic community as a new Doctor of Philosophy, Honoris Causa. The program booklet for the event, in describing June's accomplishments, notes that "She saw her work in Hadassah as the perfect synthesis of everything she is most interested in – Judaism, education, medicine and Zionism." Whether it was the building of the new Judean Youth Hostel in Jerusalem, the forthcoming new wing of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, the dramatic improvements in Hadassah youth villages to help youth at risk, or the ascendancy of Hadassah College Jerusalem to a high level academic institution, it seems that whatever June sets out to do, she makes it happen. With tenacity, terrific smarts, diplomatic acumen and fierce passion, June has moved mountains. Her current work in helping the University of Haifa to map out its vision and plans for the development of a major medical center in Northern Israel has made her a star at the University's Board of Governors and administration. They realize that this woman who ascended from the ranks of Hadassah to become chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations could significantly help them.
As a result, June was selected to be the speaker at the ceremony—addressing an enthusiastic crowd on behalf of all seven honorees of the evening. Noteworthy was how truly amazing and accomplished all of the other six honorees were. And there was June—the star of the event. A whole busload of adoring Hadassah (and Young Judea) staff and dignitaries drove up from Jerusalem to honor June. There was not a dry eye in the house. The Deputy Executive Director of the Hadassah Office in Israel, Barbara Goldstein, offered a powerful tribute to her friend and colleague, recalling her to service to Israel and the Jewish people through her many years of leadership in Hadassah. The love felt for June from the Hadassah community was palpable throughout the auditorium.
In her address that night, June spoke on behalf of the assembled honorees, saying,
June’s talk then focused on the importance of education, while highlighting the unique role her own education played in the development of her skills, values and her drive to accomplish good in the world. Her tribute to Hunter College was then linked to her new relationship with the University of Haifa. She concluded by saying:
June has lived this mission more fully and more successfully than most ever could. Representing the many thousands whose lives have been touched by June’s work, the Hadassah organization expressed its gratitude through an ad placed in the Jerusalem Post on that same day. The ad wished a Mazal Tov to June, calling her "Eshet Lapidot: like Deborah the Prophet and Judge, a Beacon of Light and Inspiration."
These were my thoughts exactly! I had the extraordinary privilege to accompany June, who invited me as her rabbi to share the occasion with her and her husband Barrett. I was honored to bask in her light and thrilled to see her honored so magnificently. This event was a life moment of the highest order for June, and it was my pleasure to enjoy it with her as she soaked it in.
The honorary doctorate was a well-deserved honor. But the true honor is ours—to have been blessed by the leadership of this Jewish heroine. I am so pleased that my daughter’s generation has women like June to serve as such outstanding role models. As a result, there is no telling to what heights our granddaughters will be able to soar. The Jewish people and the world will indeed be strengthened and enriched.
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