Barbara Goldstein has been to dozens of ceremonies to mark the transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day, always watching from the sidelines as honorees get called to light honorary beacons. But on Monday, Goldstein, a Hadassah stalwart, will be one of 12 people given the honor on Mount Herzl in the massive ceremony.
"It's something you dream of, it becomes the highlight of your life," said Goldstein, 69. "I've gone to maybe 30 of those ceremonies. It's in my head and it's in my kid's head, 'for the glory of the state of Israel,' but you never imagine you're going to be the one up there doing this."
For Goldstein - a New Jersey native known to friends and colleagues as BG - the honor caps 50 years of work for the Women's Zionist Organization of America, as Hadassah is officially known. Today the deputy executive director of the group's Israel office, she was chosen by the committee organizing the televised ceremony for her commitment to Zionism and as a representative of Hadassah, which celebrates its centennial this year.
Goldstein is known to friend and colleagues as BG, but according to Marlene Post, Hadassah's former national president, the nickname is not only an homage to her own initials.
"When she made aliyah, she was the epitome of what [David] Ben-Gurion would have wanted," Post told Anglo File. "We call her BG affectionately because to our national board members, who are all devoted Zionists, she embodied not only devoted Zionism and Judaism, but also the dream of aliyah. She didn't just talk about it."
Audrey Shimron, the executive director of Hadassah International told Anglo File that Goldstein is the embodyment of what her group strives for.
"She's a person whose will and desire to serve the Jewish people and the state of Israel, and to build it to be a better place, is something that motivates her from the moment she gets up in the morning," Shimron said.
Goldstein started working for Jewish and Zionist causes when she was still in high school. "I knew as a little girl that the state of Israel was a gift to my generation and that I had a responsibility with the privilege," she told Anglo File. She recalled how she knocked on doors in her North Bergen neighborhood to collect money for the Jewish National Fund - even from Catholic clerics.
"There was a convent down the block from where I lived. I never even walked on that side of the street when I was a kid. But I decided that I would go in and get money from them for reclaiming the Holy Land," she remembered, adding that her efforts were successful.
As a teenager, Goldstein took part in the Jewish Agency's Machon L'Madrichei Chutz La'Aretz training program for leaders of Zionist youth movements, a pivotal moment in her life. "They gave you all this leadership stuff and told you to serve the Jewish people, and I went back and I took an oath to myself that I would spend the rest of my life serving the Jewish people," she said.
One of her pet causes was the Soviet Jewry, participating in marches and organizing vigils to agitate for their rights.
She remembers how before Passover 1959 she demonstrated in front of the Soviet Embassy, demanding matzot be brought to Jews beyond the Iron Curtain. "While everybody else was marching with Martin Luther King, I was marching with Soviet Jewry," she said.
That same year, at age 18, Goldstein joined Hadassah - and stayed loyal to the organization ever since, even missing her own engagement party to attend a group function.
When Hadassah decided in 1989 to establish an office in Jerusalem, Goldstein felt the time was right to make immigrate. Her husband Mordechai, who passed away in 2007, wasn't able to quit his job as cantor right away, so she came to Israel by herself until he followed her two years later.
"The truth is, being here fulfills everything I ever wanted to do in my life," said Goldstein, who in 2006 was nominated to sit on a government-appointed commission to commemorate Theodor Herzl.
In half a decade working for Hadassah, Goldstein has served in many positions and spearheaded many initiatives, for example an annual educational trip to Poland for Israeli youths at risk. Strengthening Jewish education and identity, especially of American teenagers, is especially close to her heart.
"You cannot sustain a people on memory and nostalgia. It has to be built on knowledge," she said.
Dan Krakow, who directs the local office of Young Judaea, the Hadassah-sponsored youth movement, attests to Goldstein's dedication.
"Barbara makes it a point to connect with all of the participants on the Young Judaea programs in Israel," he told Anglo File. "She goes out of her way to get to know them, to meet them, to engage and inspire them. The kids develop an extremely warm and emotional bond with her, she's a role model for them."
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