It’s a Hanukkah miracle of sorts.
Every year – for almost as long as there’s been a Warwick Mall – a dedicated group of Hadassah members turns out to wrap gifts there during the holiday season. At a time of the year that’s busy no matter how you celebrate, these women give their time to put a smile on shoppers’ faces and raise funds for the worldwide work of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
Judy Silverman, longtime Hadassah member, vice president for fundraising of the Rhode Island chapter, and current gift-wrapping coordinator, said the gift-wrapping project was undertaken by the Pawtucket chapter of Hadassah in 1971 right after the Warwick Mall opened. There were then seven chapters of Hadassah statewide.
As the years went by, the group had trouble finding enough members who wanted to participate at night. In the early 1990s, the Pawtucket gift-wrappers asked the Kent chapter – with its younger membership – for help.
Fast forward to 2017. Hadassah in Rhode Island is now one chapter. But Hadassah Rhode Island is still the gift-wrapping provider at the Warwick Mall. Not even the floods of 2010, which closed the entire mall for five months, stopped Hadassah: The mall reopened before the holidays and the gift-wrapping resumed, in its usual location in the corridor outside the JC Penney store.
For the last dozen years, Silverman, of East Greenwich, has spearheaded this enterprise as coordinator. She orders the supplies, including paper, boxes and tape, sends out the email reminders that rally Hadassah members to reserve a spot to wrap or cashier, and makes sure the volunteers are trained. She also makes the bows. At one time, the bows were made by a committee that met weekly. “Bows were fancier then,” she said.
Now, Silverman makes close to 3,000 bows herself, often while she’s watching television at night.
Small or large bows are available in seven colors. Wrapping paper, on long rollers, comes in plain and sparkly varieties. Thanks to dedicated volunteers, packages are neatly wrapped with double-sided tape and crisp corners. The cost varies by the size of the gift.
And the gifts don’t just come from Warwick Mall stores.
“People do bring in things they’ve bought elsewhere,” said Silverman.
And over the years, there have been many repeat customers.
Occasionally, there are also unusual wrapping challenges. Once, someone wanted a tire gift-wrapped. And Silverman talked about the challenge of wrapping a “very heavy” microwave oven.
“One time,” she said, “I wrapped a guitar. That was a weird shape and I had to fit the paper to the shape.”
Approximately 50 volunteers wrap for the eight to 10 days before Christmas, during mall hours, even during the extended holiday-shopping hours. This year, they will be working their magic Dec. 17-24.
Most are Hadassah members, although some bring friends along to help. Some take one 4- or 5-hour shift, others work many shifts.
“Gift-wrapping is fun for the wrappers,” said Betty-Ann Israelit, longtime Hadassah member and current vice president for membership of the Rhode Island chapter. “We get to visit with friends and do a little Hadassah planning.”
Shelley Parness said she’s been participating for years. She said she is not the best of wrappers, but views this as “an opportunity for me to help support the medical research at Hadassah Hospital in Israel.”
Over they years, the group has raised thousands of dollars for Hadassah’s charitable work.
Hadassah, founded in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, connects Jewish women and empowers them to effect change through advocacy, advancing health and well-being, and support of Israel. Funds raised through the local gift-wrapping project go to Hadassah’s many projects, including medical research and to its two world-class medical centers in Israel.
FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of The Jewish Voice.