Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide.” In my life, I’ve had many, but there are certain individuals who have had a significant impact on the woman I am today. 

The first and primary woman to change my life and guide me on the path of leadership, community involvement and Zionism, is my mother, Joan Zimmer. She has supported me in every endeavor I have undertaken. She has been a role model extraordinaire and an unconditional cheerleader in all I have done. When I was little, I saw that she was tirelessly devoted to not only our family, but also the Jewish community. She spent a great deal of time with her friends and cohorts in Hadassah. She ran fundraisers, book groups, and programs for her very successful chapter. I watched her and was inspired by her passion. She did all this volunteer work for Hadassah, was on the Board of Education for our synagogue, and chaired the Book Festival for the Jewish Community Center (JCC), while being a mother to three young and spirited daughters who also needed her time and attention.

Stephanie Z. Bonder and Joan Zimmer. Courtesy of Stephanie Z. Bonder.

My mother encouraged me throughout my life to follow my dreams. She helped with my junior high campaign to be vice president of the student council. She supported my decision to run for president of United Synagogue Youth (USY) and she was proud that I chose to work with kids at the JCC, while I was in high school. She watched me develop my leadership skills and was there for all the ups and downs of being a teenager. She let me make decisions about my life and didn’t question my choices. She let me think for myself and reach for the stars. She didn’t tell me I couldn’t do anything, she always encouraged me to try.

I suppose, that’s the work of all mothers. It’s the role we all have because we ARE mothers, and it is a role filled with love. My mother continues to inspire me and guide me throughout my Hadassah journey, as I hope to inspire her in her own Hadassah journey.

As I got older, and moved into the world of adulthood, I unwittingly followed a similar path as my mother. I became involved in the Jewish community and I joined my local chapter of Hadassah. As with every Hadassah chapter, the second a young woman shows an interest, she is welcomed, nurtured and encouraged to take on leadership positions. In Caldwell, NJ Hadassah, that woman was Bernice Greene, z’l. She was the president when I first joined Caldwell Hadassah and she encouraged all the young women to create programs we would enjoy doing together. We held our first mother/daughter fashion show, when she was president, and I remember walking the runway with my then 2-year-old daughter. Bernice was always open to new ideas and suggestions. She would welcome any thoughts that could bring more younger women into Hadassah. She recently passed away, which brought back many memories of the vibrant and active woman she was in our chapter. 

My involvement in Hadassah grew, and I came to know more of the amazing women leading my Hadassah region. When I shared with Lonye Rasch, that she was the first region leader to give me a start on my advanced Hadassah journey, she seemed surprised that I was crediting her with my start in national Hadassah. When Lonye was region president, she supported my attendance  at the 2001 Hadassah National Convention in Israel. That trip changed my life and I have never looked back. 

Lonye didn’t realize it then, but by next giving me a position on the region board, she brought me into a new level of leadership and inspiration. Being present at the region meetings and learning how the different levels of Hadassah functioned, developed in me a desire to give even more of myself to this amazing organization. All the while, I was working full time as a teacher and raising two young daughters. Lonye made a space for me to create opportunities for other younger women and taught me how to manage my time. It was her leadership that set me on the path I have carved out for myself in Hadassah. Even today, whenever we see each other, I look to her words as guidance. I value her knowledge about Hadassah and her opinions on how to make things happen in Hadassah.

Lonye Rasch and Stephanie Z. Bonder. Courtesy of Stephanie Z. Bonder.

I suppose the strongest and most heartfelt Hadassah mentor I have had, is Barbara Spack. Barbara is my “Hadassah Eema.” She has been there for me throughout my Hadassah journey. Barbara was there in the lobby of the David Citadel hotel after the Sbarro bombing in 2001. She was there to support me in my fear and anxiety, at that time and to help me get through that terrifying experience. She has continued to be my strength as I navigate my Hadassah path. She encourages me to do what I can and helps me recognize that challenges can be overcome. 

Stephanie Z. Bonder and Barbara Spack. Courtesy of Stephanie Z. Bonder.

Barbara’s presence in my Hadassah life has been invaluable. Her dedication to Hadassah through education, Young Judaea, and advocacy are incredible. I look to her with inspiration for all she has accomplished herself, and hope to be a model to others the way she has been a model to me. My heart is full of appreciation for her, whether she realizes it or not. She is my connection.

Strong women run through all areas of my life and I am extremely fortunate to call them friends and mentors. Now I am at the point, that I hope to be a mentor to other young women in Hadassah. As the chair of Hadassah EVOLVE – The Young Women’s Network, I am able to interact, train and guide a new cadre of young women in Hadassah. My hope is to inspire these women, in the same way my Hadassah mentors have inspired me. I wish to offer them support and guidance and instill in them the same passion I feel for Hadassah. I plan to “pay it forward” as they say, so that Hadassah has a strong leadership pipeline for the future.

Hadassah women take initiative and lead by nature. I have been blessed with many memorable and significant female mentors in my life. I feel so fortunate to have been brought into the Hadassah family, through my actual family and the family built through Hadassah. I value every woman I meet through Hadassah and feel blessed to have had these incredible women guide me in life.

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  • Stephanie Z. Bonder

    Israel/Jewish Educator

    Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America

    Stephanie Z. Bonder has been involved with Hadassah her whole life. She is the fourth generation of a five-generation Life Member family. Currently, Stephanie is the chair of Building Hadassah Community, an educational engagement program training future Hadassah leaders. She is the immediate past chair of EVOLVE Hadassah, the Young Women's Network. Previously, Stephanie was team leader of advocacy communications in the PRAZE Department of Hadassah. In addition, Stephanie was the president of Hadassah Northern NJ. Professionally, Stephanie taught at Golda Och Academy, a Solomon Schechter Day School in West Orange, NJ for 17 years. Personally, she has been happily married to her husband, Alan Bonder since 1992 and is the proud mother of two beautiful, brilliant and independent young women, Rebecca and Rachel!