Jewish service group honors local volunteer


Suzanne Chester is being recognized for her work with the local chapter of Hadassah.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 5:48 p.m.

Suzanne Chester didn’t always dance. She had scoliosis, or the abnormal curving of the spine, as an adolescent and had to wear a brace for 23 hours and 45 minutes every day.

Ten years ago, she had surgery that freed her from years of medical complications and pain.

On Friday, Chester will be named a Woman of Valor by the Gainesville Chapter of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

The award, which recognizes a member’s service to the community and to Hadassah, also helps raise money for Hadassah projects. This year, more than $4,000 donated in Chester’s name will go toward scoliosis research at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem.

Chester said she’s happy the money will go toward something close to her heart.

“I’m honored,” said Chester, 53.

The Women’s Zionist Organization of America is a volunteer organization created more than 100 years ago. Hadassah is the largest women’s Zionist Jewish membership organization in the U.S. and promotes health education, social action and advocacy, volunteerism, Jewish education and research, Young Judaea and connections with Israel.

Chester, her mother and her grandmother are lifetime members of the group.

Soon after she moved to Gainesville in 1985, Chester became involved with Gainesville’s Chapter of Hadassah, which has more than 300 members. She was part of Training Wheels, a program that teaches families with children ages 2 to 5 about Jewish holidays and Shabbat. Chester said she was drawn to Hadassah because she was aware of the great things it does, like giving children and women medical benefits.

“I felt passionate about the land of Israel, the Israeli people and the community,” Chester said.

Charna Cohn, the president of the Gainesville chapter, said Hadassah also provides a center for at-risk Israeli children. With more than 330,000 members nationwide, Hadassah has observer status at the United Nations.

In addition to being the chapter’s educational vice president, Chester is the director of Chavaya, the religious school at Congregation B’nai Israel.

A native of Jersey City, N.J., Chester said she was raised by parents who instilled Jewish values in her from a young age. Her family was very involved in charities and the community. Her mother received the Woman of Valor distinction in 2000.

Rabbi David Kaiman, of Congregation B’nai Israel, was not surprised at her recognition as this year’s Woman of Valor.

“Suzanne has been a positive force for creating a great team of teachers (at the synagogue) who add to students’ lives,” he said. “She puts energy into everything she does.”

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