The first woman in her synagogue to chant Haftorah, Hadassah Blocker taught hundreds of women to participate in the Torah service. As the director of a camp for Jewish girls in Pembroke, Massachusetts, Blocker had a strong connection to the Jewish community. Like many women of her generation, she grew up believing that women couldn’t participate in synagogue services. With the encouragement of her father, an Orthodox rabbi, and Rabbi Chiel, leader of her synagogue, Hadassah began learning to chant Torah and Haftorah as an adult. She became the first woman to chant Haftorah at Temple Emanuel of Newton in the 1960s. While there was initial resistance from both men and women to her leading parts of the service, Blocker quickly became a cornerstone of synagogue life, leading services and training women of all ages for their bat mitzvahs. Many of those women, spurred by her example, went on to not only lead services themselves but to pursue their Jewish educations at Hebrew College.
Ms. Hadassah Blocker describes her Orthodox Jewish background, her father’s influence as a rabbi, and learning to read Haftorah when she became an adult. Hadassah talks about her time and experience as director of a Jewish girls camp in Pembroke, Massachusetts. She explains how her father encouraged her to learn to chant Torah and provided her with tapes from which to learn. Hadassah developed an immediate passion for Torah leyning and knew this was a gift to be shared with others. With the support of Rabbi Samuel Chiel, Blocker became the first woman to chant the haftarah at her synagogue, Temple Emanuel of Newton, and at Sisterhood Shabbat over forty years ago. With that beginning, Hadassah began training other women to take part in the Torah service. She taught her first formal adult bat mitzvah class in 1976, focused on Hebrew, synagogue skills, and the chanting of Torah and Haftorah to a group of thirty adult women. Hundreds of students have followed. She remembers the resistance from many at Temple Emanuel but persisted in pushing for the acceptance of women’s participation in the service, continuing to teach and advance women's empowerment in synagogue life. She encourages women of all ages to get involved in synagogue life and pursue quality adult Jewish education.