Ruth Popkin, who emerged from a secular background to lead two major Jewish organizations, Hadassah and the Jewish National Fund, in work that benefited Israelis and refugees in the 1980s and ’90s, died on Jan. 2 at her home in Manhattan. She was 101.
Her son, Michael, confirmed her death.
Ms. Popkin became involved with Hadassah, or the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, after a friend invited her to a meeting in the 1940s.
“I had been raised in a secular environment, and it was almost like an introduction to Judaism,” she told The New York Times in 1987. “I stayed with it, and within a year I was president of my group.”
Founded in 1912, Hadassah initially worked to provide modern medical care to Palestine. After Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in 1933, it began relocating Jewish children from Europe to Palestine.
Ms. Popkin became Hadassah’s president in 1984. During her tenure it had 380,000 members, making it one of the largest women’s volunteer organizations in the world. (It now has 330,000 members, supporters and donors, the group says.)
Under Ms. Popkin, Hadassah helped house and acclimate the first major wave of young Ethiopian Jewish immigrants to Israel as part of Youth Aliyah, a program that had long helped young refugees and impoverished Israeli children. There are now more than 100,000 Ethiopian Jews in the country. Hadassah also raised money to plant 100,000 trees in Israel.
Ms. Popkin was frequently Hadassah’s delegate to the World Zionist Congress, the policy-making body of the World Zionist Organization. In 1987 she served as the Congress’s president.
Her Hadassah presidency ended in 1988, but she continued to serve on the organization’s national board until recent years.
As president of the Jewish National Fund, beginning in 1989, she helped resettle Ethiopian and Russian refugees in Israel and undertook environmental projects, like the redevelopment of the Hula Valley in northern Israel. Her term ended in 1992.
Ruth Willion was born in Brooklyn on June 13, 1913. She studied philosophy at Brooklyn College and worked as an assistant buyer at Stern’s department store before marrying Morris Popkin in 1937. They had three children, one of whom, their daughter Victoria, died in 1969.
Mr. Popkin, who owned two fish markets and later invested in commercial real estate, died in 1978. In addition to her son, she is survived by another daughter, Louise Popkin; and two grandchildren.
Ms. Popkin told The Times that her work with Hadassah had been transformative. “From a timid young housewife,” she said, “it educated me toward understanding and appreciation for my heritage, gave me an education in Zionist history and the development of our Jewish history.”