12 Things You Need to Know About… Henrietta Szold

Hadassah’s Founder, and – Wow! – so much more.

1. Henrietta Szold was born in Baltimore in December 1860, the daughter of a rabbi, the eldest of eight girls. Among her earliest memories was being perched on her father’s shoulders to catch sight of the funeral cortege of Abraham Lincoln. After graduating at the top of her class from high school in 1877, she taught in both secular and religious schools while attending public lectures at Johns Hopkins.

hszport42. It was she who established the first American night school offering English language instruction and vocational skills to Russian-Jewish and other immigrants in Baltimore. It wasn’t long before 5000 people had attended, and the school became a national model.

3. She began work for the nascent Jewish Publication Society in 1888, an association she maintained for over twenty years. She was the first female editor, one of the nine members of the publications committee and its first executive secretary (1893). Among the many important works that she translated, edited, indexed: translated Simon Dubnow‘s Jewish History, and Nahum Slovschz’s The Renascence of Hebrew Literature; edited the translation of Heinrich Graetz’s History of the Jews (see my blog post of July 17); translated, edited and indexed much of Legends of the Jews, compiled by Louis Ginzberg; and was involved in producing the American Jewish Yearbook from 1898 to 1909.

4. As to her Zionism, in 1896, a month before the publication of Herzl’s Der Judenstaat (see my post of June 26), Szold gave a speech in which she outlined her ideas, including the ingathering of Jews and revival of Jewish culture. In 1898 she was elected to the executive committee of the Federation of American Zionists – its only female member. Later, during World War I, she was the only woman on the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs, headed by Louis Brandeis.

5. She began advanced Jewish studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1902. A rabbinic school, it was for men only, and she was able to pursue her studies only because she managed to obtain permission from Solomon Schechter, its president, in exchange for her promise that she would never seek ordination.

6. In 1909 she visited Palestine for the first time. The trip reinforced her commitment to Zionism and focused her attention on the health, education and welfare of the Yishuv, the Jews of Palestine. In 1910 she became secretary of the board of the Agricultural Experiment Station established by Aaron Aaronsohn (who happens to be one of my characters in Rivka’s War).

7. 1912: Szold, along with a small group of friends, founded Hadassah. She was to serve as its president until 1926, recruiting American women to upgrade health care in Palestine. Her first project was to start a visiting nurse program in Jerusalem.

8. In 1913, the first Hadassah mission sent two nurses to Palestine to provide pasteurized milk and to eradicate the eye disease trachoma. By 1918, Hadassah sent an entire medical unit of 45 doctors, nurses and sanitary workers. Hadassah was to fund hospitals, a medical school, dental facilities, x-ray clinics, infant welfare stations, and soup kitchens for Jews and Arabs alike.

9. In 1933, Szold made aliyah to Palestine, where she helped run Youth Aliyah, an organization that rescued tens of thousands of Jewish children from Nazi Europe and brought them to settlements in Palestine.

10. During the 1920s and 30s, she had supported Brit Shalom, an organization committed to finding a binational solution to the issue of Jews and Arabs in Palestine. In 1942, she co-founded (with Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and Ernst Simon) the Ihud political party, dedicated to Arab-Jewish reconciliation and a binational state.

11. Though Szold was religiously traditional, she advocated for a larger role for women in Judaism. Her words are quoted in a responsum adopted by the Law Committee of Conservative Judaism, permitting women to recite the mourner’s Kaddish: “The Kaddish means to me that the survivor publicly and markedly manifests his wish and intention to assume the relation to the Jewish community which his parent had, and that so the chain of tradition remains unbroken from generation to generation, each adding its own link…I believe that the elimination of women from such duties was never intended by our law and custom.”

12. She died in Jerusalem at Hadassah Hospital in February 1945, and was buried on the Mount of Olives. In Israel, Mother’s Day is celebrated on 30 Shevat, the day of her death.

In Tel Aviv, Henrietta Szold Street runs north-south off the eastern end of Arlosoroff. In Haifa, you’ll find it in the Central Carmel district. Kibbutz Kfar Szold in the upper Galilee is named for her, as is PS134 on East Broadway in Manhattan.

hsznote“Dare to dream…and when you dream, dream big.”

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