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SZOLD, HENRIETTA (1860-1945).

Founder of Hadassah. She was born in Baltimore, the eldest of Rabbi Benjamin Szold, a scholar and leader of Conservative Judaism. Rabbi Szold guided his daughter’s education, and from early youth, Henrietta Szold became a companion and an assistant to her father in his complex tasks. Broad sympathy and understanding for all manner of human beings were a part of her environment. In her home she became acquainted with work for the liberation of the former slaves. When the flood of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe poured into America, the Szold home gave shelter, aid, and guidance to all within its reach. Henrietta Szold, teaching at the time at a fashionable girls’ school, founded, managed, and taught in one of the first night schools for immigrants in the United States.

Henrietta Szold had shared in her father’s scholarly interests and had written articles for periodicals since she was 17. When the Jewish Publication Society of America (JPS) was organized in 1888, she became a volunteer member of its publication committee, and from 1893 to 1916 was its paid literary secretary. In this capacity, her translation labors included editing a five-volume translation of Graetz‘s History of the Jews. She also translated and edited the seven-volume Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg. In addition, she edited, together with Cyrus Adler, the American Jewish Year Book.

Szold’s Zionism was a natural development. It grew out of the home atmosphere, and was nourished by her scholarly preoccupation with Jewish history and literature. In 1895 Szold made her first Zionist speech before the Baltimore section of the National Council of Jewish Women. In 1909, she went to Europe with her mother. The trip included a visit to Palestine from where she wrote: “If not Zionism, then nothing,” and, “there are heroic men and women here doing valiant work. If only they could be more intelligently supported by the European and American Jews.” What she saw of disease and suffering in Palestine, and her own dislike of holding theories without translating them into action, bore fruit in 1912. The Hadassah Study Circle, to which Henrietta Szold had belonged since 1907, was transformed into a national women’s organization that undertook the practical task of fund raising for health work in Palestine. Its first goal, a system of visiting began modestly in 1913 with the arrival of two American-trained nurses who set up a small welfare station in Jerusalem.

That same year, Szold began a series of tours of the United States for Hadassah; Hadassah grew in strength and membership. During World War I, Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, head of the Provisional Zionist Committee, entrusted Henrietta Szold with the responsibility for organizing the American Zionist Medical Unit for Palestine. In the autumn of 1918, equipment for a 50-bed hospital and a group of 44 doctors, nurses, dentists, sanitary engineers and administrators arrived in Palestine. Szold joined them in 1920, and from then until 1927, she divided her time between Hadassah’s work in Palestine and in the U.S. Even after she had settled permanently in Palestine and undertook other major responsibilities, she remained dedicated to Hadassah’s work. She was elected honorary president of Hadassah in 1926. In 1933, Szold laid the foundation stone for the Rothschild Hadassah University Hospital. When World War II broke out, she served on the Hadassah Emergency Committee that was engaged in solving the problems created by the war. As a result of her survey and recommendations, Hadassah established the Alice Seligsberg Trade School for Girls in Jerusalem.

In 1927, Szold had been elected one of the three members of the Palestine Executive Committee of the World Zionist Organization, the first woman ever to serve in this capacity. Her portfolios were education and health. Since, however, the other two members of the Executive (Harry Sacher and Colonel Frederick Kisch) were frequently abroad for long periods, the task of political work and of negotiations with the Palestine government in behalf of the Yishuv fell upon her. The prevailing attitude toward women added to the delicacy of the task. The Yishuv had to learn how to accept guidance from a woman. How successful she was may be seen in her election in 1930 to serve on the Vaad Leumi, the National Council of Jews in Palestine, which entrusted her with the responsibility for socia
l welfare. She trained social workers for the whole country, and in 1941 initiated an educational and correctional system for young offenders.

At age 73, she wanted to return to America “to be coddled by my sisters,” but her deep sense of responsibility made her shoulder a new undertaking. In 1933, Nazism had come to power in Germany, and German Jews began to migrate to Palestine. The year before had seen the onset of a youth immigration into Palestine. Inevitably, Szold assumed the task of developing the Youth Aliyah movement initiated by Recha Freier. As organizer and leader of Youth Aliyah, she first worked out a program of education that would give individual attention to each child. Afterward, she guided the immigration, reeducation, and resettlement of these children, straining to establish a personal contact at some point with each child.

In 1942, her concern for the problem of Arab-Jewish relations led her to join the Ihud (Unity) movement, an organization for the promotion of good relations between Arabs and Jews and for the formation of a binational Arab-Jewish state in Palestine. Henrietta Szold received many honors from Jews and non-Jews alike. Not the least of these was the enduring deep regard of her close associates and coworkers for the astonishing variety of her endeavors to help humanity.

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