Passover I would like to tell you the story of Henrietta
Szold, a woman who dedicated her life to Jewish education,
social action, and Zionism.
Szold was born in Baltimore during the outbreak of the Civil
War, in 1860. She was the oldest child of liberal Rabbi
Benjamin Szold and Sophie Schaar Szold, who had immigrated
to Baltimore from Central Europe. She was a brilliant student,
at the top of her class at Western Female High School. But
she learned even more from her father at home, and was fluent
in German, Hebrew, and French when she graduated high school.
didn't attend college in the 1800's, so Szold began her
first career as a teacher right out of high school. She
taught French, German, and algebra at Misses Adam's English
and French School for Girls and Jewish studies at the school
in her father's congregation, Oheb Shalom. In the 1880s,
waves of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe came to
Baltimore, and she assisted the immigrants in night school,
teaching them English and civics. She went back to school
herself a few years later, enrolling in the Jewish Theological
Seminary in New York. As a woman, she was required to sign
an understanding that she did not aspire to be a rabbi.
She ended up teaching English to many of the Seminary instructors
themselves, who were recent immigrant Jewish scholars from
a teacher, Henrietta Szold's also had a second career as
a writer and editor. She began writing for Jewish journals
on a wide variety of issues of concern to the American Jewish
community. In 1888, when she was 28 years old, she was invited
to be one of nine members, the only female, of the publications
committee of the new Jewish Publication Society; four years
later, she was the first executive secretary of the JPS,
holding this job until she was age 56, in 1916. She translated,
edited, and indexed many important Jewish works during this
third and most illustrious career was as an important leader
in the Jewish Zionist movement. She was made a member of
the Federation of American Zionists executive committee,
the only woman member. However, she was frustrated by the
idealistic, somewhat romantic Zionistic aspirations of this
male-dominated organization. Szold had been a member of
a small women's gathering called the Hadassah study circle
in New York for many years. On Purim day, 1912, Szold and
a group of these women officially founded Hadassah (Hebrew
for Esther, the heroine of Purim), and she was elected president.
Some thought this new society would be a ladies' auxiliary
for the FAZ, but Szold envisioned an independent social
service organization. In contrast to the amateurish efforts
of the Federation of American Zionists, Szold's Hadassah
was practical and business-like, and soon became a major
political force in the American and World Zionist movements.
Hadassah organized and funded the American Zionist Medical
unit, which reformed medical care in Palestine, resulting
in the establishment of a nursing school, dental school,
medical school, clinics, and hospitals. Israel slowly began
to develop a standard of medicine equal to that of wealthy
1920, at the age of 60, Szold herself moved to Israel to
take charge of the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO).
However, she had problems in directing the unit; the Eastern
Europeans resented her as an outsider, both as a woman and
as an American. In 1925, she relinquished the position,
and in subsequent years played a supporting, but still significant
role in the affairs of the organization. Szold then turned
her attention to the need for social services in Israel.
With aid from wealthy American friends, she established
modern social service agencies in most major cities in Israel.
She opened the country's first school of social work, which
later became the School of Social Work of the Hebrew University.
of her most notable and important work occurred in the 1930's
when she was over 70 years old. Though she never had any
children of her own, she became the mother of many children.
In 1933 she became director of Youth Aliyah, a worldwide
movement to rescue young victims of Nazism and rehabilitate
them in Israel. Even when the dangers of World War II made
many Americans in Palestine return home, Henrietta Szold
refused to leave her community or yishuv. While her initial
intent in going to Palestine in 1920 had been to bring Americanism
to Palestine, she evolved into an Ambassador for Zionism.
She was the interpreter, who taught Americans about what
was happening in Palestine and galvanized financial and
political support for a new Jewish homeland. She died in
Jerusalem, at age 85, in the modern medical center built