Who was Henrietta Szold?
Henrietta Szold was born in Baltimore, Maryland on December 21, 1860 to Sophia and Rabbi Benjamin Szold, a Reform rabbi. She began her career as a teacher, and her compassion for the less fortunate was apparent from early on when she opened a night school for Russian Jewish immigrants. At the same time, she pursued an academic career as an editor at the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) and was the first woman to study at the Jewish Theological Seminar (JTS). In 1898 she was the only woman elected to serve on the executive committee of the Federation of American Zionists.
Henrietta Szold was also devoted to Zionism, especially after her first visit to Israel in 1909 during which she witnessed inadequate health and sanitary conditions. She decided to devote her life to promoting the health, education, and welfare of the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish population in Israel). Accordingly, in 1912, she founded Hadassah, the Woman's Zionist Organization of America. Hadassah’s first project was the inauguration of an American-style visiting nurse service. The organisation funded hospitals, a medical school, dental facilities, infant welfare stations, soup kitchens, and other services for the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of Palestine.
In 1932 Henrietta Szold immigrated to Israel. In addition to her work with Hadassah, she was appointed director of Youth Aliyah (Aliyat HaNoar) and was responsible for the absorption of children and youth who had escaped to Israel from Nazi-occupied Europe. Due to the incredible role she played in these children's lives, she was named the “Mother of Youth Aliyah.”
Henrietta Szold was a valuable member of the Jewish National Council (Va'ad Leumi) in Israel, and through this leadership position, managed to vastly improve social services. In addition, she co-founded Ichud, a political party in favour of a bi-national solution and Arab-Jewish unity.
Henrietta Szold died in 1945 at Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus at the age of 85. Despite having no family or children of her own, her funeral was attended by thousands of mourners. She was memorialized in a number of ways. An illegal immigrant ship that sailed from Greece to Israel with 500 immigrants, including 180 babies, children, and youth who had survived the Holocaust, was named after her in 1946. A number of streets were named after her and Kibbutz Kfar Szold established in her honour. In addition, Mother’s Day (or Family Day as it is now known) is held in Israel on 30th Shevat—the Hebrew anniversary of her death. Henrietta Szold's legacy continues today with the wonderful services that the Hadassah Medical Centre still provides to thousands of patients every year.