The American Jewish leader Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) founded Hadassah and organized the first Youth Aliyah projects, which were directed at rescuing Jewish youth from Nazi Europe.
Henrietta Szold was born in Baltimore, Md., on Dec. 21, 1860. Her father, Benjamin Szold, was a rabbi and an active leader in the movement for African American emancipation. During the wave of immigration to the United States by European Jews, the Szold household was well known as a place where guidance, advice, and assistance could be found.
Szold taught school in Baltimore, also directing an evening school for newly arrived Jewish immigrants. Between 1892 and 1916 she served as secretary of the Jewish Publication Society. Beginning in 1895, she edited the American Jewish Yearbook with Cyrus Adler. She first visited Palestine in 1909, writing from there that she was confident that Jewish redemption would come only through Zionism. To that end she dedicated the rest of her life. She emphasized the significance of Zionism as a solution to the problems of Jewish immigration and the cultural and spiritual development of Judaism. In 1912 she founded Hadassah, a women's Zionist organization, and guided its efforts to improve health conditions in Palestine.
In 1914 Szold was appointed by Justice Louis D. Brandeis to head the American Zionist Medical Unit for Palestine. Her party of 44 doctors, nurses, and administrative and medical engineers left for Palestine in 1918, along with supplies for a 50-bed hospital. In 1919 she founded a school of nursing in Palestine. In 1926 she was elected to the presidency of Hadassah and in the following year to the Zionist Executive as health and education minister. In 1930 she was elected to the National Council of Jews in Palestine and served as head of social welfare.
With the Nazi rise to power in 1933, Szold was designated to deal with the emigration of children from Germany to Palestine. She directed this work of the Youth Aliyah, as well as supervising accommodation of the children in Palestine. As a token of the high esteem in which she was held for these efforts, German immigrants in Palestine founded the settlement Kfar-Szold. In 1940 she was appointed to the Hadassah Emergency Committee, which was organized to deal with problems arising from the war. In 1941 she conducted a study of the occupational needs of young women and on this basis founded the Alice Seligsberg Trade School for Girls in Jerusalem.
Henrietta Szold was deeply concerned with Arab-Jewish relations and joined Ihud, a movement devoted to achieving mutual understanding between Arab and Jew. Her life and work in behalf of both Zionist and humanitarian causes are the very embodiment of selfless and dedicated creativity. She died in Jerusalem on Feb. 13, 1945.
Further Reading on Henrietta Szold
Marvin Lowenthal, Henrietta Szold: Life and Letters (1942), is a serious and penetrating study. An enthusiastic and admiring portrait is in Elma Ehrlich Levinger, Fighting Angel: The Story of Henrietta Szold (1946). An interesting literary treatment of the Szold family is in Alexandra L. Levin, The Szolds of Lombard Street: A Baltimore Family, 1859-1909 (1960).
Additional Biography Sources
Dash, Joan, Summoned to Jerusalem: the life of Henrietta Szold, New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
Lowenthal, Marvin, Henrietta Szold, life and letter, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975, 1942.