Szold, Henrietta

A major force in the Zionist movement, in healthcare and in women's independence in the United States and in Palestine. She was the founder of the women's volunteer organization, Hadassah, which is one of the largest today. In addition, Ms. Szold was an accomplished scholar, editor, and Jewish thinker. Within the Youth Aliyah Movement, she was instrumental in bringing thousands of Jewish children from Germany to Palestine during World War II and integrating them into their new homeland.

Biographical Highlights

Henrietta Szold was a major force in the Zionist movement, in healthcare and in women's independence in the United States and in Palestine - of Israel, pre-1948. She was the founder of the women's volunteer organization, Hadassah, which is one of the largest today. In addition, Ms. Szold was an accomplished scholar, editor, and Jewish thinker. She is also well-known for her work in the Youth Aliyah Movement, considered an offshoot of the Zionist movement. Within the movement, she was instrumental in bringing thousands of Jewish children from Germany to Palestine during World War II and integrating them into their new homeland.

Historic Roots

Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) was born in Baltimore, MD, the first daughter of Sophia and Benjamin Szold. Her father was a rabbi and scholar and encouraged his daughters' participation in Jewish scholarship. This set the stage for Henrietta's passion for Jewish learning. Henrietta taught languages and mathematics at an all girls' school as well as religious classes at her father's synagogue. In addition, she began teaching English to new immigrants in night classes, which soon turned into the first night school in the United States (Langston 2002).

In 1893, Ms. Szold became the editor for the Jewish Publication Society and was a key player in editing, translating, and publishing important works in American Judaism including The Jewish Encyclopedia and History of the Jews ( Around the same time, she joined Hebras Zion, the first Zionist organization in the United States (Langston 2002). Henrietta's Zionist feelings were very strong and she truly believed that "Jews should be allowed to return to their ancient homeland AND Jews should work to revive Jewish culture" ( In 1903, Ms. Szold enrolled at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York where she took classes, but with the understanding that she could not become a rabbi.

Henrietta joined the Hadassah Study Circle in 1907. This group of women studied Jewish history and Zionist philosophy. In 1909, she traveled to Palestine to help rebuild the Jewish homeland, during which time, her passion for Zionism strengthened. She returned to the United States and in 1912 founded Hadassah, a Zionist organization for women, with other women from the Hadassah Study Circle. One of Henrietta's aims for this organization was to forge a long-lasting connection between American Jews and Israel, and to also cultivate Jewish values. As an extension of the vision of Hadassah, the practical results were the opening of numerous medical centers and schools in Palestine.

Ms. Szold resigned from the Jewish Publication Society in 1916, and in 1918, was named the Director of the Education Department of the Zionist Organization of America. Her mother died in 1920 and Henrietta then returned to Palestine. She remained there for the remainder of her life, dedicating herself to the humanitarian work of providing healthcare and education to both the Jewish and Arab communities living in Palestine. During World War II, Henrietta was responsible for rescuing Jewish children from Nazi Germany and resettling them in the area. She continued to work diligently to grow Hadassah and to maintain a connection between its work in Palestine and its supporters in the United States.

Henrietta Szold never married nor had any children. She died in 1945 in Jerusalem, just a few years before the State of Israel was born.


Henrietta Szold was influential in many arenas. She is most well-known for her roles in founding the organization Hadassah, and in rescuing and resettling Jewish children in Palestine from Germany during the 1930s. However, her influence in social history reaches beyond those two accomplishments. Early on in her life, she was involved in traditional social work, helping immigrants to learn English. This passion and concern for humanity can be seen in her later work with all inhabitants of Palestine, both Jews and Arabs.

Henrietta was a leader in the Zionist movement, encouraging American Jews to support and rebuild the new Jewish settlement in Palestine. Her leadership style allowed her to focus on the tasks at hand, not distracted and slowed down by the politics of partnering organizations. Through her involvement with Hadassah, Henrietta was able to "forge Israeli society," and at the same time, enhance the lives of her "American followers, by boosting their self-confidence, strengthening their Judaism, and deepening their attachment to Zion" (Shargel 2002).

Not only did Ms. Szold found Hadassah, but she was also able to foster its growth in terms of both membership and services provided. Today, Hadassah medical centers are located throughout Israel including the Henrietta Szold Hadassah School of Nursing established in 1918, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School established in 1949, and Hadassah Medical Organization which includes two Hadassah hospitals well-known for their excellence in health care. Henrietta adhered to the community approach to healthcare and education, making sure that the community's needs were first met. "The humane structure created, call it socialist, democratic, Torah-based, or pragmatic-or all of the above-became the foundation for Israeli medical care, a model that remains today" (Sochen 2003). Henrietta worked hard to ensure that the members of Hadassah knew about their organizations accomplishments. Details of medical and community work were published through newsletters, allowing members to feel connected to the cause they were supporting emotionally and financially.

Henrietta Szold also strove to bring the relationship between Arabs and Jews closer together. Hadassah provided modern medical treatment to both Arabs and Jews and worked in the spirit of volunteerism and nondiscrimination. Hadassah provided treatment, training and education to Jews and Arabs in the hopes that they would both be part of a rebuilt Zion.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

As previously noted, Henrietta Szold founded the volunteer women's organization Hadassah. Through her leadership, American Jewish women became increasingly connected to Palestine (now Israel) and the people living there. A number of women came to Palestine to volunteer their services in nursing and social work capacities as a result of their involvement with Hadassah. Because of Henrietta's work in providing high-quality healthcare to Jews and Arabs, the members of Hadassah could feel good about their financial commitment and support of the organization. Helping others in a humane manner is the crux of philanthropy. Women join and remain active in Hadassah because of its commitment to its stated goals and its effective use of donated time and funds.

According to Joyce Antler, Henrietta Szold transformed "American women's Zionist activity into a practical program of philanthropy that not only aided the desperate plight of women and children in Palestine, but provided educational and spiritual nurturance to American women in the Diaspora" (Antler 2003).

Henrietta Szold was also responsible for the formation of a number of other organizations, including medical institutions, and the Szold Foundation -- supporting child welfare and research (Langston 2002).

Key Related Ideas

Female Independence is the idea that women can be self-motivated, self-sufficient, and influential within their own right.

Humanitarianism is the concern for human welfare, especially as manifested through philanthropy; the belief that the sole moral obligation of humankind is the improvement of human welfare (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Community Service is defined as volunteering to improve upon the aspects of a community (Learning to Give).

Volunteerism involves the use of or reliance on volunteers, especially to perform social or educational work in communities (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Youth Aliyah is the movement during World War II that rescued Jewish children from Nazi Germany and resettled them in Palestine. These refugee children were educated and absorbed into society at Youth Aliyah boarding schools. Today, these youth villages play a continued vital role in the absorption of immigrants. They also serve as homes, schools and communities for disadvantaged youth in Israel (Jewish Virtual Library).

Zionism is the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Zionism advocated tangible as well as spiritual aims. Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, joined to form the Zionist movement and worked together toward these goals (Jewish Virtual Library).

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Justice Louis Brandeis (1856-1941): Brandeis was a Jew who was appointed to be a United States Supreme Court Justice in 1916. He became an avid supporter of Zionism and was influential in its success in the United States. With a group of others, Brandeis financially supported Henrietta Szold which allowed her to continue her important work in Palestine (Jewish Virtual Library; Langston 2002).
  • Bessie Gotsfeld (1881-1962): Gotsfeld was one of the principal founders of the Mizrachi Women's Organization of America (MWOA), the Zionist organization for American Orthodox Women. The successor organization for MWOA is Amit Women. Through these organizations, Bessie Gotsfeld was "instrumental in creating Israeli society and culture" (Shargel 2002). Like Henrietta Szold, Bessie was passionate about educating Jewish women and children, was an effective and efficient leader of an organization, and was dedicated to Zionism (Shargel 2002).
  • Walter Laqueur: Laqueur, an accomplished member of Young Jewish Refugees from Nazi Germany, chaired the Research Council of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. He is now a CSIS distinguished scholar and has published numerous books on European and Jewish history including Weimar: A Cultural History (2000) and A History of Zionism and the Holocaust Encyclopedia (Generation Exodus).

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Hadassah, founded by Henrietta Szold in 1912, is "committed to strengthening the unity of the Jewish people. In Israel, Hadassah accomplishes this through progressive healthcare, education, youth institutions, volunteerism, and land reclamation. In the U.S., it reaches its goals through Jewish and Zionist education programs, Zionist Youth programs, and health awareness programs as well as by advocating for issues of importance to women and to the American Jewish community" (Hadassah). Hadassah also runs the Hadassah College of Technology in Jerusalem, Israel, and is responsible for bringing thousands of Jewish children to Palestine from Nazi Germany during World War II. Many youth villages are operated through Hadassah and are named after Ms. Szold. Hadassah publishes two tri-annual publications, two quarterly publications and a monthly magazine. It is headquartered in New York, NY (Cullen-DuPont 2000) (
  • Hadassah Medical Organization, built and maintained by Hadassah, is comprised of Hadassah University Hospital and Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center, both in Israel (Cullen-DuPont).
  • Henrietta Szold Hadassah School of Nursing, founded in 1918, was established to train and insure the presence of medical staff in Palestine/Israel (Cullen-DuPont).
  • Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Center, founded in 1949, was also established to train and insure the presence of medical staff in Palestine/Israel (Cullen-DuPont).
  • League of Jewish Women was founded in 1948 to educate women, particularly Jewish women, regarding principles of loyalty, discipline and good citizenship. The organization encourages the giving to charities in the community.
  • Szold Foundation was founded by Henrietta Szold in 1940. It is a child welfare and research institution (Langston 2002) that publishes its findings and coordinates national youth activities (Jewish Agency for Israel).

Related Web Sites

Areyvut's Web site, at, offers a wealth of resources with definitions of Jewish concepts, links to e-mail lists to keep users updated on the latest in news related to Israel and Jewish communities, holiday chesed (kindness) suggestions, links to other active nonprofits, and a sophisticated databases searchable by topic and preferred media format (article, book, etc.).

Giving Wisely Web site, at, offers The Internet Directory of Israeli Nonprofit Organizations with links to and profiles of nonprofit organizations. The site originates from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.

Jewish Virtual Library Web site, at, is a project of The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. The Library can be used as a resource for many topics in Judaic and Israeli studies with a glossary, links news and publications. Web site, at,
offers Jewish learning for people from all religious and educational backgrounds. The site contains information about all things related to Judaism and Jewish tradition, history, culture, and daily life.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. Accessed 7 June 2004.

Antler, Joyce. "Zion in Our Hearts: Henrietta Szold and the American Jewish Women's Movement." In American Jewish Women's History: A Reader, edited by Pamela Nadell, 134. New York: New York University Press, 2003. ISBN: 081475807X.

Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn. "Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America." Encyclopedia of Women's History in America, Second Edition, (2000). In Facts on File (database online). Cited 4 June 2004. Available from University of Michigan Libraries.

Generation Exodus. Laqueur, Walter. [cited 6 October 2004].

Hadassah. [cited 7 June 2004].

Jewish Agency for Israel. Szold, Henrietta. [updated 25 May 2004, cited 4 June 2004].

Jewish Virtual Library. Youth Aliyah. [cited 7 June 2004]

Jewish Virtual Library. Zionism. [cited 7 June 2004].

Jewish Virtual Library. Louis D. Brandeis. [cited 7 October 2004].

Langston, Donna. "Szold, Henrietta." A to Z of American Women Leaders and Activists, A to Z of Women, (2002). In Facts on File (database online). Cited 4 June 2004. Available from University of Michigan Libraries.

Learning to Give. Learning to Give: Glossary of Philanthropic Terms. [Cited 6 October 2004]. The Personal Gateway to Jewish Education. Henrietta Szold (1860-1945). [cited 25 May 2004].

Sochen, June. "Both the Dove and the Serpent: Hadassah's Work in 1920's Palestine." Judaism, (Winter 2003): 71-84. In ProQuest (database online). Cited 4 June 2004. Available from University of Michigan Libraries.

Shargel, Balia Round. "American Jewish women in Palestine: Bessie Gotsfeld, Henrietta Szold, and the Zionist Enterprise." American Jewish History, (June 2002): 141-162. In ProQuest (database online). Cited 4 June 2004. Available from University of Michigan Libraries.

This paper was developed by a student taking a course taught at University of Michigan School of Social Work.