Jewish Women in Travel - Henrietta Szold
By founding and leading Hadassah, Henrietta Szold helped thousands of American women find spiritual meaning in their lives while enlisting them in the project of creating a comprehensive health care system in Palestine. Szold was also a brilliant scholar who made important contributions to American Jewish culture, editing and translating numerous works while serving as executive secretary of the Jewish Publication Society. Although she often faced opposition in the male world of Zionist leadership, Henrietta Szold became increasingly less afraid to take risks, standing up for her sometimes unconventional and remarkably advanced views and leaving a legacy of tremendous achievement.
In many ways, Szold's travels helped her to identify her true calling and inspired the major accomplishments of her life. An 1880 trip to Europe with her father helped Szold at the age of 20 to formulate a direction for her early career. Her keenest impression of the trip occurred during a visit to the Alt-Neu Shul in Prague, the oldest synagogue in Europe, where she observed women congregants physically locked away from services. At a small window which opened into the hidden women's gallery above—a window too dark to let in more than a small beam of light—stood one woman who acted as minister to the others, relaying what was going on in the men's synagogue below. Here Henrietta had an epiphany: this was what she could do with the rest of her life, serve as a teacher to Jewish women, as an intermediary between the male-oriented worlds to which she had access and women's space.
Szold's 1909 visit (with her mother) to Palestine, nearly 30 years later, further enhanced her determination, shaping not only her own future course but also that of hundreds of thousands of women who would join in her Zionist dream through their work for Hadassah. The suffering and poverty she saw among Palestinean Jews and Arabs inspired Szold to action. In 1912, she transformed a small study group of New York women into Hadassah, creating a national grassroots organization that focused on fundraising to bring healthcare, nurses, and hospitals to Palestine. Hadassah became the largest American Jewish membership organization and the nation's most successful women's voluntary organization. Szold's legacy endures through its continuing work in Israel and the United States.
Henrietta Szold's travels led to the fulfillment of a vision that first came to her when she was 20 and for which she worked until her death in Palestine in 1945.
Sources and excerpts for this page were drawn from Joyce Antler's "Zion In Our Hearts: Henrietta Szold and the American Jewish Women's Movement" from Daughter of Zion: Henrietta Szold and American Jewish Womanhood (the catalog of an exhibition at the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland, 1995), Jewish Women in America, An Historical Encyclopedia (edited by Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore; Routledge, 1997) and the Jewish Women's Archive's Women of Valor poster series, 1997. Photo courtesy of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc.