Rose Gell Jacobs
1888 – 1975
A member of the original circle of women who established Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization, in 1912, Rose Jacobs epitomized the spirit of American Zionist voluntarism. She gradually rose from a grass-roots organizer to the leadership of the organization, and came to play a central role in Zionist affairs worldwide.
Rose Gell Jacobs was born in September 1888 and, along with a brother and two sisters, was raised in New York City. She graduated from Columbia University and taught in the city’s public schools before marrying Atlanta attorney Edward Jacobs.
While raising their two children, Joshua and Ruth, Rose Jacobs helped create Hadassah chapters in Georgia, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. In the process she gained recognition as an articulate and effective Zionist speaker. She was named editor of the national Hadassah News Bulletin in 1920, vice president of Hadassah shortly afterward, and acting president of the organization from 1920 to 1923, while Hadassah’s president and founder, Henrietta Szold, was in Palestine. Later Jacobs served two terms as president, from 1930 to 1932 and from 1934 to 1937.
During Jacobs’s second term, the Hadassah membership urged the organization to move away from its exclusive focus on medical projects in Palestine and take a more active role in assisting the Jews in Nazi Germany. Jacobs was dispatched to Palestine in 1935 to explore possible new directions for Hadassah activity there. She became enamored of the Youth Aliyah program, led by Szold, which facilitated the immigration of young German Jews to the Holy Land. Hadassah soon adopted Youth Aliyah, a decision that proved both a boon for fund-raising and a source of inspiration for Hadassah activists during the Nazi era. Brushing aside her colleagues’ fears for her safety, Jacobs traveled to Nazi Germany in the summer of 1936 to examine the plight of German Jewry firsthand and solidify Hadassah’s relationship with the Youth Aliyah program.
An active participant in international Zionist affairs, Jacobs was named to the Jewish Agency Executive in 1937. Under her leadership, Hadassah opposed the British Peel Commission’s 1937 Palestine partition plan, protesting the small size of the territory allotted to the proposed Jewish state. Jacobs was the only woman delegate to the St. James Conference in 1939, at which British, Arab, and Zionist leaders sought, unsuccessfully, to resolve the Palestine conflict.
Maintaining a prominent role in Hadassah affairs even after her terms as president, Jacobs was responsible for initiating the establishment of the Hadassah Hospital in 1939 on Mount Scopus, in Jerusalem. In 1940, she organized the Hadassah Emergency Committee in Palestine, which supervised the group’s Palestine affairs during the war years.
Jacobs, like many of her colleagues in the Hadassah leadership, was keenly interested in the subject of Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine. In the wake of Palestinian-Arab rioting and British restrictions on Jewish immigration in the late 1930s, Hadassah established the Committee for the Study of Arab-Jewish Relations, with Jacobs as its chair. It marked the first time that an American Zionist organization had taken an official interest in the problem of Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine. The committee, which operated until 1943, held private discussions on the subject and met with American experts on the Middle East and Zionist leaders from Palestine to discuss ways to alleviate Arab-Jewish tension.
After World War II, Jacobs assumed a senior role in the ESCO Foundation, which raised funds for industrial development in Palestine (later Israel).
Rose Gell Jacobs died in New York City on August 14, 1975.
AJYB 77:595; BEDAJ; EJ; Jacobs, Rose G. “The Beginnings of Hadassah.” In Early History of Zionism in America, edited by Isidore S. Meyer (1958), and Papers. Hadassah Archives, NYC; Miller, Donald H. “A History of Hadassah, 1912–1935.” Ph.D. diss., New York University (1968); Obituary. NYTimes, August 16, 1975, 22:5; UJE; WWIAJ (1938).