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Zionists celebrate Henrietta Szold's 75th birthday

December 21, 1935

The 75th birthday of the pioneering Zionist Henrietta Szold on December 21, 1935, was celebrated with a radio address broadcast across the United States. It included addresses by the President of Hadassah, Rose Jacobs, and by the President of the World Zionist Organization, Chaim Weizmann. Hadassah chapters hosted local celebrations and numerous Shabbat sermons across the United States were reportedly devoted to Szold's life story and achievements.

Born in Baltimore, Szold founded Hadassah and became its first president in 1912, arguing that "women will work better when there are only women in the group." Hadassah women's activism energized American Zionism. By 1935, Hadassah had over 38,000 members in chapters across the U.S. and was actively involved in supporting Youth Aliyah, a program that rescued young German Jews from Nazism and settled them in Palestine under Szold's leadership and personal supervision.

One result of her success was that Szold herself became a symbol of the Zionist dream and of the commitment and vision that animated Hadassah. When she was in her 70s and 80s, Hadassah leaders in the United States craved visits from Szold both for the inspiration that she provided and so that they might honor her in ways that could benefit the organization financially. The official Hadassah celebration of its founder's 75th birthday occurred in New York on December 22, with an event attended by over 1,000 women at Temple Emanu-El. Although Szold, who had moved to Palestine in the 1920s, was in the United States for her birthday, she stayed with her sister in Baltimore and did not attend the New York celebration. Had she been there, she would have heard the nation’s most prominent rabbi, Stephen S. Wise, praise her as a "semi-mythical figure beyond criticism, beyond detraction, beyond envy, beyond blame, and, because of her humility, beyond our praise. She is Judaism's Jane Addams—a transcendent spirit who touched the lowly only to lift them up."

Sources: jwa.org/exhibits/wov/szold/; New York Times, Dec. 23, 1935, Dec. 22, 1935; Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 571-583 and 1368-1373.

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What was perhaps most astonishing about Henrietta Szold was the breadth of her activities. Teacher, translator, essayist, organizer, politician, administrator and humanist, she will always be remembered for founding Hadassah, the largest women's, and largest Jewish, volunteer organization in America.

Institution: Jewish Theological Seminary of America

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Zionists celebrate Henrietta Szold's 75th birthday." (Viewed on September 2, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/dec/21/1935/henrietta-szold>.

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