Henrietta Szold enlisted generations of American Jewish women in the practical work of supporting Jewish settlement in Palestine and Israel. Born in 1860, Henrietta was raised by her rabbi father to be deeply committed to the Jewish people and the world of Jewish tradition and scholarship. As an essayist, translator, and editor, she became one of the few women to play a foundational role in creating a meaningful American Jewish culture. Still, Szold was constrained by the limited opportunities that the Jewish world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries could offer a woman of her brilliance, organizational abilities, and vision.
The creation of Hadassah in 1912 as a Zionist women's organization dedicated to practical work in Palestine transformed Szold's future course and the lives of hundreds of thousands of women who joined its work. Largely under Szold's leadership, Hadassah created the infrastructure for a modern medical system in Palestine that would serve both Jews and Arabs. Szold spent most of the last twenty-five years of her life in Palestine, overseeing numerous health, educational, and social service institutions that would become an integral part of the State of Israel. In her seventies, under the shadow of the Nazi threat in Europe, Szold directed Youth Aliyah, an organization that brought thousands of children from Germany and Europe to agricultural settlements in Palestine.
Through her lifetime of service to the Jewish people, Henrietta Szold helped shape the political, cultural, and social worlds of Jews in both the United States and Israel and created a new world of opportunity for Jewish women. Even before her death in 1945, she had become an icon for the practical idealism that could build a Jewish state.