American Zionist Medical Unit
Henrietta Szold, 1860 - 1945
In 1916, the American Zionist community determined to address the desperate health conditions being created in Palestine by World War I. Hadassah accepted the onerous task of essentially outfitting a small hospital for shipment overseas. Concerns over not offending the British who seemed likely to be granted a post-war mandate over Palestine resulted in pressure upon Szold, the effort's most visible spokesperson, to silence her profound pacifist objections to World War I. With much misgiving, she acquiesced.
Forced to await the war's conclusion, the American Zionist Medical Unit embarked in 1918 with forty-five doctors and nurses and four hundred tons of supplies. The unit transformed medical care in Palestine, introducing equipment that had never been seen in the region before. With its success, the unit became part of a broader contest for control between European and American Zionists. The Europeans objected to American oversight of Palestinian healthcare, arguing that medical resources should focus less on Palestine's urban populations and more on the region's scattered agricultural settlements.
In 1920, Szold agreed to go to Palestine to look after the chaotic affairs of the AZMU for herself. With the departure of the unit's medical director, Szold took on full executive responsibility for its operation. With characteristic discipline and vision, Szold transformed the emergency effort into the Hadassah Medical Organization, emphasizing the health needs of women and children and serving people of all origins and religions. The success of the unit and of related enterprises like milk clinics, food programs, and a nursing school established the value and influence of Hadassah, whose members bore the staggering expenses of these ambitious efforts.