With the Russians
Henrietta Szold, 1860 - 1945
In the late 1870s, Henrietta Szold and her father began to go down to the Baltimore docks to assist Jewish immigrants arriving from Eastern Europe and Russia. Through the 1880s and 90s, many of the country's more settled and acculturated Jews worried that the foreign and unrefined behavior of these new residents would undermine their own acceptance in the non-Jewish world. While the Szolds took part in a general Jewish effort to welcome and Americanize the immigrants, they were also profoundly attracted to the intellectual vibrancy and passion that they encountered among the "Russians."
In 1889, Henrietta worked with the immigrants' Hebrew Literary Society to create a night school that would train its students in the English language and American citizenship. As organizer and principal, she immersed herself in creating an institution that attracted hundreds of students. An 1891 letter reported: "I eat, drink and sleep Russians."
The Szolds found an intellectual and spiritual community among the advanced thinkers of the Russian community that they sorely missed among the members of the refined congregation that Benjamin Szold served as rabbi. Most importantly, Henrietta imbibed the nationalist hopes of those in the Russian intellectual community who believed that the creation of Jewish community in Palestine could also preserve Judaism as a meaningful way of life in the Diaspora. In 1893, Szold became a member of the fledgling Zionist Association of Baltimore and, in 1896, published a lecture outlining her Zionist views, one month before the appearance of Theodor Herzl's first Zionist writing. When the Federation of American Zionists was founded in 1898, Szold became a member of its executive committee.