Hadassah: Yishuv to the Present Day

by Mira Katzburg-Yungman

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA) (hereafter: Hadassah) has a lengthy history of activity in the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv and Israel, going back to 1913, about a year after it was founded in New York, and continuing to this day, with the exception of a short period during World War I. This activity, outstanding in its scope, continuity, stability and diversity, encompasses efforts in the sphere of health and medical services, and in the welfare of children and youth through support of Youth Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue.Aliyah, vocational education, vocational training and more.


From the perspective of Jewish tradition, Hadassah’s medical undertakings were the embodiment of three central A biblical or rabbinic commandment; also, a good deed.mitzvot with which women were traditionally involved: Lit. "righteousness" or "justice." Charityzedakah (charity), gemilut hasadim (good deeds for the benefit of others) and bikkur holim (lit. visiting the sick, but in practice, caring for the ill). Even after secularization became common in much of Jewish society, women continued to be active in these fields, which had now become the responsibility of modern social welfare organizations. Hadassah’s health and medical services were also intimately connected to professions that in turn-of-the-twentieth-century America were identified as women’s professions par excellence: nursing and especially public health.

The establishment and support of hospitals, Hadassah’s central undertaking in the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv and Israel, was a widely accepted historical tradition for American Jews. Their wealthy predecessors had already established many Jewish hospitals across the United States throughout the nineteenth century. It was also quite common for them to bequeath sums to hospitals in their wills.

Furthermore, what characterizes Hadassah’s medical activities in the Yishuv and Israel is a traditional Jewish value that united all of American Jewry in the twentieth century in its efforts to provide relief for Jews outside the United States. Rescue work, the secular counterpart of the traditional Jewish commandment of pidyon shevuyyim (ransoming of captives), has been a central theme in Hadassah’s ideology and the basis of its practical work: medical and health services, support of Youth Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue.Aliyah, and—in a wider sense—vocational training and education. The centrality of rescue work in the ideology and practice of Hadassah was even expressed in its name: “Hadassah, that is, Esther” (Esther 2:7), i.e. the woman who saved her people. The rescue factor was most overtly manifested when Hadassah assumed responsibility for Youth Aliyah, which was described as a singular humanitarian effort, dedicated to the rescue of children and youth, their rehabilitation and re-education.

Practicality, one of Hadassah’s fundamental characteristics, originated in American feminist thought at the beginning of the twentieth century, which held that women were inclined to deal with practical issues rather than with ideology. The founders therefore opined that Hadassah should concentrate on concrete targets.

Other influences on Hadassah’s fields of activity stemmed from various factors relating to the American women’s arena at the beginning of the twentieth century, namely:

  1. The emergence of professional women and the resulting development of “women’s professions” that were dominated by women: nursing, social work and teaching. The area of public health, a branch of the nursing profession, was especially developed and well respected.
  2. The American women’s voluntary organizational arena. These women’s organizations functioned according to a set of ideas developed by “social feminism,” which held that men and women differ in their traits and qualifications and that women’s moral and intellectual qualities qualified them to make special contributions to social reform. Women’s organizations whose activities were directed by social feminist principles were active mainly in the spheres of child welfare and various social reforms and were considered well suited to women’s qualifications.
  3. Progressive movements in which women had key roles, such as the Settlement House Movement, many of whose activists and leaders were women.
  4. The emphasis on children’s welfare and education, and social movements aiming at children’s welfare.


The ideological fundamentals and patterns of activity which characterize Hadassah’s activity in Palestine and later on in Israel have remained basically constant throughout its history since they first took shape up to the end of the 1930s.

Developing Health Services. Hadassah regarded its contribution to binyan ha-arez (a Zionist term that designated developing The Land of IsraelErez Israel to fulfill the role of the Jewish National Home) as focusing on the creation of health services, education of health professions and research on the basis of the finest American scientific and professional knowledge. Health services were to include in-patient health care, health education, social services and preventive medicine. This Zionist idea posits that every member of Hadassah is a partner in the effort to develop these services and thus is personally engaged in binyan ha-arez.

Modernization of Erez Israel. Henrietta Szold, founder and spiritual mentor of Hadassah, defined the motive for Hadassah’s activities as “the aim of a group of [Jewish] women in America to express their devotion to the Zionist idea by participating practically in the modernization of Palestine” (Szold 1929). This idea became a guiding tenet in Hadassah’s activity in the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv and later in Israel. Hadassah’s leadership equated modernization with the adoption of accepted American professional perspectives and methods in order to reach American standards and norms, and Hadassah derived its modus operandi from this belief. Thus it introduced advanced, and sometimes basic training in the United States for the high ranking professional (medical, educational and administrative) level of its enterprises in Erez Israel, emphasized the most innovative American methods and instruments and recruited American experts to provide training, supervision and evaluation. However, its projects in the Yishuv and Israel were developed by local teams.

Pioneering. Hadassah always undertook to anticipate future needs and try to meet them. Thus it introduced new services that the Yishuv or Israel needed, but for the development of which it lacked the financial or human resources. A corollary of this concept was that in order to be able to establish new pioneering enterprises Hadassah should devolve its pilot ventures to the Yishuv (or Israel) as soon as the latter could maintain them.

Education. Considering itself an agent of progress in the Yishuv and Israel, Hadassah also regarded itself as an educational force. This motivating idea found expression in the areas of medicine, medical education and medical training as well as in the area of vocational education and activity in the Youth Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue.Aliyah movement.

American Models. Hadassah believed in introducing American models that would be emulated in the development of local enterprises. This concept rested on the assumption that Hadassah could impart American standards, techniques and skills to Israel but could not, by itself, sustain the country’s entire network of medical and social institutions. This distinction led to the idea of creating model institutions: Hadassah would establish an initial model on the basis of American expertise and techniques, later to be emulated by similar institutions throughout the country. Hadassah’s enterprises were executed by members of the Yishuv and later by citizens of Israel.


Hadassah’s first project in Palestine was directly connected with the welfare of women and children. On the basis of a decision taken by the organization’s founders to assume responsibility for a health project for the welfare of women and children, early in 1913 the services of two Jewish public health nurses, Rose Kaplan of New York and Rae D. Landy of Cleveland were hired. The nurses were sent to Palestine to establish a network of health centers for women and children.

Henrietta Szold, the driving force behind this initiative, intended to establish a network of community centers that would provide the necessary services for a healthy community: health services in schools, prophylactic measures to counter tuberculosis, baby and child care and training for preventive medicine in general.

Upon their arrival in March 1913 the nurses established a “Settlement House” among the poorer residents of the Me’ah She’arim quarter in Jerusalem. This was in line with the policy of the Settlement House movement, which made a point of locating its institutions in poor neighborhoods in order to combat the social and physical conditions which were believed to foster disease. The nurses worked in cooperation with several health agencies that were already present in the city at the time. The center that they opened concentrated on the organization of midwifery, education about health and hygiene, first aid, home visits to poor families, and checking students in the schools, particularly for early detection of trachoma. The nurses worked according to the model that had developed in New York. World War I, however, put an abrupt end to the nurses’ efforts on behalf of women in the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv and they were forced to return to the United States.

Hadassah began its medical activity in Palestine as a result of World War I, during which the Yishuv was cut off from its sources of support abroad. This enforced isolation caused prolonged economic deterioration which affected, among other things, the state of health care. Moreover, the Ottoman army took over most of the hospitals, dispensaries and medical storehouses and enlisted most of the physicians. An epidemic of typhoid fever which broke out in the Yishuv during the second half of 1916 spread rapidly, mostly in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Safed. Thousands of people died of starvation and for lack of appropriate medical treatment. In July 1916 the Zionist Executive asked the leaders of the Federation of American Zionists (from 1918, The Zionist Organization of America, ZOA) for immediate medical aid for the Yishuv. The request was passed on to Hadassah, which organized the American Zionist Medical Unit that arrived in Palestine in 1918. The Unit established or renewed the activity of five hospitals in the major Jewish population centers (Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Tiberias and Safed) and established a nurses’ training school.

In November 1918, eight days before the armistice and as part of celebrations of the first anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the Rothschild Hospital’s building was given to the American Zionist Medical Unit. The first modern Jewish hospital in Palestine, it operated in Jerusalem’s Old City from 1854 until 1888, when it moved to a magnificent building on Ha-Nevi’im Street outside the walls. The building served as the center of Hadassah’s medical activities in the Yishuv until 1939.


The end of the British military regime in Palestine and the establishment of a civilian Mandate required a change in the deployment of the American Zionist Medical Unit. Formerly a temporary medical relief organization whose goal was to give immediate medical aid and solve the most urgent medical problems, it now had to assist in the establishment of a permanent health-care system for the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv. In September 1921, the Twelfth Zionist Congress in Carlsbad decided to turn the American Zionist Medical Unit into a medical association that would operate in Palestine as an independent agency directly accountable to Hadassah. It was named and still is Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) and is directly accountable to Hadassah. To this day it is the organization to which all Hadassah’s medical institutions in the Yishuv and later in Israel have belonged. Legally, Hadassah Medical Organization is an Israeli non-profit organization owned by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America and is a partner with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with five medical and health profession schools (the Medical School and the schools of Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Public Health and Community Medicine).

During the 1920s the Hadassah Medical Organization developed health services for the entire population in the Yishuv and was active in preventive medicine and in health care for new immigrants. The latter (preventive medicine and health care for new immigrants) were its sphere of activity throughout the Mandatory period.

Until the late 1920s, the Rothschild Hospital (Hadassah) was directed by American Jewish doctors. Problems of communication—both of language and mentality—accompanied by friction arose between the Americans and elements in the Yishuv, particularly the Labor movement organizations. There were three American directors of the Rothschild Hospital in the 1920s and there was a severe confrontation between the last of them—Dr. Ephraim Bluestone—and the labor organizations, due to misunderstandings or differences in mentality. However, in 1929 Henrietta Szold, then director of the Health Department of the Va’ad Le’ummi, appointed Dr. Haim Yassky (Odessa, 1896–Jerusalem, 1948), a young Russian-Jewish ophthalmologist who had been trained in Odessa and was now a member of the Yishuv, as its first non-American director.

Yassky’s appointment set the pattern for Hadassah’s activity in Palestine and its standing in that country in general. From this point on, the directors of Hadassah’s institutions would be residents of the Yishuv, well versed in its daily life. This assured that these enterprises would be operated in a manner fully compatible with conditions in the Yishuv and the needs of its populace. Employment of local personnel became the rule in all Hadassah undertakings in the Yishuv and Israel as well.

In the 1930s, however, the nature of HMO activities in the Yishuv was transformed. It adopted a policy of devolution, gradually transferring its health and medical institutions outside Jerusalem to the Jewish municipalities and to Kupat Holim ha-Clalit: The General Sick Fund of the General Federation of Labor (Histadrut) [hereinafter: Kupat Holim]. Two objectives lay behind this policy: to encourage the Yishuv to provide its own services and to enable Hadassah to undertake new projects. Another policy change took place at the same time: Hadassah would now emphasize development of university medical services. This also had geographical implications: from now on Hadassah’s major thrust would be in Jerusalem, centered for the most part on the Rothschild Hospital.

The Hadassah Medical Organization assumed direct responsibility for the hospital which in 1939, in cooperation with the Hebrew University, had become a university hospital officially known as the Meir Rothschild Hadassah-University Hospital and popularly known in the Yishuv as Bet Holim Hadassah. During the 1930s and the 1940s the hospital’s high level of medical care made it the best in Palestine, both because it contained departments nonexistent elsewhere in the country and because of its connection with the Hebrew University.

In 1934 the Hadassah leadership laid the cornerstone for its large medical center on Mount Scopus, the Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital, which was intended to be a medical research facility of the first rank in Palestine. Its planners decided to emulate the model prevalent in the United States: a hospital, medical school, medical research laboratories and a nursing school all under one roof. This was also the reason for locating the medical center adjacent to the Hebrew University campus.

A 1936 agreement between Hadassah and the Hebrew University provided guidelines for cooperation and coordination in medical research between the two entities. This proved the foundation for what became known as the “medical para-faculty,” which laid the foundations for the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, founded in 1949 (see below).

The medical center’s activity on Mount Scopus began in the summer of 1939, three months before the outbreak of World War II.


Another field in which Hadassah made a great contribution to the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv from the 1920s on was its activity on behalf of children and youth. Care for children and youth was the common denominator of a series of enterprises that Hadassah supported. Hadassah established four public health projects for children in the Yishuv during the 1920s: child welfare centers, a School Luncheon Program, a hygiene project and a playground project. All were based on American models of public health projects or movements which were designed for American populations in distress, mostly in the immigrant quarters of New York and other large American cities at the turn of the twentieth century, and were inspired by the American version of the Settlement House movement.

The best-known of the public health projects established by Hadassah in the Yishuv were the child welfare centers, known as Tipat Halav (literally, drop of milk) stations, initiated in 1922 based on “district nursing,” a nursing method which was in use in New York (in which in addition to working at the center, nurses also visited the mothers’ homes). These centers, which are still in operation and serve a large percentage of the country’s women and children, supervised the development of pregnancy, guided mothers on matters of nutrition both during pregnancy and after giving birth, weighed the infants and maintained a watch over their development during early childhood.

Of the four public health services for children a very important one was the School Luncheon Program, modeled on the American School Luncheon Movement initiated in New York in 1908, which aimed to provide undernourished children with good nutrition through the distribution of hot meals. The movement was also active in the educational arena in teaching about nutrition. It even succeeded in introducing nutrition into the high school curriculum.

Hadassah established its school lunch program in the Yishuv in 1922 and during the 1930s and 1940s it became one of the most important welfare projects in the Yishuv. Various Yishuv organizations took part in it and together they served lunches to children in most of the country’s Jewish schools.


In November 1935 Hadassah took exclusively upon itself the role of being the sole fundraiser in the United States for Youth Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue.Aliyah, which Recha Freier had founded in Berlin in 1932 and which was headed by Henrietta Szold, who held the position until her death in 1945. As Nazi violence increased, Youth Aliyah expanded its activity to Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania. By the outbreak of World War II, 5,010 young people had emigrated to Palestine, in most cases without their parents, who remained in their countries of origin. They were absorbed into A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.kibbutzim and youth villages, the only places that could absorb young people at the time and under the country’s current conditions.

In 1936 Hadassah employed the Jewish actor Eddie Cantor of Beverly Hills, California, who “emptied pockets” on its behalf, raising half a million dollars for Youth Aliyah in 1938 alone. He devoted more than twenty years of his professional life to Hadassah. The funds he raised in 1936 and 1937 were divided between the United Palestine Appeal and the Jewish National Fund, which with the money raised purchased land for homes, schools and farms, the absorption of young refugees and the Youth Aliyah office in Jerusalem. When World War II began, Hadassah financed approximately fifty percent of the total budget of the enterprise in Palestine and approximately eighty percent of it in 1940.

In 1943 Hadassah and other organizations had the merit of bringing to Palestine the Teheran Children—the first group of Holocaust survivors to arrive in the country, comprising some eight hundred children, youth and babies. When the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, these children had fled with their parents from Warsaw, Galicia, Łódź, Przemysl, Bialystok and other small towns, to the Soviet Union. Some had been imprisoned in camps in Siberia and had traveled southward through Russia to Uzbekistan, whence they were taken to Iran. They were housed in a camp in Teheran for five months, awaiting an opportunity to reach Palestine. American involvement was needed to allow their passage. Hadassah played a fateful role in the negotiations. After extensive lobbying, its representative in Washington, Denise Turover, finally obtained a permit for 712 children to travel by train to Basra, Iraq. After another long journey the children arrived in Palestine on February 18, 1943.

In 1946 the Twenty-Second Zionist Congress—the first Congress to convene after the Holocaust—granted Youth Aliyah authority to rescue children and youth, making it an official agency of the Zionist Movement with the task of caring for refugee children. From the end of the war till the establishment of the State of Israel, Youth Aliyah absorbed more than 15,000 children and youth.


From the early 1940s—more than twenty years after beginning its medical activity—Hadassah established a number of vocational-education and vocational training institutions. Hadassah leaders believed that vocational education, which was grossly underdeveloped in the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv, would be a most valuable contribution to industry in the future Jewish state and that young people in the Yishuv should be given the technological training common in the West so that they would possess the appropriate tools to compete in the Western economy.

The series of enterprises began with the founding of the Brandeis Center for Vocational Training, which until the establishment of the state included three different entities: a girls’ trade high school, a boys’ vocational school and a vocational guidance bureau. The Alice L. Seligsberg Trade School for Girls established in 1942 was guided by two educational principles which were revolutionary at the time: 1) to give intelligent but poor girls the means to an education and a trade and improve the quality of their lives by training them both as homemakers and in professions; and 2) to eradicate the prevalent perception that women’s role was inferior to men’s. The school’s first principal and the architect of its ideology and curriculum was Helen Kittner (1910–1978), a graduate of the University of Lvov, Poland.

The Vocational School for Boys included two four-year training programs, respectively for fine mechanics and printing. Both were established in 1944 and 1945 on the initiative of Henrietta Szold as an attempt to solve one of the Yishuv’s main social problems, the high elementary-school dropout rate among boys.

In 1944 the Vocational Guidance Bureau (later, in 1965, to become the Vocational Guidance Institute and then, in 1989, the Hadassah Career Counseling Institute), was established. It became an inseparable part of Hadassah’s vocational-education and training activity in Palestine and was established as the vocational guidance field was being developed in the United States. The best minds in education and psychology from the Hebrew University participated in its founding, as did other key figures in those fields in the Yishuv. In order to establish the bureau, Hadassah recruited Dr. Erwin Arnstein, who had run the vocational guidance office in Haifa and was considered the best of the Yishuv’s few experts.


One of Hadassah’s contributions to the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv and later to Israel was the health professions it established in Palestine between 1918 and 1949: nursing, nutrition (home economics) and occupational therapy. All were women’s professions which developed in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century and were “exported” to the Yishuv by Hadassah, as a Zionist enterprise. At the time, nutrition and occupational therapy were branches of the nursing profession.

The first of these professionswas nursing, with the establishment of the first Jewish school of nursing in Palestine in 1918 by the American Zionist Medical Unit, which arrived with twenty nurses. Since additional qualified nursing personnel were needed, it opened a nurses’ training school. In 1921, some two years after its founding, Hadassah took over the sponsorship of the school.

Before the arrival of the American Zionist Medical Unit what is now recognized as nursing work was performed in the Yishuv partly by unknown numbers of Feldschers—doctors’ assistants, mainly men and a few women—who had acquired their training in Europe—midwives, medics and others. With the Second Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue.Aliyah, which came to Palestine between 1904 and 1914, female paramedics and midwives arrived and settled in the new Jewish settlements. Training of nursing staff, mostly of local women, was carried out by doctors for specific limited activities.

In the United States nursing had, by the turn of the twentieth century, developed into one of three main women’s professions, alongside teaching and social work. Nursing schools were opened in Jewish hospitals including the Mount Sinai hospital in New York, the Lebanon hospital in Bronx, New York, and in the Jewish Hospital in Cleveland. In the Yishuv the Nurses’ Training School was the first vocational post-high school for women; it was the only nursing school until 1936 and remains the leading nursing school to this day. It was responsible for creating a profession that had not hitherto existed in Palestine.

The first teachers were nurses from the American Zionist Medical Unit, who had received their training in nursing schools in the United States and who taught according to the American system. The fact that the profession had not previously existed in the Yishuv enabled Hadassah to develop the nurse as an independent professional, in contrast to the European conception of the nurse as a doctor’s assistant. The channels of transfer were the individuals who set up the school and the curriculum, who introduced the use of American learning materials and professional journals. But the nursing profession also had European and English influences: European, since most of Hadassah’s physicians had received their medical training in central Europe; and British, since Palestine was under a Mandate for Palestine given to Great Britain by the League of Nations in April 1920 to administer Palestine and establish a national home for the Jewish people. It was terminated with the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.British mandate.

The second health profession Hadassah established in Palestine was that of nutrition and home economics. Julia Aaronsohn (later Dushkin), a young American Jewish nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University, who had arrived in the country with the encouragement of Henrietta Szold, was chosen to direct the nutrition departments at five Hadassah hospitals. A short while later she was replaced by Sarah Bavly, a young immigrant woman who arrived from the Netherlands in 1926. In 1928 Hadassah sent Bavly to Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degree in nutrition. Equipped with this knowledge, she returned to Palestine in 1929 and from then on laid the foundations for nutrition and cookery studies. Her aim was to educate the public about proper nutrition through the nutrition department she established in 1929 at the Nathan and Lina Straus Health Center in Jerusalem, one of two health centers, in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv respectively, founded by Nathan Straus, which served as centers for activities in the field of preventive medicine. Hadassah Medical Organization administered the centers, which became an integral part of its activities.

On the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel Hadassah was responsible for much of the Yishuv’s public health services, medical treatment for new immigrants and a hospital considered the best in the country, together with care for children and youth, vocational education and training and contribution to Youth Aliyah.

THE STATE PERIOD (1948–present)

The ideological fundamentals, major conceptions and modus operandi of Hadassah’s enterprises in Palestine were established during the Mandate period and continued to exist during the state period, undergoing changes and adaptations to the changing era and needs of the time. However, as described below, the scope of Hadassah’s enterprises and its place in Israel’s medical and welfare services underwent a great deal of change as compared with its place in the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv.

During the War of Independence (December 1947–July 1949), Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital treated ninety percent of those wounded in the war in Jerusalem. Hadassah Hospital in Safed played a similar role in the north. Several of Hadassah’s activities at the time included bringing medical specialists from the United States in fields that did not yet exist in Israel, establishing a blood bank through which blood donations were sent to Israel during the war, establishing a rehabilitation center in Jerusalem, and contributing to the establishment of Tel ha-Shomer Hospital.

The War of Independence was a period of very severe crisis for Hadassah, as well as a time when its leaders had to decide on the future of its activities in the new state. The crisis began in April 1948 with the attack on a convoy traveling from western Jerusalem to Mount Scopus in which seventy-eight passengers were killed, including Dr. Haim Yassky, the director of the Hadassah Medical Organization, and several others involved in the establishment, planning and organization of the future medical school. Hadassah was forced to leave its modern hospital on Mount Scopus, which it had entered only nine years earlier, and to spread out over several old buildings on Ha-Nevi’im Street in western Jerusalem. With the decline in the status of Jerusalem, the center of most of Hadassah’s nationwide activities since the 1930s, as an economic and political center of the new state, there were proposals to move the hospital to the coastal plain. However, Hadassah’s leadership decided to keep the hospital in Jerusalem, fulfilling one of the organization’s most important ideological tenets: a profound connection to the city.

Hadassah played a comparatively minor role in the mass absorption of immigrants after the state was established. In October 1948 its leaders concluded that it did not have enough funds for providing medical treatment to the new immigrants on a nationwide scale, nor did it have sufficient medical staff to take on such a task. One area related to the new immigrants for which Hadassah did take responsibility on a wide scale was the treatment of tuberculosis patients. Until 1952, another area was public health, especially through its child welfare centers. In 1949 Hadassah also established a hospital for Yemenite child immigrants in Rosh ha-Ayin.

This period, which defined Hadassah’s future activity in Israel, was one of the most prosperous and decisive for Hadassah in the establishment of medical facilities which would later have great influence on Israeli medicine. In 1949 Hadassah established the Hadassah-Haim Yassky Memorial Hospital in Beersheba, which at once filled up with new immigrants. The hospital served the Negev population for ten years until 1960, when it was devolved to Kupat Holim.

In 1947 Hadassah founded an occupational therapy training course, laying the foundation for such therapy in the country. Ethel Adina Bloom-Benor, an American Jewish woman who had lived in Palestine, brought this field to Israel, using the Hadassah pattern of activity by which professionals trained in America taught the country’s first professionals, with Hadassah providing the funding. As Israelis, especially women, took over the Americans’ positions, occupational therapy, like the field of nursing, absorbed influences other than the American paradigm.

Perhaps Hadassah’s most important activity during the first years of the state was the establishment of the first medical school in Israel—The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, established in 1949 as a joint venture of Hadassah and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and patterned after American medical schools. This model was later followed in the establishment of other medical schools in Israel; at Tel Aviv University (1964) and at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa (1969).

In 1945, shortly after the decision to establish the medical school was taken, Hadassah created an advisory agency, the Medical Reference Board, in the United States. The purpose of the board was to assist in the establishment of the school by providing professional advice. Its members were prominent Jewish physicians, including some of the best in the United States, medical administrators and public health experts, all of whom served on the board as volunteers. The Medical Reference Board gave advice on the educational philosophy to be adopted by the medical school—an issue that had already been discussed among the bodies involved in establishing the school in 1942. The board members also drafted a curriculum for the future medical school, based on curricula of the medical schools at several leading American universities. Early in 1947, the committee charged with choosing the medical school’s teaching method decided on a model similar to that current in American medical schools. This decision was facilitated by the Medical Reference Board, under the influence of Hadassah, and by Dr. Haim Yassky, director of Hadassah Medical Organization, all of whom considered American medical practice to be the epitome of modernity and wished to see it take root in the Yishuv. They made this decision even though most of the doctors at the Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital had been trained in Central Europe and one could not take for granted that they would accept the American doctrine. While the European system of studying medicine was virtually devoid of any practical element, the American conception was based on medicine as an investigational science and used bed-side teaching. As a result, the American system and consequently the Israeli medical schools allowed the medical schools to accept only very few students as compared to the European system which trained huge numbers of students in enormous lecture halls.

Another contribution of Hadassah to the medical school was a corollary of the decision to follow the American pattern of medical education: in-service training for the teaching staff in the United States. In 1946, the senior members of the Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital medical staff were sent to the United States, where they received research and teaching fellowships and participated in clinical programs at several of the leading American medical schools. The fellowships program has since become an ongoing one, with grants not limited to doctors only, but made available to medical administrators, nutritionists and other specialists.

The founding of the medical school had a decisive effect on Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital. Research activity had taken place in the hospital before the medical school was established, though without the promotion and personal prestige of the school of medicine. The status of research changed because academic appointments to the school of medicine, as part of the Hebrew University, were comparable to those made in the university in general, which from 1949 also underwent an accelerated process of growth and academization. As a result, medical research was transformed almost overnight into a vital component in the personal careers of the hospital’s doctors and of the hospital activity in general. Thus the establishment of the medical school led to the accelerated academization of the Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital staff and speeded progress in advanced medicine and medical research.

In accordance with the trend toward specialization and academization that the Hadassah medical services underwent in the first years of Israel’s existence, Hadassah devolved (1952) its preventive health services—child welfare centers, school hygiene services and its services for the war on trachoma and ringworm—to the Israel Ministry of Health, though retaining those in Jerusalem and the Jerusalem corridor to train medical students at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School. (Its other public health projects were devolved to other ministries.) However, in 1953 it established a community health center in the Kiryat ha-Yovel neighborhood of Jerusalem. The center conducted a pilot operation involving a new approach to curative and preventive medicine. Its program stressed health work on a group basis, focusing on the needs of the individual, involving the whole family and providing a comprehensive program of preventive, diagnostic and curative health services. Attention was paid to psychological factors as they affect the mental health of the individual. In 1953 the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine (founded by Alpha Omega Fraternity) was established.

Thus, during the first years of the state Hadassah completed its historical task of laying the foundations for hospitalization, preventive medicine, nursing and medical education and tertiary care facilities in the Yishuv and Israel. Its relative standing as a factor in health and welfare services in Israel, though not university medical education, declined during the state’s early period and as early as 1955 it owned only a small fraction of the country’s hospital beds and child welfare centers.


In 1950 Hadassah’s national board decided to build a new medical center to replace the one that had been abandoned on Mount Scopus. Located on the hill above the village of Ein Kerem west of Jerusalem, the medical center was planned first and foremost as a doctors’ training facility. Emphasis was placed on a building and equipment that would enable medical research to take place, since this was considered an integral part of every university teaching institution. The planners’ goal was to have the highest possible level of medicine and research so that the facility would be one of the largest medical centers in the world. In accordance with this vision, a nine-story building was planned that would contain four hundred and thirty beds, a medical school and nursing school, outpatient clinics that would serve twenty thousand patients per year, clinical and research laboratories, and a library intended to be the most important medical library in Israel. The building of the facility continued until 1961, when it was opened to the public. A few months before it opened, several heads of its departments were sent to the United States to learn how to use the sophisticated equipment it contained.

In addition to its extensive clinical work, the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, the only one in Israel which is entirely academic, and which was a partner with the Hebrew University in the medical school and later in five schools of medical professions (see below), has concentrated on research and teaching. This, too, emulates the American paradigm of medical schools at leading universities. During the 1970s the Medical Center at Ein Kerem added yet another component with the establishment of new hospital departments and new research laboratories. Since the 1950s, the high-ranking physicians at the hospital have been sent to the United States for in-service training. At present, doctors are also sent to Great Britain, Australia and Canada.

During the 1960s and at the beginning of the 1970s the Medical Center at Ein Kerem was active in helping establish medical institutions, including hospital departments and outpatient clinics, in developing countries, mainly in Africa. It also educated and trained doctors and nurses from Brazil and African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malawi. The training was conducted both at the Hadassah Medical School and at the school of nursing, as well as in the countries themselves. This training was mainly in ophthalmology, dentistry and psychiatry; doctors were sent to the countries for short or long periods to set up medical facilities there. The methods of establishing such medical institutions were thus similar to those used in establishing the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School itself: sending people to study in Israel and sending medical staff from Ein Kerem abroad for a short time to establish the departments.

After the Six Day War in 1967 the hospital building on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem was returned to Hadassah. Soon afterward Hadassah began to plan a rehabilitation pavilion for people with conditions such as cancer and war injuries, who would receive physiotherapy and occupational therapy there. A general hospital with four hundred beds was also planned for the Jewish and Arab populations in northern Jerusalem, together with a school for occupational therapy that was located in the old nursing school. All these services opened to the general public in 1976.

Beginning in the 1970s, the health professions Hadassah had established in the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv and Israel underwent academization. In 1976 the Henrietta Szold-Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Nursing, the first basic academic school for nursing in Israel, opened after preparations that lasted several years. In setting the curriculum (drawn up by Judith Steiner-Freud, director of the nursing school and the school staff, together with Professor Anne Kibrick of Boston University) the American model of teaching nursing was again taken into account. The four-year program granted a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1978 Hadassah, the Hebrew University, Kupat Holim, the JDC and the Israeli Ministry of Health opened the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Occupational Therapy and in 1981 the Braun Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Public Health and Community Medicine was founded.

The Hadassah Hebrew University medical center is currently a tertiary care referral facility, teaching hospital and research center which includes the two university hospitals and the five schools of the medical professions which it operates in collaboration and partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (www.hadassah.org.il) The majority of the physicians and faculty of the other medical profession schools in the center are also researchers and teachers at the medical schools. The medical students get their clinical training in the departments of the two hospitals, while researchers and master’s and doctoral students carry out research under the direction of specialist physicians.

Furnished with the most sophisticated medical and research equipment, donated partly by Hadassah, which always puts medical and technological equipment as one of its most important priorities, the medical center in 2002 provided hospital services for nearly one million people. Many medical and technological advances that were the first of their kind in Israel were established at the medical center. These included the first bypass surgery, the first successful kidney transplant (1967), the first MRI and the first bone marrow transplant (1977), to name only a few. Over half of the medical research done in Israeli hospitals is carried out in the medical center.

Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center should be seen not only as a medical, teaching and research institution, but also as a major endeavor that sustains the organization in the United States. A monetary contribution to the hospitals is the practical expression of the Zionist feeling of the Hadassah women and their families and has been its main project since the beginning of Hadassah’s medical operations in Palestine. Hadassah directs most of the contributions and budgets to the Medical Center.


In the first decade of Israel’s existence the funds Hadassah raised for Youth Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue.Aliyah were in second place on its list of contributions received (a thirty-percent share of the funds; thirty-eight percent went for medical services). Youth Aliyah’s activity increased after the state was established. In 1949, when the character of immigration to Israel changed together with the social makeup of its pupils and their countries of origin, Youth Aliyah dealt mostly with bringing children and youth to the country, first from Eastern Europe and the Balkan countries and later from Arab and North African countries. From its inception until today, Youth Aliyah has absorbed and rehabilitated children and youth from eighty countries and also treated Israeli-born children from the fringes of society.

Hadassah saw itself as a progressive element in Youth Aliyah and as having made a contribution to the quality of education and the treatment, training, fostering and welfare which Youth Aliyah provides. As part of Youth Aliyah, Hadassah has established youth villages, institutions, day centers for youth and vocational training centers and has funded enrichment programs in music and the arts. It sent American experts to Israel to evaluate the project and make recommendations for Youth Aliyah activity and sent personnel to the United States for periods of study and in-service courses. It also provided funds for special goals, such as purchasing equipment, building a library, sport and music centers in the Me’ir Shefeyah Youth Village, annual allocations for the Hadassah Ne’urim youth village near Netanyah, budgets for building and more.

Alongside all these activities Hadassah was a most important source of help during times of economic crisis, since the funds Hadassah contributed allowed a great deal of room for maneuvering, which the institutions’ regular budget did not.

The Alice L. Seligsberg Trade School for Girls. Data from 1950 show that the number of girls attending the school increased shortly after the State of Israel was established. The school had three courses of training in areas that were regarded as female professions at the time: secretarial work, baking and homemaking. It also offered courses in cookery, weaving and embroidery. With time the training courses were expanded to paramedical fields that were vital to Israel in general and to the Hadassah Medical Organization in particular: in 1955 the school also offered a dental technician’s course and a laboratory technician’s course. Toward the end of the state’s first decade of existence, about three hundred girls attended the school, which then had six tracks of study: fashion, nutrition, handicrafts, clerical work, laboratory technician and dental technician. Workshops for boys, established at the beginning of the 1940s, were enhanced after the state was established and the number of pupils increased to one hundred in 1954.

In 1984 the Seligsberg School became a comprehensive school and in 1988 Hadassah devolved the school to the authority of the Jerusalem Municipality.

Post-high-school projects. As a direct consequence of its leadership’s belief that they must respond to Israel’s industrial needs, Hadassah established two post-high–school vocational institutions that were the first of their kind in Israel. Established in 1949, one school taught hotel management and was modeled on the hotel management school at New York University (in Brooklyn); the other was a fashion institute whose goal was to promote the development of Israel’s textile industry.

The Vocational Guidance Bureau (since 1989 the Hadassah Career Counseling Institute, HCCI) operated during the state’s early years to help Jerusalem elementary school graduates find a vocational direction and to spread the idea of vocational guidance via the first psychotechnical course of its kind in Israel, which opened in 1952. With the participation of the Ministry of Education, the IDF, Tel Aviv Municipality and other authorities, the course promoted the value of vocational guidance among school principals, social workers and the general public, imparting the importance of psychometric testing and vocational guidance.

During the years in which it was active, the Vocational Guidance Bureau and later the Hadassah Career Counseling Institute assisted in developing the fields of vocational guidance, vocational and career counseling, organizational development and occupational and organizational psychology in the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv and Israel. All this was accomplished by developing the tools of these fields, creating Israel’s major pool of occupational information, training experts and encouraging appropriate training at universities. The institute continues to assist in developing other institutions dealing with this area.

Due to Hadassah’s funding, the Hadassah Career Counseling Institute has been able to engage in many voluntary activities. As part of Hadassah’s commitment to the absorption of female/sing.; individual(s) who immigrates to Israel, i.e., "makes aliyah."olim, the institute has over the years invested much effort in its own services for olim, developing tools to assist them, such as guiding of teenagers in choosing high schools, workshops aiming at acquiring “job hunting” skills and the translation of occupational information into many foreign languages. In the last decade, primarily because of Hadassah’s increasing involvement in empowering women, the institute has conducted activities aimed at advancing Israeli women from various sectors. It conducts assertiveness-training workshops, leadership skills workshops and workshops for homemakers wishing to enter the job market.

In 1970 Hadassah established the Hadassah Community College (renamed the Hadassah College of Technology in 1989 and in 2003 renamed Hadassah College Jerusalem) which, like many of Hadassah’s projects in the Yishuv and Israel, was based on an American model. Its purpose was to prepare students for the working world by training them in various technological fields. Dr. Helen Kittner was the college’s first director. After several visits to the United States to view various American community colleges and receive guidance from leading American educators, she drafted a curriculum that was appropriate for Israel’s developing technology at the beginning of the 1970s.

The two-year college started with one hundred students, offering studies in four departments: computers, photography, laboratory technician and medical secretary training. In 1978 Dr. Yaakov Amidi was appointed director of the College, which he led for the next twenty-one years. During this time the study tracks expanded to include a video department and an electronics department, as well as dental technology, printing, electro-optics, industrial design and hotel management. During the 1980s and especially in the 1990s an attempt was made to coordinate the new technological areas of study developing at the time in the print and media fields. The course of study was extended to three years and the college was accredited by the Israel Council for Higher Education in computer science, optometry and medical technology.

In 1999 Professor Nava Ben-Zvi was appointed the College’s president. Since then, its curricula have expanded into additional fields with new emphasis on academic professional training. Located on Ha-Nevi’im Street in the heart of Jerusalem, the college’s main buildings were once Rothschild Hospital and the Arches building. As of 2005, Hadassah College Jerusalem has academic and technological departments offering programs towards a B.Sc. in the School of Health Sciences (optometry, biotechnology, environmental health, communication disorders, medical laboratory science) and in the School of Computer Science, and an associate degree in the School of Practical Engineering. Its student body comes from all sectors of Israeli society. Most of its graduates are employed at information industries, medical organizations and other institutions.


Hadassah worked in various ways to help absorb the waves of immigration which arrived from the FSU in the 1970s and 1990s. It invested large sums of money in retraining doctors, dentists, nurses and other health workers, employing many of them in its own hospitals. Hadassah Career Counseling Institute and Hadassah’s College of Technology participated in these efforts by providing professional guidance and retraining.

Hadassah also assisted two waves of immigrants of Ethiopian origin in the 1980s and early 1990s, focusing its efforts mostly on collaborating in educational programs aiming at their integration into Israeli society.


The Israel programs of Young Judaea, the Zionist youth movement sponsored by Hadassah and Hamagshimim, serve university-age people under thirty-five. Beginning in the 1950s, it has operated summer programs for Jewish teens and university students and a one-year course of work and study in Israel.

In 1969 a group of Young Judaeans—Garin Hamagshimim—arrived in Israel under the auspices of Hadassah and established Neve Ilan, a cooperative settlement (Cooperative smallholder's village in Erez Israel combining some of the features of both cooperative and private farming.moshav shitufi) near Jerusalem. In 1973 a nucleus of graduates of the Young Judea one-year course in Israel (established in 1951) led a group of new immigrants and native-born Israelis in establishing A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava region of the Negev. Merkaz Hamagshimim Hadassah, established in 1996 in the German Colony of Jerusalem, is a pluralistic absorption and community center for young people (most of them female/sing.; individual(s) who immigrates to Israel, i.e., "makes aliyah."olim) from English-speaking countries and lists among its goals helping members to become involved in the Israeli community.

To all the above one must add Hadassah’s assistance to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), beginning in 1927, with the development of over thirty major projects. These included draining swamps (especially during the 1930s), development of water sources and streams and the construction of reservoirs, soil development and major afforestation activities. The latter included all areas of creating forests, including picnic sites, youth camps, parking lots, etc. The major activities included drainage and land reclamation of the Zevulun Valley for developing industrial and residential areas (1930); afforestation projects from the 1950s on; construction of the Eshet Dam in the southern Aravah Valley to store floodwater (1987); and the establishment of American Independence Park (1998) between Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem.


At its 1983 convention Hadassah decided to “go international.” The first group to be established outside the United States was Hadassah-Israel, which was founded by a group of immigrant Hadassah members, who wished to continue Hadassah’s traditional activity, several native Israelis and women immigrants from various countries. Several groups of Hebrew-speaking women were later established.

Hadassah is essentially an organization that brings women together for Zionist activity rather than an organization promoting women’s welfare and advancement, yet during the 1980s and 1990s, under the influence of feminism in the United States and Israel, changes and adaptations were introduced which Hadassah’s leadership felt were required because of changing times and needs. This led to Hadassah’s entry into distinctly feminist activity in various fields such as women’s welfare, which also influenced some of its activities in Israel, such as the Hadassah Career Counseling Institute’s activities for Israeli women.

Thus, Hadassah-Israel has extensively developed through the years of its activities. Its primary concern is still mainly to support Hadassah projects in Israel in health, education, absorption of immigrant youth, and most of its fundraising is still devoted to the Hadassah Medical Organization.

However, Hadassah-Israel’s community activity has included support programs for children of Ethiopian origin and their parents as well as enrichment programs for other children at risk. A major area of activity is the promotion of women’s health, welfare and advancement and dissemination of health information. This includes programs to raise awareness for early detection of breast cancer, women’s health conditions and training of women’s health advocates; various activities to prevent violence against women and a program to empower women who have experienced violence; and support of shelters for young girls in distress.

Hadassah-Israel is at present a membership Zionist non-partisan organization composed of women responding to particular needs of Hadassah projects and programs in Israel in multiple areas and in “hand to hand” activity. It is different from Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, in that its members include Jewish women who do not live in the United States and that its major area of activity is not necessarily fundraising but broad community activity, much of which is for the benefit of women. It is different from Hadassah International in that it is an organization of Jewish women (Hadassah International’s members can be men or women, Jewish or non-Jewish).


The year 1998 saw the establishment of the Hadassah Foundation, a fund of ten million dollars intended for social needs in Israel and the United States that fell outside Hadassah’s traditional purview. The establishment of this fund stemmed both from a feeling on the part of the leadership that it was necessary to promote projects for women’s welfare, and from research commissioned by Hadassah in the mid–1990s regarding the future of its projects in Israel. Operating on two fronts, the United States and Israel, the fund supports institutions that deal with various aspects of women’s empowerment. In Israel the fund has provided grants, inter alia, to the Women’s Economic Empowerment Fund, which seeks to train women to set up small businesses and provides loans to start them; the interdisciplinary feminist Kol ha-Ishah in Jerusalem, which deals with empowering women and providing economic coping skills, such as business initiatives, to poor women; projects that deal with women and poverty; and dialogue between women from different cultural backgrounds (religious and non-religious, Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, heterosexual women and lesbians). The Hadassah Foundation also funded the Hebrew Internet site La-Briut, which provides information on women’s health to professional and lay women alike.

Hadassah’s work is the largest Lit. (Greek) "dispersion." The Jewish community, and its areas of residence, outside Erez Israel.Diaspora women’s collective effort on behalf of the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv and of the state of Israel. Yet the enterprise always had professional partners in The Land of IsraelErez Israel such as doctors, nurses, educators and teachers, who carried out the work and frequently were those who envisioned the projects. Their contribution to Hadassah’s Zionist enterprise in the Yishuv and in Israel was decisive. The most prominent among them were the Directors-General of Hadassah Medical Organization, some of whom served in office for many years: Haim Yassky (1896–1948, served in office 1929–1948); Eli Davis (1908–1997, served in office 1948–1951); Kalman Jacob Mann (1912–1997, served in office 1951–1981); Shmuel Pinchas (b. 1939, served in office 1981–1999); and Shlomo Mor-Yosef (b. 1951, in office since 2001). Also deserving of mention are Bertha Landsman, one of the major founders of public health in the Yishuv, and Shulamith Cantor, a notable founder of nursing as a profession in the Yishuv and Israel.



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There is a great kind of sharing stuff which the author has shared with readers.

My Mother Sara Sita Schragenheim RN was reported to have been recruited by Henrietta Szold in New York City to work in the first Hadassah Hospital in Palestine. It was known that she was not yet a US national. I have a picture showing her with the nursing staff and was told that she served as head nurse at some time. There is another picture showing her and the other nurses, men who may be doctors and several women in big hats. Does anyone have any other personal documentation about the first people who were there at the hospital? i am most eager to find out more information about this period in my mothers' career. these years were part of a life filled with service and adventure, wars, peace, nursing, refugee resettlement, travel to egypt [pictute on a camel] etc., etc. I can not tell you how much this means to me.

How to cite this page

Katzburg-Yungman, Mira. "Hadassah: Yishuv to the Present Day." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 18, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/hadassah-yishuv-to-present-day>.


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