Hadassah: Yishuv to the Present Day

by Mira Katzburg-Yungman
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American and Israeli doctors, lecturers, and organizers at Hadassah Israel’s Women’s Hear Disease Conference, mid-1990s. Courtesy of Mira Katzburg-Yungman.

In Brief

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA) has a lengthy history of activity in the Yishuv and Israel, going back to 1913, about a year after it was founded in New York, and continuing to this day. 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. Hadassah’s work has been the largest Diaspora women’s collective effort on behalf o the Yishuv and the state of Israel. Despite changing times and economic and other crises, Hadassah women still dedicate the lion’s share of their activity for Israel and contribute many millions of dollars for its medical center.

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 the organization was founded in New York. This activity was outstanding in its scope, continuity, stability, and diversity and has encompassed efforts in the sphere of health and medical services and in the welfare of children and youth through support of Youth Aliyah, vocational education, and more.

The Jewish, American, and Gender Sources of Hadassah’s Activities in the Yishuv and Israel

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 H̱asadim (good deeds for the benefit of others), and Bikkur H̱olim (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 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.

The establishment and support of hospitals, Hadassah’s central undertaking in the Yishuv and Israel, was a widely accepted historical tradition for American Jews. Their wealthy predecessors had established 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 Shvuyim (ransoming of captives), which has also been a major Zionist ideological component, was incorporated into Hadassah’s ideology and has been an important basis of its practical work: medical and health services, support of Youth Aliyah, and, in a wider sense, vocational education and training. The centrality of rescue work in Hadassah’s ideology and practice 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 in Hadassah's activity for Youth Aliyah, a singular humanitarian effort dedicated to the rescue of children and youth, their rehabilitation and re-education.

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

The emergence of professional women and the resulting development of “women’s professions” that were dominated by women: nursing, social work, and teaching. Public health, a branch of the nursing profession, was especially well developed and respected.

The arena of American women’s voluntary organizations. 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 social reform and were considered well suited to women’s qualifications.

The Settlement House Movement, as well as other Progressive movements in which women had key roles and many of whose activists and leaders were women.

The emphasis on children’s welfare and education, and social movements aiming at children’s welfare.

Ideological Fundamentals and Patterns of Activity

The ideological fundamentals and patterns of activity that characterized Hadassah’s activity in Palestine and later in Israel have remained basically constant throughout its history since they first took shape between 1912 and the late 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 professionals, 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 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 training in the United States for the high-ranking professionals (medical, educational, and administrative) for its enterprises in Erez Israel; emphasized the most innovative American methods and equipment; and recruited American experts to provide training, supervision, and evaluation.

Pioneering and Devolution. 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 which it lacked the financial or human resources or the appropriate mentality. A corollary of this concept was that in order to establish pioneering new enterprises, Hadassah should devolve its pilot ventures to the Yishuv (and later Israel) as soon as the latter could maintain them.

Education. Considering itself an agent of progress in the Yishuv and Israel, Hadassah regarded itself as an educational force. This motivating idea found expression in the areas of medicine, medical education, and medical training, as well as vocational education and activity in the Youth Aliyah movement.

American Models. Hadassah believed in introducing American models that would be emulated by local enterprises. This concept rested on the assumption that Hadassah could impart American standards, techniques, and skills to the Yishuv and 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, to be emulated later by similar institutions throughout the country. Hadassah's history is to a large extent the history of establishing American models in nursing, medicine, social welfare, vocational education, and more, in the Yishuv and Israel. Its enterprises were executed by members of the Yishuv and later by citizens of Israel (doctors, nurses, educators, etc.).

Early Work in Palestine

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 two Jewish public health nurses, Rose Kaplan of Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, and Rae D. Landy of the Harlem Hospital Dispensary, were hired. The nurses were sent to Palestine to establish a network of health centers for women and children. (See also Hadassah in the United States.)

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 Nurses Settlement House among the poorer residents of the Me’a 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 that were believed to foster disease. The nurses worked in cooperation with several Jewish health agencies already present in the city at the time. The center 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 developed in the well-known Henry Street Settlement on the New York’s Lower East Side by Jewish nurse Lillian Wald and mostly financed by philanthropist Jacob Schiff. World War I, however, put an abrupt end to the nurses’ efforts in the Yishuv, and in September 1915 they were forced to close the nurses' settlement.

However, Hadassah began its medical and health activity, its most influential activity in the Yishuv and Israel, as a result of World War I, during which the Yishuv, then a part of the Ottoman Empire, 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 in the Yishuv during the second half of 1916 spread rapidly, mostly in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Safed. Thousands 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, mostly financed by the American Joint Distribution Committee but also by funds collected by Hadassah. The Unit left New York harbor in June and arrived in Palestine on August 18, 1918, with Alice Seligsberg as Hadassah representative and the administrative head of the Unit.  

The Medical Unit included 44 young medical professionals, including specialist physicians (ophthalmologists, orthopedists, pediatricians, and others), dentists, and 22 nurses, as well as a pharmacist, a hospital orderly, a sanitation engineer-cum supervisor, and administrative staff. They brought with them thousands of boxes packed with over $25,000 worth of medical equipment and medications, contributed by American Zionist bodies including Hadassah but mostly by the JDC, and a budget of $400,000—a huge sum at the time—for the unit’s operation.

Between August 1918 and June 1919, the Unit established or renewed the activity of five hospitals in the major Jewish population centers (Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Tiberias, and Safed) and established training schools for nurses (in Jerusalem and Safed), bacteriological laboratories, and sanitation inspections. The hospitals followed Hadassah’s policy of providing services to all regardless of race, color, or creed. This reflected the progressive commitments of Hadassah’s leaders and set an important precedent, initially established by the Nurses Settlement in 1913, of treating Arabs and Jews equally. Equal treatment for Jews and Arabs in Hadassah’s medical institutions has since been a prominent characteristic and one that the organization has always highlighted.

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. This first modern Jewish hospital in Palestine had operated in Jerusalem’s Old City from 1854 until 1888, when it moved to a magnificent modern 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 British Mandate Period (1920-1948)

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 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). It remains the organization to which all Hadassah’s medical institutions in the Yishuv and later in Israel belong. 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; the schools of Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Public Health, and Community Medicine; and the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine).

In the British Mandatory period, Hadassah saw itself as a service organization for the Yishuv and acted accordingly. Thus, 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, which became its primary spheres of medical activity throughout the period. In was responsible for both hospital services and the majority of public health medical services. It also introduced more extensive use of modern medical equipment, such as the stethoscope and microscope, and routine use of bacteriological laboratories.

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 them and elements in the Yishuv, particularly the workers’ movement organizations. There were three American Jewish Directors General of the Rothschild Hospital in the 1920s. Due to misunderstandings or differences in mentality, a severe confrontation broke out between the last of them—Dr. Ephraim Bluestone—and the workers’ organizations. However, in 1929 Henrietta Szold, then director of the Health Department of the Va’ad Le’umi, 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-General.

Yassky’s appointment set the pattern for Hadassah’s activity in Palestine and its standing in the Yishuv and Israel in general. From this point on, the Directors-General of Hadassah’s hospitals as well as other institutions would be residents of the Yishuv, greatly involved in its daily life. This assured that Hadassah's enterprises would be operated in a way compatible with the Yishuv's conditions and needs. 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 H̱olim Ha'Klalit, the General Sick Fund of the General Federation of Labor (Histadrut) [hereafter: Kupat H̱olim]. 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 H̱olim 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.

Projects for Children and Youth

Another field in which Hadassah made a highly significant contribution to the Yishuv from the 1920s on was its activity on behalf of children and youth. 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 that 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 longest lasting and in many respects the most important of those four projects was Tipat Halav (literally, drop of milk) stations, set up by Hadassah and initiated by the young American Jewish nurse Bertha Landsman, who had come with a second wave of the Medical Unit. Her first station was set up in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1922 based on “district nursing,” the same method used by the two nurses Hadassah had sent about a decade earlier. This was a nursing method that, as already mentioned, was in use in the Henry Street Settlement in New York, in which in addition to working at the center, nurses also visited the mothers’ homes. Over the following years, infant welfare stations based on Landsman's model in Jerusalem were set up throughout the Yishuv, mostly by the Hadassah Medical Organization. In some cases help was provided by the Histadrut Nashim Ivriyot (Federation of Hebrew Women). These centers, which are still in operation and serve a large percentage of Israeli women and children, supervised pregnancy, guided mothers on matters of nutrition both during pregnancy and after giving birth, weighed infants, and watched over their development during early childhood.

In addition, mostly integrated with the stations, “milk kitchens” (Mitbaẖey H̱alav) were established. They supplied “ready to drink milk” for babies, and Landsman modelled them on Nathan Straus’s “milk stations” (eighteen in 1917, all funded by Straus) in New York, where she had worked before her immigration to Palestine. Straus’s stations aimed to meet the needs of nutritional deficiencies encountered by many mothers who did not produce sufficient milk to nurse their babies. Those stations were established as a result of his collaboration with Progressive welfare activists, who were appalled by the high infant mortality rate among the poor in the United States, particularly in the cities. In the Yishuv the milk was in many cases delivered to the mothers' homes on a donkey. The welfare stations led to sharp reduce in infant mortality in the Yishuv and later in Israel. They were particularly important in times of high immigration.

Another important project of the four public health services for children 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 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.

Hadassah and Youth Aliyah

In November 1935 Hadassah took upon itself the role of sole fundraiser in the United States for Youth 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 the Second World War, 5,010 teenagers 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 them the country’s conditions at the time.

Understanding Youth Aliyah as a rescue project, Hadassah’s top leaders and membership invested an enormous effort for the project. For the sake of its finances, they changed their traditional avoidance of professional fundraisers. In 1936, Hadassah employed 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 helping Hadassah fundraise for Youth Aliyah. Hadassah’s top leaders’ efforts on behalf of Youth Aliyah included establishing an efficient public relations network for the project, for which they used prominent American public figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

Hadassah's financial contribution increased as more and more European countries entered the project, and when World War II began, Hadassah financed approximately fifty percent of the total budget of Youth Aliyah in Palestine. In 1940 Hadassah financed approximately eighty percent of the Youth Aliyah budget, making the project almost entirely dependent on Hadassah's funds (Simons 131).

In 1943 Hadassah and other organizations brought to Palestine the Teheran Children—the first group of Holocaust survivors to arrive in the country, comprising some 800 youth, children, and babies who had fled various places in Poland to the Soviet Union when the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939. 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 decisive role in the negotiations. After extensive lobbying, its representative in Washington, Denise Turover, and Hadassah National President Tamar De Sola Pool finally obtained a permit the children to travel by train to Basra, Iraq. After another long voyage the children arrived in Palestine on February 18, 1943.

A prominent characteristic of Hadassah's activity for Youth Aliyah, typical of its overall worldview, was aiding everybody without distinction, unlike the Mizrachi Women Organization of America, which gave aid to religious youth only. This is evident among others from its work to build Kfar Ha'No'ar Ha'Dati (the Religious Youth Village) in 1937.

Between the end of the war and the establishment of the State of Israel, Youth Aliyah absorbed more than 15,000 children and youth.

Educational and Vocational Training

Beginning in the early 1940s—more than twenty years after beginning its medical and health activity in Palestine—Hadassah established a number of vocational education and vocational training institutions. Hadassah leaders believed that vocational education, which was grossly underdeveloped in the Yishuv, would be a 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 Israel's founding included three 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 that were revolutionary at the time: 1) to give intelligent but poor girls 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 educational philosophy and curriculum was Helen Kittner (1910–1978), 31 years old at the time, a graduate of a university in Lvov, Poland.

The Vocational School for Boys included four-year training programs 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, Hadassah established the Vocational Guidance Bureau (which became the Vocational Guidance Institute in 1965 and the Hadassah Career Counseling Institute in 1989). It became an integral 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 a vocational guidance office in Haifa and was considered the best of the Yishuv’s few experts in this field.

Establishing Women’s Paramedical Professions

  • Shulamith Canto view larger

    After stowing away on a ship to Israel in 1919, Shulamith Cantor went on to serve as director of the Hadassah School of Nursing in Jerusalem and worked to develop the nursing profession in the Yishuv and during the early years of the State.

    Institution: Nira Bartal.

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  • Sarah Bavly view larger

    Dutch-born Sarah Bavly (1900 – 1993) was a pioneer nutritionist in the Yishuv who laid the groundwork for Israel's nutritional infrastructure and educational programming, directing Hadassah's hospital nutrition departments and school lunch programs, and establishing the State's first College of Nutrition.

    Institution: Miriam Bavly.

    view details
  • Shulamith Canto
  • Sarah Bavly

One of Hadassah’s contributions to the Yishuv and later to Israel was the women's health professions it established in Palestine between 1918 and 1949: nursing, nutrition, home economics, and occupational therapy. All were women’s professions developed in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century and “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 professions was nursing, with the establishment of the first Jewish school of nursing in Palestine in 1918 by the American Zionist Medical Unit. Since additional qualified nursing personnel were needed, it opened nurses’ training schools in Jerusalem and in Safed.

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 Aliyah (1904-1914), 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, by contrast, 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 the Jewish Hospital in Cleveland. In the Yishuv the Nurses’ Training School was the only nursing school until 1936 and remains today a leading nursing school. It was responsible for creating a profession that had not hitherto existed in the Yishuv.

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 an American system. The fact that the profession had not previously existed in the Yishuv enabled Hadassah to develop nursing 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 British mandate.

The second health profession Hadassah established in the Yishuv 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 the 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 with funds provided 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.

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 the country, using the Hadassah pattern of activity in 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.

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 a very significant 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, adapting to the changing needs of the time. However, the scope of Hadassah’s enterprises and its place in Israel’s medical and welfare services underwent a great deal of change.

During the War of Independence (December 1947–July 1949), Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital treated 90 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, which later became the largest hospital in Israel.

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 on April 12, 1948, with the attack on a convoy traveling from western Jerusalem to the Hadassah medical center at Mount Scopus, in which 78 Hebrew University and Hadassah workers were killed, including Dr. Haim Yassky, the Director-General 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 an important organizational ideological tenet: 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 treatment of tuberculosis patients. A very important contribution was the infant welfare stations Hadassah Medical Organization set up between 1947 and 1951, especially in 1949, the peak year of immigration, in places with a high concentration of immigrants. Their importance lies in the very poor physical state of many infants and mothers, among both Holocaust survivors and immigrants from the Islamic countries, who suffered from exhaustion, malnutrition, and various diseases. 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 also one of the most prosperous and decisive for Hadassah in the establishment of medical facilities that would later have great influence on Israeli medicine. In 1949 Hadassah established the Hadassah-Haim Yassky Memorial Hospital in Be’er Sheva, 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 H̱olim.

Perhaps Hadassah’s most important activity during the first years of the state was the establishment after many years of preparations of the first medical school in Israel—The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School. The school was 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, Hadassah created an advisory agency, the Medical Reference Board, in the United State, to provide professional advice and assist in the establishment of the school. 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 as volunteers. The Medical Reference Board gave advice on the educational philosophy to be adopted by the medical school—an issue already 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 several leading American medical schools. 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-General 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, the future medical school's teachers, had been trained in Central Europe and could not be counted upon to accept the American method of teaching. While the Central European method of studying medicine was virtually devoid of any practical element, the American method was based on medicine as an investigational science and the use of bed-side teaching and was taught accordingly. The American system and consequently the Israeli medical schools accepted many fewer students than in the European system, which trained huge numbers in enormous lecture halls.

Another contribution of Hadassah to the medical school stemmed from 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 leading American medical schools. During the 1950s, high-ranking physicians at the hospital were sent to the United States for in-service training. Doctors were later sent to Great Britain, Australia, and Canada. The fellowships program has since become ongoing, with grants not limited to doctors only but also available to medical administrators, nutritionists, and other specialists.  

The medical school’s founding had a decisive effect on Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital. Research activity had taken place in the hospital before, though without the promotion and personal prestige of an academic institution. 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 Hebrew University in general, which beginning in 1949 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. The establishment of the medical school thus led to 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, in 1952 Hadassah devolved its preventive health services (child welfare centers, school hygiene services, and its services for treatment and eradication of 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 that 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 affected the mental health of the individual. In 1953 the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine (founded by Alpha Omega Fraternity, a professional Jewish dental fraternity based in the United States) was established.

During the first years of the state Hadassah thus completed its 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.

Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Ein-Kerem

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, 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. A nine-story building was planned that would contain 430 beds, a medical school and nursing school, outpatient clinics that would serve 20,000 patients per year, clinical and research laboratories, and a library (now the Israel National Medical 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 its opening, several department heads were sent to the United States to learn how to use the sophisticated equipment with which it was equipped.

In addition to its extensive clinical work, the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, which has partnered with the Hebrew University in the medical school and later 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.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Medical Center at Ein Kerem helped establish medical institutions, including hospital departments and outpatient clinics, in developing countries, mainly in Africa. It also trained doctors and nurses from Brazil and African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Malawi. The training was mainly focused on ophthalmology, dentistry, and psychiatry. People from those developing countries were sent to study in the Hadassah Medical Center and doctors from Hadassah Medical Center were sent to the African countries for short or long periods to set up medical facilities there. Hadassah physicians also helped African countries combat AIDS through treatment for sick people and carriers and training physicians and nurses. Hadassah's emergency medicine and intensive care experts helped those injured by earthquakes in Armenia (1988), in the United States embassy bombings in Nairobi (1998) and Turkey (1999), and in the tsunami in Sri Lanka (2004).

After the Six Day War in 1967, the hospital building on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem was returned to Hadassah. Soon after Hadassah began to plan a rehabilitation pavilion for people with conditions such as cancer and war injuries, who would receive physical and occupational therapy there. A general hospital with 400 beds was also planned for the Jewish and Arab populations in northern Jerusalem, together with a school for occupational therapy 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 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 several years of preparations. 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. As of 2020, the school offers diverse programs, including a Bachelors of Science of Nursing (BSN) and a Masters in clinical nursing, specializing in the area of adult care. In 1978 Hadassah, the Hebrew University, Kupat H̱olim, 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 that includes the two university hospitals and the five schools of the medical professions that it operates in collaboration and partnership with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The majority of the physicians and faculty of the other medical profession schools in the center are researchers and teachers at the medical schools. The medical students receive their clinical training in the two hospitals, while researchers and master’s and doctoral students carry out research under the direction of specialist physicians.

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 (1959), the first successful kidney transplant (1967), the first MRI and the first bone marrow transplant (1977), the first heart transplant in Israel (1988), the first Rapid Response Trauma Unit in Israel (1992), Israel's first successful heart-lung transplant (1993), the first dual robotic surgery in the world (2017), the first Spina bifida surgery in utero in Israel (2017), and the world's first intestinal surgery on an embryo (2018).

As of February 2020, the medical center provided services for one million people at its campuses in Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus hospitals. It includes about 1,000 beds in 70 departments. Its staff includes about 900 physicians, 1,600 nurses, 2,200 paramedical professionals, and service people, and the facility houses 31 operating rooms. It is the fourth largest medical center in Israel (after Sheba Medical Center located in Tel Ha'Shomer, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, and Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva).

Over half of the medical research done in Israeli hospitals is carried out in the medical center. Almost three times as much medical research is done in Hadassah Hebrew University Medical School as in the other medical schools in Israel.

However, beginning at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the medical center encountered serious difficulties that led to a severe economic crisis that, according to a report submitted in 2014 to Yael German, then the Israeli Minister of Health, "endangered the continued existence" of the Hadassah hospital. According to the report, Hadassah's loss of 90 million dollars in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and the 2008 world economic crisis were a turning point in Hadassah's ability to continue its support of the medical center at the same level as in the past. The medical center was already in a financial crisis in 2009, manifested in a great deficit. The deficit and the economic crisis worsened in the following years. In spite of the crisis, in 2012 Hadassah completed its modern, sophisticated 750-bed Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, at a cost of about 750 million dollars, to replace the hospital building it entered in 1961. In 2013 the Director General of the Medical Center, Prof. Avigdor Kaplan, began to work towards a general recovery plan. But he did not succeed.

In February 2014, the cumulative deficit of the medical center was about 1.3 billion NIS, and it had increased even more by June 2014, when a Recovery Agreement for a period of seven years was signed between the State of Israel, the Medical Center, and Hadassah. On the basis of this agreement, the Knesset's Finance Committee approved a grant of 1.4 billion NIS over seven years for the Medical Center ("Report of the Theme Exploring Hadassah Crisis", 12; The State Comptroller of Israel's Report, 2016, C 66, 537-573). Inspired with a sense of mission to "save" the hospital, Prof. Zeev Rotstein, formerly the Director-General of Tel Ha'Shomer Medical Center, the largest in Israel, became Director-General of Hadassah Medical Center in 2016. Great efforts have since been made to overcome the crisis. However, today, too, Hadassah Hospital is encountering financial problems caused, at least partly, by its being a private hospital.

In historical perspective, 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 members and their families and has been the organization’s main project since the beginning of Hadassah’s medical operations in Palestine. Hadassah directs most of the contributions and budgets to the Medical Center. According to Hadassah’s 2019 Annual Report, Hadassah contributes $42 million for its medical center out of a total budget of $61.8 million. The 2018 Annual Report indicates $48.7 million for the center. In both years these sums are approximately 75% per cent of Hadassah’s total budget. However, as suggested in Guide Star Israel, most of Hadassah Medical Organization's income comes from fee-for-service, in addition to Israeli governmental and other sources of support.

Welfare Projects, Projects for Young Immigrants, and Vocational Education and Training

In the first decade of Israel’s existence Youth Aliyah was a major field of activity for Hadassah. The funds Hadassah raised for Youth Aliyah were second on its list of contributions received (33% of the funds; 38% went to medical services). Youth Aliyah’s activity increased after the state was established, with the arrival of mass waves of immigrants from 72 countries and communities, including tens of thousands of children whose educational patterns were different than those of the veteran Yishuv. In 1952 71% percent of the youth in Israel were immigrants. Youth Aliyah brought children and youth to the country first from Eastern Europe and the Balkan countries, and later from Arab and North African countries. Since its inception, it has absorbed and rehabilitated children and youth from 80 countries and 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 that 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 key personnel to the United States for study and in-service courses. It also provided funds for special goals, such as purchasing equipment, building libraries and sport and music centers in the Me’ir Shefeyah Youth Village, annual allocations for the Hadassah Ne’urim youth village, budgets for building, and more.

Hadassah's activity for Youth Aliyah during the first decades after Israel's founding emphasized various aspects of the individual’s welfare, including providing a trade for those who wished to acquire a profession; psychological therapy in an environment that emphasized the collective; nurturing music, the arts, and other enrichments, using American professionals for assessment; and uncovering human and organizational problems and sending key Israelis professionals to study in the United States. By 1958 Hadassah had contributed $35 million supporting 75,000 immigrants and Israeli youth.

Alongside all these activities Hadassah was a crucial source of help during times of economic crisis, since the funds Hadassah contributed allowed room to maneuver, which the institutions’ regular budget did not.

As Israel became more established, Hadassah decreased its support for Youth Aliyah. Among Hadassah's more prominent contributions for Youth Aliya in later years was its contribution of $3 million in 1990 to enable it to meet the needs of youth immigrants from Ethiopia who arrived through "Operation Solomon" (which brought 14,500 immigrants in a single day) and its establishment of special health educations programs for them.  

Currently, Hadassah support for Youth Aliyah is reduced to three youth villages (Ramat Hadassah Szold, Hadassah Ne'urim, and Me’ir Shefeyah Youth Village). It mainly supports enrichment in areas apart from the regular budget, such as financing roots voyages to Poland and Ethiopia and renovation of buildings.

Vocational Education

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 seen at the time as female professions: 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, about 300 girls attended the school, which then had six tracks of study: fashion, nutrition, handicrafts, clerical work, laboratory technician, and dental technician. The workshops for boys, established in the early 1940s, were enhanced in Israel's early years and the number of pupils increased to 100 in 1954.

In 1984 the Seligsberg School became a comprehensive six-grade high school for both genders, and in 1988 Hadassah devolved the school to the authority of the Jerusalem Municipality. It was transferred to an impressive new building in the neighborhood of East Talpiot (or Armon HaNetziv) and renamed the Hadassah Seligsberg Brandies Comprehensive School.

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; 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 Israel Defense Forces (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.

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 Yishuv and Israel. 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 Israeli universities. The institute continued to assist in developing other institutions dealing with these areas.

Due to Hadassah’s funding, the Hadassah Career Counseling Institute was able to engage in many voluntary activities. As part of Hadassah’s commitment to absorbing immigrants, the institute invested much effort in developing tools to assist them, such as guiding teenagers in choosing high schools, workshops aiming at acquiring “job hunting” skills, and the translation of occupational information into many foreign languages. In the 1990s, primarily because of Hadassah’s increasing involvement in empowering women, the institute engaged in activities aimed at advancing Israeli women from various sectors. It conducted assertiveness-training workshops, leadership skills workshops, and workshops for homemakers wishing to enter the job market. In 2006 the Hadassah Career Counseling Institute (HCCI) was sold to Adam Milo, a leading Israeli human resources group, dedicated to the development and implementation of human resource and process management solutions as well as career counseling.

In 1970 Hadassah established its final vocational/technological education institution in Israel: the Hadassah Community College (renamed the Hadassah College of Technology in 1989 and Hadassah College Jerusalem in 2003), which, like many of Hadassah’s projects, 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 American community colleges and receive guidance from leading American educators, she drafted a curriculum appropriate for Israel’s developing technology at the beginning of the 1970s.

The two-year college opened with 100 students 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 21 years. During this time the study tracks expanded to include video and electronics departments, 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 in the print and media fields.

Following developments in Israeli higher education, and the encouragement of Hadassah, the college began to evolve into a public academic college. The course of study was extended to three years. In 1996 the college was accredited by the Israel Council for Higher Education in computer science, optometry, and medical technology. The technological and academic colleges operated side by side. Between 1999 and 2012, Prof. Nava Ben-Zvi, a distinguished figure in Israeli higher education who was later awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Education, served as the college’s president and developed its academic professional orientation with the opening of new professional academic fields of study. In 2011, the Hadassah College of Technology closed and Hadassah stopped its support almost entirely. However, the college still uses Hadassah's name and facilities.

Other Activities

Aid to New Immigrants

Hadassah worked in various ways to help absorb the hundreds of thousands of Jews who arrived from the FSU in the 1970s and especially in the early 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. In 1991 Hadassah allocated one million dollars for its emergency programs.

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

The Jewish National Fund

To all the above one must add Hadassah’s assistance to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), beginning in 1927, with the development of over 30 major projects. By 1968, Hadassah had donated 83 million trees and "reclaimed" approximately 156,250 acres of land and was considered one of the JNF’s largest contributors. Its operations included draining swamps (especially during the 1930s), developing water sources and streams and constructing reservoirs, soil development, and major forestation activities. The latter included all areas of creating forests, including picnic sites, youth camps, parking lots, etc. Major activities included drainage and land reclamation of the Zvulun Valley for developing industrial and residential areas (1930); afforestation projects from the 1950s on; construction of the Eshet Dam in the southern Arava Valley to store floodwater (1987); and establishing American Independence Park (1998) between Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem.


As a result of Hadassah’s 1983 decision to “go international” (see Hadassah in the United States), the first group to be established outside the United States was Hadassah-Israel, founded by a group of American women immigrants who wished to continue their Hadassah activity, as well as several native Israelis and immigrants from various countries. Several groups of Hebrew-speaking women were later established.

Influenced by feminism in the United States and Israel, Hadassah entered distinctly feminist activity in various fields, such as women’s health and the Hadassah Career Counseling Institute’s activities for Israeli women.

As of 2020, Hadassah-Israel is a Zionist non-partisan organization composed of women responding to the particular needs of Hadassah projects and programs in Israel. 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 its major area of activity is not fundraising but broad communal 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 while Hadassah International’s members can be men or women, Jewish or non-Jewish.

Hadassah Foundation

The Hadassah Foundation (a $10 million fund, established in 1998, intended for social needs in Israel and the United States that fell outside Hadassah’s traditional purview) supports Israeli institutions that deal with various aspects of women’s empowerment. As of 2020, it has provided funds (usually $70,000 for two years) to 48 nonprofit organizations in Israel dealing with women’s welfare and empowerment. The Foundation 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 dialogues between women from different cultural backgrounds (religious and non-religious, Jewish and Arab Israelis, heterosexual women and lesbians). The Foundation also supports Nivcharot, an organization focusing on Haredi women and their integration into public, social, and political life. Nivcharot acts on two different channels. The external channel of legislation and law combats the lack of representation in decision-making centers, while the other channel is intercommunal, aiming to enhance the rights of Haredi women to representation and to be trained as leaders, as well as giving legitimation for their voice and its impact in the Israeli public.

Despite changing times and economic as well as other crises, Hadassah women still dedicate the lion's share of their activity for Israel and contribute many millions of dollars for its medical center. Hadassah’s work has been the largest Diaspora women’s collective effort on behalf of the Yishuv and the state of Israel. Yet the enterprise always had professional partners in Erez 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); Avi Israeli (b. 1951, served in office 1998-2001); Shlomo Mor-Yosef (b. 1951, served in office 2001-2011); Ehud Kokia, (b. 1950, served in office 2011-2013); Avigdor Kaplan (b. 1939, served in office 2013-2014); Tamar Yablonski-Peretz (b. 1952, served in office 2014-2015); Zeev Rotstein (b. 1950, has served in office since 2015).



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How to cite this page

Katzburg-Yungman, Mira. "Hadassah: Yishuv to the Present Day." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 23 June 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 19, 2024) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/hadassah-yishuv-to-present-day>.