Moving to Jerusalem saved Judith Steiner-Freud's life and in return she has spent most of the last 70 years in this city saving the lives of others.
A prized study permit to the Hebrew University allowed her to leave Czechoslovakia and move to Palestine under restrictive British immigration policy. She became a nurse, nurse educator, and a successful advocate of turning Israeli nursing in an academic discipline. Today, at age 92, she is still active with Hadassah as she heads the Alumni Association of the H. Szold – Hadassah Hebrew University School of Nursing.
On Jerusalem Day, May 20, 2012, Judith will be awarded the Yakir Yerushalayim Award (Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem Award). This award honors residents of the city of Jerusalem who have made significant contributions to the cultural and educational life of the city. “Jerusalem is the most beautiful city in the world, there is a special spirit here” says Steiner- Freud, who moved here in 1941 from Brno, Czechoslovakia. Her father Arthur Shimshom Steiner was an engineer, and her mother, Paula Ester Steiner, a homemaker. Steiner-Freud was the oldest of three children. She studied at the Jewish Real Gymnasium in Czechoslovakia, and belonged to the Tchelet Lavan Zionist youth movement. She had two younger brothers, Albert Aharon and Yosef. “I grew up in a Zionist home, the whole family wanted to make aliyah not because life wasn’t good but because of Zionism” said Steiner-Freud.
Her father died in his sleep in November 1938 while living in Czechoslovakia. In 1941 Judith and her younger brother Albert Aharon received study permits for the Hebrew University as they escaped the horrors of World War II. Her mother and brother Yosef were sent to Auschwitz. Her mother perished but Yosef survived and reached Israel on in the Aliyah Bet immigration.
Upon arrival to Palestine in 1941 Judith began her studies at Hadassah’s Nursing School and finished her nursing degree 1944. “Some of my best friends are those I met while studying nursing at Hadassah," said Steiner-Freud. With her nursing degree she had acquired the skills and knowledge to begin a successful career based on her personal mission of contributing to the healing of her people.
On April 13, 1948, when the Hadassah medical convoy to Mount Scopus was attacked and 78 doctors, nurses and patients were murdered, Judith was hard at work at the hospital just a few kilometers away. “At the time I was teaching and heard explosions but I didn’t stop working, we were used to the sounds.” It was only once a man who had escaped from the convoy made it to the hospital that she and her coworkers knew about the massacre. “It was a terrible, terrible feeling, you couldn’t even imagine how we felt.” Judith had taught and worked alongside almost all of the people in the convoy.
One of her favorite memories is dancing all night in the stress of Jerusalem in November 1947 when the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution plan for the partition of Palestine. “Today, it is hard for people to understand, you can’t imagine what it was for us, we danced the whole night and celebrated the progress of Zionism and the Jewish people.”
Upon graduation Judith was recruited as a counselor to guide new students at the Hadassah Nursing School. “At first I only wanted to be a nurse in one of the hospital departments, not a teacher but I began to really enjoy working with students and combining patient care with teaching," she said.
The American-style nursing school had been established at the suggestion of Henrietta Szold by the women of Hadassah in 1918. Steiner-Freud realized that like nurses abroad, Israeli nurses needed to earn bachelors and masters degrees in nursing. “This was critical for the improvement of medical care in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.”
Her efforts paid off in a partnership between Hadassah and Hebrew University. "It was a privileged once the Hadassah nursing school was joined with Hebrew University," said Steiner-Freud. She rose to the position of deputy director and then became the Dean of the Hadassah Nursing School.
In her ninth decade she continues to work at Hadassah Medical Center to coordinate the activities of school alumni. She lives in the center of Jerusalem, visited frequently by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her husband Eli Freud, a renowned musician, died in 2010.
“People don’t understand today, for us who lost our family in the Holocaust, Israel and Jerusalem are very important and holy, people born here take it for granted."