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Henrietta Szold - Health Pioneer (Part 4)

The Founder’s Role in Hadassah’s Medical Program
By Tamar de Sola Pool and Minnie W. Halpern

Public Health

It was like the return of time when she became seized with Palestine's immigrant health program.

For the first six months after his arrival, an immigrant's health was Hadassah's responsibility. To provide him when he fell ill with a doctor's care, a hospital bed, nursing and drugs, was a relatively simple matter. But that was not the way of Henrietta Szold. She looked beyond the individual to the community as a whole and to the people that was to build a new land. Under her creative direction, immigrant health meant much more than assuring for every worker a supply of quinine beside a salt-shaker on the table. Miss Szold analyzed her job in her own words: "We must do the preventive sanitary work for each new camp as it is established: selecting the site, arranging for water supply, chlorinating the water, setting up latrines, planning the kitchen, and taking measures for quinine prophylactics. We furnish each camp with a sanitary inspector, besides a nurse and an attending physician ... I am now preparing a plan for a workingmen's conference, through which I hope to prove that the needed funds can be secured from wages and contract. Isn't it funny that I should be doing this sort of thing at this late date in my life?'

Public health meant malaria control, sanitation, the conquest of trachoma, anti-tuberculosis work, health scouting, extensive and intensive education for all generations of settlers. The first and second Aliyah went into colonization as into a battlefield. The flower of that youth gave life itself in the struggle against swamp and marshland. After the triumphant campaigns of Cantor, Kligler, and Mer, cemeteries remained for a long time the playground of the young settlements.

It was Justice Brandeis who stated that the Palestine Jewish population differential at the end of World War I (estimated variously at twenty-five to fifty thousand) and of the Yishuv of the Jewish National Home at the outbreak of World War n twenty years later, which numbered over half a million, was to be attributed in no small measure to Hadassah’s health work.  Dr. E.M. Bluestone, director of HMO who left the deep imprint of American medical standards on that complex body, reporting his consultations with her, stated: "Henrietta Szold viewed public health with the perceptive eye of the sage, who foresees poverty and disease when social and medical forces are left uncontrolled and improperly directed. No one grasped the health and medical implications of a blueprint in pioneering more readily and more clearly than she and, in her own right, with clairvoyance that was her gift, she would build a, vast colonizing plan for the lowly and the dispossessed, on the sanitary foundation of her dreams."

The Child Welfare program was a signal illustration of her constructive approach to basic problems. A comprehensive country-wide network of health welfare stations covered services from prenatal care to the child's entrance to school where he was transferred to an even more comprehensive health service. In keeping with her recurring insistence on standards and avoiding the danger of superficiality she envisioned the Straus Health Centers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These were to be models and pilot plants. To each newborn precious life, pledge could be given of health guardianship uncompromising and complete.

The paramedical services that flowed from social needs were given a socialized orientation in full accord with her philosophy. Children drooped on their desks in school from sheer primitive hunger. What could be more human or simple than to provide a meal for the empty little stomachs? The "Penny Luncheon" soon developed into the "School Luncheon," the nutrition class into the domestic science courses, the popularization of a new approach away from the dried pods of the ghetto and mellah to the living, modern science of food and health. The devolution of this work from a pet Hadassah project to a responsibility of the State of Israel and the communities throughout the country is another index of the constructive worth of the "foundation of her dreams."

When the Mandatory and later the Government of Israel introduced school luncheons into Arabic schools, the teachers and nutritionists of Hadassah were there to serve the Arab children and train Arab teachers to carry on.

Upon the arched entrance to the Straus Health Center in Jerusalem the inscription reads simply "For All Races and Creeds." It is a truism that "health knows no frontiers." Time and circumstance have validated that view implicit and expressed in Hadassah's organization. However modest its scope may seem in a world picture, much of what the World Health Organization and governments such as that of the United States now seek to do in less-developed countries, for today and for tomorrow was adumbrated and indeed realized in HMO. Within the boundaries of Palestine Hadassah was a major bridge of understanding between the Jewish and Arab populations of the country. To Miss Szold Arab friendship was primarily a human and ethical consideration, a historical imperative that would come to fruition through the union of the best in the Arab personality with the best of the Jewish moral tradition.

The reality of this commanding dream is still to be achieved. But none of the political or social difficulties that arose over the years obscured or weakened Hadassah's conviction that its health work must be for all races and creeds. Arabic speaking nurses worked in purely Arab districts. Stations were placed where they might be equally accessible to both Arabs and Jews, and mothers all, they brought their children to a fountain of life. Arabic mothers who had borne a half dozen children (who might not be alive) stood alongside the Hadassah nurse to secure their new born beloved infants. Even in days of utmost duress, when anti-Jewish riots made Arab sections dangerous of approach, Hadassah doctors and nurses were to be seen treating Arab wounded, victims of their own hostility.
Beyond the boundaries of Palestine the Hadassah hospitals were a highroad to health for Arabs from neighboring countries. Paupers and princes met on Mt. Scopus in the healing wings of the model medical center whose fame and light traveled afar.

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