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Henrietta Szold - Zionist Educator (Part 2)

By Rose L. Halprin
In 1918 there took place in Pittsburgh one of the great Zionist conventions. A year earlier, on November 2nd, 1917, the Balfour declaration had been issued by Great Britain, giving support to the Basle Program for the establishment in Palestine of a publicly assured, legally secured home for the Jewish people. In Pittsburgh the Zionist Movement discussed how that home should be built and reaffirmed the basic concepts of the Zionist ideal, in a program which stated:

1. We declare for political and civil equality irrespective of race, sex, or faith of all the inhabitants of the land.

2. To insure in the Jewish national home in Palestine equality of opportunity we favor a policy which, with due regard to existing rights, shall tend to establish the ownership and control by the whole people of the land, of all natural resources, of all public utilities.

3. All land, owned or controlled by the whole people, should be leased on such conditions as will insure the fullest oppor¬tunity for develop-ment and continuity of possession.

4. The co-operative principle should be applied so far as feasible in the organization of all agricultural, industrial, commercial, and financial undertakings.

5. The system of free public instruction which is to be estab¬lished should embrace all grades and departments of education.

6. Hebrew, the national language of the Jewish people, shall be the medium of public instruction."

Reading the editorial comments of that day on the Pittsburgh Pro¬gram, one senses the exultation which its adoption elicited from informed observers and the Zionist masses. Miss Szold, who had led the Hadassah delegation in the Convention and been the spokesman for Hadassah, declared: "I felt as though Isaiah and Amos were with us."

That convention was also witness to a heated debate on organiza¬tional reforms. A structural pattern was adopted which might have changed the course of Zionist development in this country, had it been allowed to become a fact. Forty years have passed and we are still seeking the unity which it projected. The "District Plan", as it was
called, envisaged the fusion of the various Zionist bodies which were affiliated with the Federation of American Zionists into a united national central organization. It contemplated the corollary establish¬ment of central units of organization within each district. At the same time the concession was made that all the Zionist bodies could continue their specific projects and maintain their separate identities. National departments were established and the coordination of all Zionist activi¬ties was planned. Miss Szold headed the Department of Education.

For Hadassah the resolution was to have meant that its Central Committee (governing body) was to be dissolved whilst its chapters were to retain their existence. With her fine sense of humor Miss Szold wrote "How this can be done I do not understand, but then Mr. Lipsky* knows the answer." [*Mr. Lipsky, veteran Zionist and forceful leader at that convention.]

In light of the developments which followed the adoption of this sweeping organizational reform - reform which lasted for only a short period - in light of the subsequent phenomenal growth of Hadassah, the following comments contained in a letter written by Miss Szold to a friend draw a chuckle: - "Is it not curious how the Hadassah idea has taken hold of the women and the sections absolutely refuse to go out of existence. It is necessary to invent a specific Hadassah task to satisfy them."

By 1920 the picture had changed. Far from having to "invent" Hadassah tasks, heavy responsibilities were placed upon the young organization. Writing from Palestine Miss Szold reported: - "Immigrant medical work was thrust upon Hadassah, but those who flung it at us forgot to throw the appropriation with it." Within the two year period Hadassah had shown that the Zionist program of the women could best be encompassed within the framework of their own organization, within the pattern - feminine, if it is necessary to concede it - of a fusion of practical work and visionary ideas.

From 1920, except for very short periods, Henrietta Szold lived in Jerusalem. In the early years of her residence there she was engaged in Hadassah activities, primarily in health work. In 1927, the Yishuv claimed her for activity on its behalf. The Zionist Movement called her to take a place in the World Zionist Executive which then consisted of herself, Mr. Harry Sacher and Col. Kisch. In the Executive it was only natural that she was offered, and accepted, the portfolios of Health and Education, for all her previous activities had, in fact, revolved around these two pivotal points. From this post she moved on to the Va’ad Leumi (the semi-governmental Jewish body), when it was organ¬ized in 1929, and again she dealt with the portfolio of health. Although she served in succession on two political bodies - the World Zionist Executive and the Va’ad Leumi - political problems were not at the center of her activities. In pursuance of medical work, of education,
of social service she proposed definite programs, propounded specific ideas. In the political field she took a philosophical stand, but never projected herself with vigor into the main stream of political action.

But if she failed to take a direct part in political activity, she felt strongly about basic political issues. Her indignation against the British betrayal was strong and vocal. As the restrictions against im¬migration were tightened she protested against the British Mandatory policy with all the moral force which characterized her. She spoke out, when denial of visas meant literally death to hundreds of thousands of Jews. About the Passfield White Paper which sharply cut immigration she declared: "We could not realize, even in our most pessimistic mood, that Britain, the lover of fair play, could so far forget herself." Of a statement made by the High Commissioner to the effect that Britain had done every-thing it could to foster Arab-Jewish relations, she said with the fire of indignation: "It is a monumental lie - I have been in Palestine 17 years and can say with a fair conscience that the British Government never attempted to do a solitary thing to bring about cooperation between the two peoples. We who have been close to the situation in Palestine can say that the British Adminis¬tration has deliberately thwarted every effort made by the Jews to find a method of conciliation between Jew and Arab."

However, as the Arab conflict was maintained and strengthened (she was witness to the riots of 1920, 1929 and the disturbances of 1936-39) she became concerned that the Jews themselves had no plan for the regulation of Arab-Jewish relations. She stated frankly that such a plan "might not have succeeded, but that nevertheless the Jews should have had a more forceful plan for cooperation with the Arabs."

A pacifist by conviction, she was proud of the Yishuv's policy of
disciplined self-restraint (Havlagah) in the face of Arab lawlessness. As bloodshed continued and the British failed to protect the Jewish Yishuv from Arab violence, she was forced by conditions to support Jewish self-defense. Although she appreciated the Yishuv's need to use arms, her acquiescence was a peripheral emotion and did not change her pacifist convictions.

Her dilemma in the political field is revealed in her own state¬ment: "I am not qualified", she said, "to enter the field of po¬litical discus-sion."  Many of those who worked closely with her con¬cur, at least partially, with this self-analysis. Whatever failings may be laid at the door of the Jewish Yishuv, there was the incontroverti¬ble fact that Arab ill-will remained a constant factor throughout all the years when the British sought conciliation by concession after con¬cession granted to the Arabs, at the cost of the Jewish community.

In the last years of her life, particularly in the period after the adoption of the Biltmore Program, it is difficult to find evidence of a clear and unequivocal position on her part. She who had an uncanny ability to speak in clear-cut language, who was forth-right and militant for the things she believed in, who was never evasive, appeared un¬clear in her political statements at that time.

On the one hand, the habits of thought of a lifetime were strong within her. Her concern with the Arab problem appears as a recurrent motif in her letters. "Can one of us be at peace with himself so long as this appalling misunderstanding exists between us and our Arab neighbors?", she asked. "The weight of the Arab question hangs on me."  Thus she was inevitably attracted by the Ichud organization with which Dr. [Judah] Magnes was associated. Not only had her personal friendship with him spanned many decades of her life, but he - as she - was a pacifist; he - as she - believed that the difficulties between Jews and Arabs could be settled through social intercourse, commercial contacts, etc. But the habits of a lifetime of self-imposed discipline were also strong within her and she recognized that the right of political decision was vested in the Yishuv's representative bodies.

In the fall of 1942, a controversy raged about the objectives of the Ichud, particularly in light of the program for the establishment of a Jewish Commonwealth which had been adopted at the Biltmore Con¬ference in New York in the Spring of that year. Condemnation of
lchud aims was heard in Palestine and abroad. Zionists were strongly opposed to a bi-national state which Dr. Magnes had been advocating for many years and which lchud favored - a concept which the Zionist movement declared to be not only impractical, but a denial of the very foundation stone of Zionism, namely, the creation of a society by the Jews in their own home through immigration and the revival of Judaism. Throughout the Jewish world, and certainly within the Zionist con¬stituency, there was the conviction that the appalling tragedy in Europe must find an echo in a permanent solution to the Jewish problem. Jews in large numbers joined the Zionist movement agreeing that such a solution was possible only through the establishment of a Jewish Com¬monwealth holding in its own hands the key to its own destiny, having the right to open the doors of Palestine which had been closed to the Jews by the Mandatory [government] during their hours of greatest anguish.

Only Miss Szold's own words can explain the conflicting ideas of method which held her in their grip. About the Ichud she said:

"The Ichud is a free voluntary organization with one aim of clear¬ing up the subject of the relations between the two peoples settled in Israel."

"It is true that we Ichud members are not endorsers of the Jewish Commonwealth policy."

"But the Ichud program was not framed in opposition to the Biltmore Program."

In 1943 Mr. Wendell Willkie [then Ambassador-at-large in the Roosevelt administration] visited her and they discussed the Jewish-Arab problem. She had this to say: ¬

"Mr. Willkie, this problem has been with me for many years. There is no other appropriate place in the world where the persecuted Jews of Europe can come. And no matter how much we may wish it, that per-secution will not end in your lifetime or in mine. The Jews must have a national homeland. I am an ardent Zionist, but I do not believe that there is a necessary antagonism between the hopes of the Jews and the right of the Arabs. I am urging my fellow Jews here in Jerusalem to do those simple things that break down the prejudices, the differences between people. I urge each of them to make friends with a few Arabs to demonstrate by their way of life that we are not coming as con-querors or destroyers, but as part of the traditional life of the country, for us a sentimental and religious homeland."

Within her own statement there was expressed the contradiction of the two realities which, warring with each other, made such a solu¬tion a chimera. That for the persecuted Jews of Europe the open doors of Palestine were a necessity - this the Arabs would not understand. That for the Jews to have a national homeland was essential - this the Arabs would not grant. That there was no necessity for antagonism between two peoples - this could constitute a programmatic approach only if the Arabs, as well as the Jews, were ready to concede it.

Henrietta Szold could not foresee that within two years the United Nations would be established in San Francisco, that in 1947 the United Nations would declare itself in favor of the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine. Indeed, neither she nor Dr. Magnes foresaw the great waves of immigration which would move onto the shores of Pal¬estine. In discussions they talked of the immigration of a hundred thousand immigrants. Yet, in the first ten years after the establishment of the State, close to a million Jewish refugees arrived in Israel.
Henrietta Szold was born in Baltimore in 1860 during the first year of the Civil War and died in 1945 as the second World War was coming to an end. Her life spanned almost a century of activities and brought her into close contact with the Jewish communities of three continents.

For 60 years she worked in the United States in the field of educa-tion, of Zionism, of Judaism, of immigrant reception. She was secretary to the Jewish Publication Society and in this post translated some of the great classics; was co-editor of the Jewish Year Book; she was organ-izer of the largest Zionist women's organization in the world, Hadassah.

At 60 one is entitled to "slow down" a bit. It was in her 60th year that Henrietta Szold set sail for Palestine to begin new labors and achieve, in the next two decades of her life, new and heroic accomp-lishments. In Palestine, she helped to breathe life into edu¬cation when it was dying of malnutrition; to organize the social serv¬ices; to give in-centive for the opening of vocational schools; to lend her spirit, which will last as long as Youth Aliyah will exist, to the great movement of child rescue and youth rehabilitation.

She was no saint, but a great human being. Because she was human she possessed a bit of vanity peppered delightfully with sufficiency of temper and properly spiced with a sense of humor to make her one of us. She had the capacity for infinite pity but never permitted sentiment to become maudlin. For her, the ethics of her fathers became a guide-post to daily living. She was a truly educated woman and, yet, never looked down upon those simpler in training and education. She was no orator but could hold an audience glued to its seats. She never used language glibly without thought and content. For her, the detail made the ideal realizable; no achievement was possible without hard toil. Constantly she taught: "Not the word but the deed is important. The opportunity is only half an opportunity if it is not seized." This is what she had to say about this trait in herself: "I am so constituted that I see no promise in any movement which is not built up slowly, bit by bit, each layer of stone, each trowel full of cement applied between the layers tested by every known principle of organization."

Thus was she fashioned of so fine a metal cast in so beautiful a human mold that in her own lifetime, during more than three decades of
work, she was acclaimed by those who knew her. No eulogy after death added to the trust, the affection, the admiration which she received during her lifetime. She is an example of what one can achieve when the Jewish home is dedicated to the principles of Jewish living.

During the momentous days when the State was in the process of establishment, the component parts which were involved remained as she had analyzed them so often, sometimes in anger and sometimes in admiration -¬

To the very last [the] British permitted the Arabs to engage in violence and bloodshed.

In their supreme effort for auto-emancipation, the Jews showed unlimited faith and courage.

Following the most extreme amongst their leaders, the Arabs, greatly endowed with vast stretches of territory, refused to concede even any part of Palestine to the Jewish people.

Israel reborn has shown the vitality which she knew would enable it once more to make its contribution, as a people, to the nations of the world.

She lies on the Mount of Olives which is today on foreign soil [between 1948 and 1967 the Mount of Olives was occupied by Lebanon], close to the land she helped to build, close to the tens of thousands now to manhood grown, who were her charges in the great movement of rehabilitation. From the hills of Ein Karem, from the great Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center, one can look across and think of her, who, with her own hands helped to apply each trowel full of ce¬ment so that a great home for healing, teaching and research could be built.

Part 2 of  “Henrietta Szold: Zionist, Educator”, by Rose L. Halprin, a booklet Published by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc., 1960

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