Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, mourns the passing of Charlotte Jacobson, one of the towering figures of the Zionist movement, who died Friday, May 14, in Florida. In addition to serving as Hadassah’s National President from 1964 to 1968, over the course of the past 60 years she occupied a vast range of key positions in the American and world Zionist leadership.
Charlotte Jacobson, national president of Hadassah, receiving keys to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus from Commander Menachem Scharfman of the Israeli Army at the end of the Six-Day War. Also pictured: Professor Kalman Mann, Director-General of the Hadassah Medical Organization; Lola Kramarsky, national chairman of the Hadassah Medical Organization. Photograph by Dr. K. Meyerowitz, courtesy of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
“The Jewish people, Israel and Hadassah have lost a monumental figure, a role model that virtually every Zionist activist has tried to emulate for more than half a century,” said Nancy Falchuk, Hadassah’s current president. “We are tremendously sad at her passing but also incredibly grateful for the legacy she left us.”
Ms. Jacobson served as Hadassah’s President during the momentous period of the Six Day War. After the fighting stopped, she was able to reclaim two key pieces of ground in Jerusalem that Hadassah had lost 19 years earlier, during Israel’s War of Independence. One was the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. The other was the gravesite of Henrietta Szold, Hadassah’s founder, on the Mount of Olives.
One of the key positions she held after her presidency ended was chair of Building and Development for the Hadassah Medical Organization. In that post she supervised the rebuilding of the Mount Scopus Hospital and as well as the building of the Moshe Sharett Institute of Oncology.
Born into a Zionist family in New York, Charlotte Jacobson grew up with the movement to create a Jewish state. She made her first visit to Israel in 1951, three years after independence.
Though much of her contribution to Israel and the Zionist movement came through her leadership of Hadassah, she also served on the board of directors of the Hebrew University, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the American Zionist Youth Foundation. From 1971 to 1982 she served as chair of the American Section of the World Zionist Organization. In 1981 she became the first woman elected to the presidency of the Jewish National Fund.
She traveled the world in defense of Jewish rights, meeting with refuseniks and facing commissars in the Soviet Union, and advocating freedom of worship and emigration in front of the leaders of Syria and Egypt. She also defended Israel and the Jewish people in the halls and overseas conferences of the United Nations.
Within Hadassah she held a wide range of leadership positions during the course of her career. Among many other posts, she served as chair of the Hadassah College of Technology (today Hadassah College Jerusalem) and Hadassah Magazine. She chaired the Young Judaea Alumni Association, the committee to observe the Zionist movement’s 100th anniveersary and the Jerusalem 3000 Special Events Committee. She was also responsible for the first USAID grant of $1 million to Hadassah in 1968.
She was also a long time member of Hadassah’s national board and a mentor of Kibbutz Ketura, where a building and plaza bear her name.
In 1998, Ms. Jacobson received Hadassah’s coveted Henrietta Szold Award, becoming the first Hadassah leader so honored. Reserved for world leaders, previous Henrietta Szold awardees included Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Gold Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Simon Wiesenthal and Elie Wiesel.
Charlotte Jacobson was a leader for all seasons. Hadassah mourns her today, but we know that generations after we are gone our descendants will know her name and benefit from its blessings.
Donations in her memory may be sent to Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Hadassah House, 50 West 58th Street, New York, NY 10019.