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Henrietta Szold - Health Pioneer (Part 3)

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

The leap from a simple nursing project to a medical program of national and, indeed, governmental scope, came in the midst of World War I. It was the darkest hour in the struggle against the marching German war machine. The center of gravity for the free world shifted to the United States of America. It was a crucial time also for the young Zionist movement. A wartime blackout enveloped European Jewry. To Americans fell many of their tasks. A Provisional Committee for Zionist Affairs under the chairmanship of Louis D. Brandeis was called to leadership. Henrietta Szold was a member of its executive.

In Palestine, the small Yishuv [Jewish community] was threatened with destruction. Thousands were exiled [to Alexandria, Egypt]. The remnant faced hunger … and disease under the oppressive administration of the … military Turkish regime …

In 1916 pleas came to American Jewry from the temporary seat of the World Zionist Organization in neutral Denmark to send doctors, nurses and supplies to the stricken Yishuv. Justice Brandeis assigned to Henrietta Szold and Hadassah the charge of organizing such assistance. Henrietta Szold was equal to the call. The traditional scope of woman's responsibility was enlarged and given a new direction. Though she was neither doctor nor trained social worker, Henrietta Szold had vision, fabulous indefatigability, and a determinative power of organization. She plunged into the unprecedented task.

The logistics of assembling the American Zionist Medical Unit [AZMU] were no light problem. The difficulties were compounded by the bristling hazards of war and by added goals which Zionist philosophy imposed upon the project … The medical unit was created by Henrietta Szold, [with funds raised by Hadassah, the Zionist Organization of America and the Joint Distribution Committee]. "The Healing of the Daughter of My people," Hadassah's motto, [would] be fulfilled in the commanding sense of the prophet's vision: to be healed and to heal, to build and be rebuilt, and to remember the Rock of Israel.

In the Hadassah chronology [the medical services initiated during the War are below] briefly summarized:

1916             Purchasing and Supplies Bureau was established.
1917             The American Zionist Medical Unit, 45 physicians, sanitarians, dentists and nurses was [assembled] for service [to] Palestine. The Unit was fully equipped with drugs, instruments, linens and clothing and other necessary supplies. It opened hospitals and clinics in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Tiberias and Safed. Intensive campaigns against malaria, cholera, trachoma and scalp diseases were initiated. Sanitation activities were started in rural and urban communities during military occupation.
1918             The American Zionist Medical Unit arrived in Palestine.
The country's first nurses training school was opened in Jerusalem.

A volume aflame could tell the story between the years 1916 and 1918. Henrietta Szold kindled and nurtured the fire in the hearts of all who aided her. She molded into a cohesive corps the health pioneers who answered the call. She made them conscious of their historic charge, their orientation going on simultaneously with the protracted preparations. Clearance of passport and travel permits in America and Europe had to be secured. A number in their origin were from the wrong line of the warring nations. Diplomatic negotiations to settle all these matters went hand in hand with the substantive preparations for the proper functioning of the Unit. The study of Hebrew, Palestine, Zionism continued on the long and perilous journey in darkened convoys across mined ocean and sea, through war-torn Europe and through Egypt.

Before the Unit was ready to leave, the Balfour Declaration like a Liberty Bell rang out its promises of a Jewish National Home. The Medical Unit prepared the way of health for the builders who followed. It was hailed everywhere on its way. Hearts were lifted, eyes were moist, spirits were stirred. By any measure it was a medical body of stature. But the most notable fact was that it was not a ship that passed in the night. It came to stay, to build, to teach. It was the seminal instrument which eventually converted the primitive medicine into a country-wide public health system which made Palestine and helped make today's Israel companion of the most modern and civilized communities in the world.

The American Zionist Medical Unit was an outstanding example of cooperation between Zionists and non-Zionists. When the Joint Distribution Committee, which had contributed half the budget, was compelled to curtail and finally to end its war relief operation in Palestine, Hadassah remained entirely responsible for the continuity of pioneer health work. The Hadassah Medical Organization, the offspring of [this] war-born unit, became a citadel of health and upbuilding in days of peace.

From the beginning much thought was given by Miss Szold to the relation of Zionist and non-Zionist in Palestinian enterprise. Hadassah's stewardship of the funds entrusted to its care is no minor aspect of its public service. It led such an authority on "other people's money" as Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis to acclaim Hadassah as the very first of all organizations dealing with public funds which in his long career he had examined or studied. The transition that spanned centuries, with the wave of a wand as it were, was not achieved easily or painlessly. The problems were legion and extraordinarily varied. But within the very difficulties lay the challenge for the creative evolution of the health work.

The Medical Unit which came equipped for four hospitals, found only one building which could bear the name. It was the old Rothschild Hospital [in Jerusalem] closed by Turkish order, and reopened to become the hospital of Hadassah. In Tel Aviv and Jaffa, in Haifa and Tiberias, reconverted houses made do. The building program was early envisaged. But service was made a first lien and building second in line of development. An important construction schedule nevertheless eventuated. A series of hospitals arose in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Afula, Safed, and Tiberias. The American Jewish Physicians’ Committee and the Schweitzer family were notable in their cooperation. The construction program reached a climax in the Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital on Mt. Scopus, for which Henrietta Szold set the cornerstone in 1934 and which opened its doors in 1939 to become a source of blessing to the Yishuv and a major center of healing for our allied forces in World War II.

Almost twenty years earlier, in 1920, the problems which confronted the Medical Unit Director, Dr. I. M. Rubinow, made it imperative that [Miss Szold] go to Palestine to smooth his way and to share his responsibilities. She was determined not to allow the scope of the Unit to be reduced to a static service. "It isn't an expedition for a limited time, it isn't establishing a hospital - it is countrywide constructive institutional medical service which would soon lead to public sanitation ..." She went through the country by car, cart or donkey, even in days of danger, her soul responding to its historic call. "As I traveled all the way up from Jerusalem to Nablus, Samaria, Jenin, Nazareth, Tiberias, and Safed, and panorama after panorama unfolded itself before my eyes, I was almost overpowered by emotion. That's not sentimentality … At the time I was straining my eyes to take in what I now understand shaped Jewish sentiment ... my side was strained by contact with a revolver in Dr. Rubinow's pocket. That is the way we had to travel. Indeed for three days we had to have the protection of an armed gendarme." "The land is treeless," she writes," ... and dry thornbushes almost crackle under the hot sun ..." But she sensed the flowering of the spirit. "The curious thing about it all is that hope is not blighted by all these responsibilities. Just as the stoniness of the soil doesn't kill one's confidence in the fertility."

She was "beginning life instead of being well on its decline." (In 1920, sixty was considered aged.) "One must see these boys of from seventeen to twenty-two, and speak to them, to understand what Zionism may come to mean in the rejuvenation of an old worth-while stock … Courage, endurance, pluck, hopefulness, optimism ... I can think only of the greatness of the Jewish people."

The fruit of Miss Szold's enthusiastic association with the Halutzim [pioneers] was Hadassah's noteworthy cooperation with Kupat Holim to which from its beginnings in 1921 to the present day, Hadassah Medical Organization has extended hospitalization and special services free or below cost. Few who now see the imposing network of hospitals, clinics, and other services of Kupat Holim realize Hadassah's share in the great development of Kupat Holim, the health arm of the Labor Organization of Israel.

Hadassah's blueprint of progress made devolution implicit in the growth and evolution of its work. As the Yishuv developed, as the Va’ad Leumi, the National Organization of Jews in Palestine, assumed its principal governmental responsibilities, as local communities became stronger and better able to cope with their needs, and as national associations grew with a deeper awareness of social needs, Hadassah transferred hospitals, clinics, health welfare centers, school luncheons and school examinations, all of which it had initiated as its pioneering health program.

In the lowering of child mortality in the Holy Land from among the highest to among the world's lowest percentile, one may find the measure of Hadassah's medical work. Henrietta Szold described the "thousand other contributions to the medical service of the country - school hygiene and inspection work, rural service, immigrant care, care of the labor groups and the roadbuilders' camps, clinics, hospitals, laboratories."

Though she never failed to recognize difficulties or errors, she adjudged the work as unparalleled for a voluntary association of women anywhere and indeed, at any time in history. The achievements of each department or section of Hadassah's health program were reached through direct curative work of exacting, high and dedicated standards, but even more so through the three-pronged program which together with the work of healing constitutes the notable history of Hadassah in public health, teaching and research.

Date: 1/3/2011 12:00:00 AM

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