Our story begins with the extraordinary Henrietta Szold. During a trip to pre-state Israel, Henrietta’s view of the world changed. In 1909, she saw Jews living in camps without proper plumbing or sanitation. Horrified by the impact starvation and disease had on her people, she took action.
Returning to America, Henrietta founded Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America in 1912. She devoted the rest of her long life to the health and well-being of her people and what was to become their Jewish homeland. The results of her “practical Zionism” can be seen today in Hadassah’s two world-class hospital campuses in Jerusalem and the youth villages she founded to save the children who left their homelands as the Nazis invaded Eastern Europe.
More than 100 years later, we are proud to advance Henrietta’s legacy. We empower women to put their values into action. We continue to build a strong community in the US and Israel. And, in 2005, Hadassah Medical Organization earned a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for bringing advanced medical care to all, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality, in essence creating a bridge to peace through medicine.
Born in 1860, our founder Henrietta Szold was raised in Baltimore, MD, by parents who encouraged education — even for a daughter. Henrietta was the first female editor of the Jewish Publication Society — then the premiere publisher of Jewish liturgical and secular texts. She defied convention and studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, although female rabbis were unheard of in the early 1900s. Henrietta saw the suffering of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe, and organized English language and American citizenship night classes to provide them with greater opportunities. Her model of nighttime ESL (English as a Second Language) schools continues to this day.
On a trip to pre-state Israel, Henrietta Szold’s view of the world changed. Horrified by the impact starvation and disease had on her people, she took action. On February 24, 1912, 38 women constituted the Hadassah Chapter of Daughters of Zion, elected Henrietta Szold as president and chose nursing as their focus. The new organization's first act was to collect money and send two nurses to Palestine in 1913 to provide pasteurized milk to infants and new mothers, and to eradicate trachoma. In 1914, the name was changed to Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America. Henrietta called for practical Zionism, proactive work to bring healing to Palestine’s people. Their original mission was Aruhat Bat Ami: the Healing of the Daughter of my People.
At the dawn of the Holocaust in Europe, in the 1930s, Henrietta Szold and a German colleague organized the rescue of thousands of Jewish children to safety in Palestine through Youth Aliyah. She met every boat as it arrived. Today, Hadassah still supports Youth Aliyah villages in Israel, which nurture and heal at-risk youth by setting them on a path to a successful future. Since 1934, over 300,000 young people in 80 lands have graduated from the Hadassah-supported youth villages.
Today, we’re 300,000 strong with members, male Associates and supporters from across the nation. We remain committed to building a better world through medicine and health care, advocating for change including for women’s equality, and supporting Israel while promoting a strong US-Israel relationship. When a sculptor was creating a bust of Henrietta Szold, our founder, she asked him to “make my eyes look to the future.” Henrietta Szold is a testament to what one person, one organization and one vision can accomplish — and we continue to advance her legacy and lifesaving work today.