In the year 1912, there was no state of Israel, women had not yet earned the right to vote in the U.S., and Henrietta Szold (Baltimore 1860 – Jerusalem 1945) was inspiring Jewish women everywhere. The Daughters of Zion, the organization she started in 1912, was founded to provide medical care to people in what was then Palestine (Israel). Two years later, the organization was renamed Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, after the heroine of Purim. (Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah.)
Hadassah is not unique in its origin as a Zionist organization. What is extraordinary about Hadassah is that it developed into the largest women’s service organization in the United States. By the 1990s, well over 300,000 Jewish women were registered members of Hadassah.
Hadassah started small. In 1913-14 they sent two nurses to Palestine. By the 1920s, however, Hadassah had already established a nursing school and two hospitals (one in Tel Aviv and one in Haifa) and was rapidly expanding into youth services. When terror struck the Jews of Germany, Henrietta Szold and the women of Hadassah took charge of the Youth Aliyah movement, bringing hundreds of German Jewish children to Israel. During World War II, Hadassah’s activities continued to expand. The first Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem was opened on Mount Scopus, and Hadassah began two vocational training institutes. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 (which Henrietta Szold, unfortunately, did not live to see, as she passed away in 1945), Hadassah launched a medical school and opened the Ein Karem Medical Center in Jerusalem. By the beginning of the 1950s, Hadassah had transformed itself into a full range social service organization.
Today, Hadassah is still a thriving organization. Through Hadassah, American Jews have enabled Israelis to increase their standard of living and medical care many-fold.