December 21, 1860|
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
|Died||February 13, 1945
Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine
Henrietta Szold (December 21, 1860 – February 13, 1945) was a U.S. Jewish Zionist leader and founder of Hadassah the Women's Organization. In 1942, she co-founded Ihud, a political party in Mandate Palestine dedicated to a binational solution.
Henrietta Szold was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Rabbi Benjamin Szold, who was the spiritual leader of Baltimore's Temple Oheb Shalom. She was the eldest of eight daughters. In 1877, she graduated from Western Female High School. For fifteen years she taught at Miss Adam’s School and Oheb Shalom religious school, and gave Bible and history courses for adults. To further her own education, she attended public lectures at Johns Hopkins University and the Peabody Institute.
Szold established the first American night school to provide English language instruction and vocational skills to Russian Jewish immigrants in Baltimore. Beginning in 1893, she worked for the Jewish Publication Society, a position she maintained for over two decades. In 1902, Szold took classes in advanced Jewish studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, However, its rabbinic school was for men only. Szold begged the school’s president, Solomon Schechter, to allow her to study, he did only with the provision that she not seek ordination. Szold did well at the seminary, earning the respect from other students and faculty alike.  Her commitment to Zionism was heightened by a trip to Palestine in 1909. She founded Hadassah in 1912 and served as its president until 1926. In 1933 she immigrated to Palestine and helped run Youth Aliyah, an organization that rescued 30,000 Jewish children from Nazi Europe.
Szold never married, and to her great sadness never had children of her own. While she was in her forties, she had an unrequited relationship with Talmudic scholar Rabbi Louis Ginzberg. He was fifteen years her junior, and he returned her feelings only platonically. After their relationship ended, she expressed her sadness: "Today it is four weeks since my only real happiness was killed." Years afterward, she said: "I would exchange everything for one child of my own." On February 13, 1945, at age 84, Henrietta Szold died in the same Hadassah Hospital she helped to build in Jerusalem. She is buried in the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
Zionism and origins of Hadassah
In 1896, one month before Theodor Herzl published his magnum opus, Der Judenstaat, Szold described her vision of a Jewish state in Palestine as a place to ingather Diaspora Jewry and revive Jewish culture. In 1898, the Federation of American Zionists elected Szold as the only female member of its executive committee. During World War I, she was the only woman on the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs.
In 1909, at age 49, Szold traveled to Palestine for the first time and discovered her life's mission: the health, education and welfare of the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community of Palestine). Szold joined six other women to found Hadassah, which recruited American Jewish women to upgrade health care in Palestine. Hadassah's first project was the inauguration of an American-style visiting nurse program in Jerusalem. Hadassah funded hospitals, a medical school, dental facilities, x-ray clinics, infant welfare stations, soup kitchens and other services for Palestine's Jewish and Arab inhabitants. Szold persuaded her colleagues that practical programs open to all were critical to Jewish survival in the Holy Land.
In the 1920s and 1930s she was a supporter of Brit Shalom, a small organization dedicated to Arab-Jewish unity and a binational solution. In 1942, she was one of the co-founders of the Ihud party which advocated the same program.
Henrietta Szold was the oldest of eight daughters, and had no brothers. In Orthodox Judaism, it was not the norm for women to recite the Mourners' Kaddish. In 1916, Szold's mother died, and a friend, Hayim Peretz, offered to say kaddish for her. In a letter, she thanked Peretz for his concern, but said she would do it herself.
- I know well, and appreciate what you say about the Jewish custom; and Jewish custom is very dear and sacred to me. And yet I cannot ask you to say Kaddish after my mother. The Kaddish means to me that the survivor publicly and markedly manifests his wish and intention to assume the relation to the Jewish community, which his parent had, and that so the chain of tradition remains unbroken from generation to generation, each adding its own link. You can do that for the generations of your family, I must do that for the generations of my family.
Szold's answer to Peretz is cited by "Women and the Mourners' Kaddish," a responsum written by Rabbi David Golinkin. This responsum, adopted unanimously by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of Conservative Judaism, permits women to recite the Mourners' Kaddish in public when a minyan is present. Szold was religiously traditional, but advocated a larger role for women in Rabbinic Judaism.
Kibbutz Kfar Szold, in Upper Galilee is named after her. The Palmach, in recognition of her commitment to "Aliyat Hanoar" Youth Aliyah, named the illegal immigration (Ha'apalah) ship "Henrietta Szold" after her. The ship, carrying immigrants from the Kiffisia orphanage in Athens, sailed from Piraeus on July 30, 1946, with 536 immigrants on board, and arrived on August 12, 1946. The passengers resisted capture, but were transferred to transport for Cyprus.
The Henrietta Szold Institute, National Institute for Research in the Behavioral Sciences, located in Jerusalem, is named after her. The institute is Israel's foremost planner of behavioral science intervention and training programs.
In the northwest corner of Szold's home city of Baltimore, Szold Drive, a short street in a residential neighborhood with homes built in the 1950s, is named after her as well. The northernmost part of the street is in Baltimore County.
- History – Temple Oheb Shalom
- Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) Hagshama
- "Dateline World Jewry", April 2007, World Jewish Congress
- Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America
- Responsa in a Moment: Halakhic Responses to Contemporary Issues, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies
- Ha'apalah Ship Henrietta Szold, Palmach Information Center
- Henrietta Szold
- See Szold Drive, Baltimore, Maryland on Google Maps. The years in which the houses on Szold Drive were constructed can be found in the real property records on the website of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, accessible here.
- Forgotten New York – Lost Streets of Manhattan
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Henrietta Szold.|
- Henrietta Szold Biography at Jewish Virtual Library
- Women of Valor exhibit on Henrietta Szold at the Jewish Women's Archive
- The Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem site. Office of Henrietta Szold (S48), Personal papers (A125)
- Papers, 1889-1960. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.