Hadas­sah: Amer­i­can Women Zion­ists and the Rebirth of Israel

Mira Katzburg-Yung­man
  • Review
By – December 18, 2012

Hadas­sah is the largest col­lec­tive project of women in the Dias­po­ra on behalf of the Yishuv, [pre-state Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Pales­tine] and lat­er Israel and remains so today,” reports Mira Katzburg-Yung­man, a schol­ar of Amer­i­can Zion­ist his­to­ry and the author of Hadas­sah: Amer­i­can Women Zion­ists and the Rebirth of Israel.

Hadas­sah was formed in 1912 by a group of Jew­ish women in New York as a response to the dis­mal con­di­tions of Jews in Pales­tine in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. Dis­ease and pover­ty were ram­pant. The Roth­schild fam­i­ly found­ed Palestine’s first mod­ern hos­pi­tal in 1854 to ame­lio­rate con­di­tions. This would lat­er become known as the Roth­schild-Hadas­sah Hos­pi­tal and ulti­mate­ly Hadas­sah Hos­pi­tal.” On a vis­it to Pales­tine in 1912, Nathan Straus, the own­er of Macy’s, estab­lished a soup kitchen and health cen­ter in Pales­tine; he would ulti­mate­ly spend two thirds of his for­tune on var­i­ous pub­lic health projects in the Yishuv includ­ing finan­cial­ly sup­port­ing Hadas­sah med­ical projects.

Hen­ri­et­ta Szold, Hadassah’s pre­scient, charis­mat­ic leader, rec­og­nized ear­ly on that in addi­tion to hav­ing an Amer­i­can con­tin­gent, the Hadas­sah Med­ical orga­ni­za­tion need­ed peo­ple in the Yishuv deliv­er­ing the ser­vices. Szold devel­oped a group of Israelis whom Katzburg-Yung­man calls the part­ners” — the immi­grant doc­tors, nurs­es, teach­ers and oth­ers who tire­less­ly shared their knowl­edge, skills and vision and deliv­ered the high­est qual­i­ty care to the Yishuv and lat­er Israel.

Hadas­sah has played an impor­tant role at most crit­i­cal junc­tures in Israel’s his­to­ry. For exam­ple, to meet the needs of the child sur­vivors of the Holo­caust and North African Jew­ish refugee chil­dren, Hadas­sah devel­oped spe­cial pro­grams such as Youth Aliyah. Hadas­sah also spear­head­ed the for­ma­tion of the Hadas­sah Medi­al School and Hadas­sah Nurs­es Train­ing School. Many of these activ­i­ties are vivid­ly por­trayed in the book’s archival pho­tographs and doc­u­ments, which help the read­er visu­al­ize the trans­for­ma­tive process in Israel and the Hadas­sah orga­ni­za­tion.

What is astound­ing about the accom­plish­ment of these very impor­tant tasks is that these projects were fund­ed by the efforts of a ver­i­ta­ble army of house­wives,” writes the author. The nation­al orga­ni­za­tion offi­cers and the local chap­ters were com­posed of most­ly unpaid mid­dle class house­wives who tire­less­ly vol­un­teered and raised huge sums of mon­ey through a vari­ety of fundrais­ing strate­gies includ­ing rum­mage sales, din­ner dance par­ties, fash­ion shows, auc­tions, lun­cheons, raf­fle tick­ets, and canas­ta and mahjong par­ties. These inde­fati­ga­ble house­wives were pri­mar­i­ly Con­ser­v­a­tive and Recon­struc­tion­ist Jews whose Jew­ish iden­ti­ties and Zion­ism were core parts of their lives. This fundrais­ing mod­el changed some­what with the rise of the women’s move­ment and women’s increas­ing career involve­ment. Work­ing women bal­anc­ing fam­i­ly and work had less time and ener­gy to engage in the labor inten­sive fundrais­ing activ­i­ties required to keep Hadas­sah flour­ish­ing. Paid pro­fes­sion­al staff was hired to help with these activ­i­ties.

As a life time Hadas­sah mem­ber I thor­ough­ly enjoyed read­ing this book, but I think any read­er inter­est­ed in the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence will be enthralled by the sto­ry of Hadas­sah. Appen­dix, index, notes, photos.

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions