Hadassah Hospital, Hadassah Organization: Definition and History

Zionism-Israel Maps Web log history biography definitions about FAQ timeline books Kosher Jobs links contact


Hadassah: Definition

1. The Hebrew word for myrtle

2. The Hebrew name of Queen Esther, heroine of the Purim story, and a popular Hebrew name.

3. The name of the Women's Zionist Organization of America, largest Jewish Women's organization in the United States.

4. The Israeli hospital(s) founded by the Hadassah Zionist organization.

This article provides a detailed definition and history of Hadassah Women's organization and its medical and other projects in Israel.

Hadassah Overview

Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is the largest Jewish women's organization in the United States. Through its many practical projects as well as political advocacy for human rights, Hadassah exemplifies, in many respects, the best of the liberal and social reforming traditions of Zionism, combined with practical work in building the land of Israel and rescuing Jews from persecution, and international medical philanthropy in Africa, Bosnia and numerous other countries.

Hadassah is a volunteer women's organization, founded in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, American Jewish scholar and activist. Its wide range of activities reflect the eclectic genius of its founder. It has been active in providing medical services social and educational projects in Israel, in the United States and throughout the world. It has been instrumental in financing reforestation and pioneering projects in Israel. It has brought thousands of Jewish youth to Israel through its Youth Aliya program and through the Young Judea organization.  It has also advocated the Zionist cause in the United States. At the same time, it has been at the forefront of advocacy for liberal causes in the United States, ranging from suffrage to abortion legislation to anti-poverty and civil rights legislation and programs.

Hadassah's activities began with the founding of a medical aid organization for the Zionist community and other inhabitants of the land of Israel, a reflection of the vision of early American Zionism of providing a home for non-American Jews in Palestine, and perhaps in imitation of the charitable Middle East medical work of Christian American groups. Hadassah eventually branched out into supporting the Jewish National Fund, Youth Aliyah and the Young Judea movements by coopting and supporting worthy projects in need of help on an eclectic, practical and pragmatic basis.  

Hadassah supports the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO), which includes two hospital complexes at Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. Hadassah hospital is one of the finest hospitals of the world, and pioneered quality medical care in the Middle East.

Through its charitable, and volunteer work, was instrumental in founding and furthering a variety of other projects. Hadassah also supports Hadassah College Jerusalem; Young Judaea, a Zionist youth group; the WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students) Arad Institute, in Arad, Israel; Youth Aliyah/Children at Risk. Hadassahis the largest supporter of the Jewish National Fund. The organization also furthers issues of importance to women and to the American Jewish community. In the United States. It promotes health education, social action and advocacy, volunteerism, Jewish education and research, and connections with Israel.

Hadassah's unique contribution to Zionism and Zionist activism was made possible because of the emancipation and  egalitarian role of women in modern Jewish society and in Zionism, which was pioneered by its founder Henrietta Szold  and women Zionist leaders in Israel/Palestine such as Manya Shochat, who brought women's liberation to the Middle East. Hadassah clashed with some factions of the early Zionist movement, because it insisted on founding an urban nursing station rather than engaging in rural pioneering, because it veered away from politics, and because it insist that its institutions in Ottoman Jerusalem and later in Palestine would serve the entire community, and not only Jews.

Hadassah has pioneered progressive principles and women's liberation in the United States and the Middle East. From the first, Hadassah established a tradition of providing quality medical care to inhabitants of the Middle East, regardless of race or creed. Its hospitals have carried on this tradition despite wars, terrorism and hate, treating members of ruling families of the Arab peninsula in secret,  Palestinian Arab refugees  and terrorists wounded in the act of perpetrating attacks, as well as Jews and tourists, and improving the general welfare of the population. 

Hadassah History 

Hadassah grew out of an early women's Zionist study circle, Daughters of Zion, in 1912. At a meeting in in Temple Emanuel in New York City, Henrietta Szold, convinced  the group to undertake Practical Zionism by providing health care in Ottoman occupied Jerusalem. The meeting was held at about the time of the Purim holiday, so the women called themselves “The Hadassah chapter of the Daughters of Zion.” Henrietta Szold was elected the first president.

At a subsequent meeting, “Daughters of Zion-Hadassah” chose as its motto, Aruhat Bat Ami (the healing ministrations of the daughter of my people), taken from Jeremiah 8:19-23.

Hadassah soon had chapters in New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago and Boston. It promulgated a charter naming the goals of to begin public-health initiatives and nurse training in Palestine, and fostering Zionist ideals through education in America.

In 1913, a gift  from the Strauss family allowed Hadassah to send nurses Rose Kaplan and Rachel (Ray) Landy, to Palestine. They set up a small public-health and welfare station in Jerusalem to provide maternity care and treat trachoma, a dreaded eye disease rampant in the Middle East and especially in the Levant. The photo at right shows Kaplan, Landy and Eva Leon pictured under the signboard of the station.

In the same year, poet Jessie Sampter initiated Hadassah’s first education program in the United States: Zionist education and speakers’ training.

By 1914, there were ten Hadassah chapters. Eight of them sent delegates to the first national convention in Rochester N.Y., where the organization was officially named "Hadassah." With the outbreak of World War I,  Rose Kaplan volunteered to help  cope with a refugee health crisis in Alexandria Egypt, among Jewish pioneers who had fled Turkish rule.  She died there of cancer in 1916.

The education work was furthered by Jesse Sampter. In 1915 (or 1914) she founded Hadassah’s School for Zionism in New York, which closed in 1919. It was intended to train Jewish women as speakers in the cause of Zionism, and to help counter some of the work of Christian missionaries.  It educated Hadassah chapter leaders in Zionism through correspondence courses as well as regular studies, and inspired other education efforts. Sampter also  published a study course on Zionism.

World War I caused some tension in Hadassah, Many leaders were opposed to the war, and identified themselves as progressives and advocated socialism, racial equality, and  pacifism. Some others, of German origin, ardently opposed the allies. Hadassah was also called upon to assist the small Jewish community in the land of Israel with far greater efforts, straining its meager personnel and financial resources. During the war, conditions in Ottoman Turkey deteriorated rapidly owing to economic and shipping difficulties. Jews in Palestine, often suspected of sympathizing with the allies, were especially distressed. The Hadassah Nurses station was closed in 1915 owing to pressure of the Ottoman authorities. In 1916, Hadassah established the Palestine Purchasing and Supplies Department (later the New York Hadassah Supplies Bureau) to buy and ship items unavailable in the Yishuv.

Beginning in 1917, the Balfour Declaration and subsequent British conquest of what became mandatory Palestine inspired expanded efforts in Hadassah. This, despite the fact that many noted American Zionists considered that the Balfour Declaration signaled the success of Zionism and that no further leadership or efforts were required of them. Palestine under British military rule was undergoing a dire health emergency, as successive epidemics of influenza, typhus and cholera swept the country. To meet the emergency, in 1918, Hadassah initiated and financed the American Zionist Medical Unit (AZMU, the Unit) together with the Federation of American Zionists, which later became the Zionist Organization of America. The unit included 45 medical health professionals. From its initiation, the AZMU established the principle of equal care for all, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity or nationality. The AZMU helped to establish six hospitals in Palestine, ultimately turning them over to municipal authorities. In 1918, Hadassah also founded its  School of Nursing was founded in 1918, to train local personnel and found an initial cadre of nurses. 

In 1918 Hadassah joined the Zionist Organization of America. It soon found that it lost its autonomy, but Hadassah membership grew to 12,000 in 1922, while that of the ZOA declined. Hadassah was eventually to enroll over 300,000 members.

In 1919, Hadassah organized the first School Hygiene Department in Palestine, to give routine health examinations to Jerusalem school children. During the Arab riots of 1920, Hadassah personnel treated wounded of both sides. In 1920, Henrietta Szold moved to Jerusalem to work in developing community health programs and preventive care. In that year, the youth auxiliary of Hadassah, Junior Hadassah, was formed.

1921 saw the beginning of an institution that bears prime responsibility for eliminating the enormous infant mortality rates current in Palestine, the "Tipat Halav" perinatal care centers for expectant mothers and infants. In that year, Hadassah nurse Bertha Landsman, set up the first Tipat Halav station (drop of milk), in Jerusalem. In the same year, Hadassah opened a hospital in Tel Aviv, which was transferred to the municipality of Tel Aviv in 1931. In 1921 too, the first 22 nurses graduated from the nursing school, receiving diplomas in person from Henrietta Szold.

Hadassah Nursing School Graduates

Hadassah opened a hospital in Haifa in 1922, subsequently taken over by the municipality in 1931. In 1923, it initiated a school lunch program for children in Palestine, financed by pennies collected from American Jewish students. This program was continued until the 1950s, when it was taken over by the Israel government.

Hadassah and the Jewish National Fund

In 1926, Hadassah initiated its partnership with the  Jewish National Fund, to finance the reforestation of the land of Israel and to reclaim swamp land. As a result of these activities, Israel is the only country in the world that has more trees in the twenty-first century then it did in 1900. Hadassah grew to be the largest supporter of the JNF. In 1926, Hadassah also established the first tuberculosis treatment center in Safed, which later became a regional center and was eventually devolved upon the municipality.

1929 saw the opening of the Nathan and Lina Straus Health Center in Jerusalem. Hadassah also undertook its first project with the JNF, draining swampland and creating a green belt around Haifa.

Hadassah and Youth Aliya

In 1933, the Youth Aliyah program was founded in Germany, to bring Jewish youth to the land of Israel. With the rise of Nazism in that year, the program became a priority emergency effort, and received extensive support from Hadassah, and particularly from Henrietta Szold, and its founder, Recha Freier, founder of the Youth Aliya, who soon escaped to the United States. In 1934, the first of these children arrived in Haifa and were greeted by Henrietta Szold, who accompanied them to Kibbutz Ein Harod. Dutch Jewish refugees Siegfried and Lola Kramarsky, who later settled in the United States, were also instrumental in furthering the rescue work of Youth Aliya, saving many thousands of children from the Holocaust. Youth Aliya became an official Hadassah project in 1935, and Hadassah provided most of the funding for it until 1942. Youth Aliya activities intensified in 1938, following Krystallnacht in Germany. In 1943, due in part to the efforts of Hadassah President Tamar de Sola Pool, the Teheran Children, a group of more than 800 young Polish Jewish refugees, arrived in Haifa, over the objections of British authorities, after four years of wandering from Poland through the Soviet Union to a squalid refugee camp outside Teheran. Youth Aliyah accepted these young Holocaust survivors and helped them adjust to life in Palestine. In 1949, Youth Aliyah opened the Ramat Hadassah Szold Youth Village near Haifa to receive Yemenite refugees and to serve as a residential educational facility for young Holocaust survivors. At present it serves Israeli-born and immigrant children, ages 11 to 15, who require intensive remedial education programs.

In 1935, Hadassah also opened the Nettie Lasker Social Service Department in Jerusalem.  In 1936, the nursing school was renamed the Henrietta Szold-Hadassah School of Nursing.

Hadassah support for Young Judea

Young Judea, originally a rival of the Junior Hadassah movement, became part of the Hadassah philanthropic family in 1936, when Hadassah undertook financial sponsorship. This relationship was formalized in 1940 when Hadassah and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) formed the American Zionist Youth Commission. In 1967, Junior Hadassah was merged with Young Judea to form a single coeducational movement, and both came under the sole sponsorship of Hadassah.

Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem founded

In the mid 1930's, Hadassah began planning a new hospital to replace and expand on the facilities of the aged Rothschild hospital founded in 1888 in Jerusalem. Rose L. Halprin, sixth National President, moved with her family to Jerusalem, serving  as liaison between Hadassah in the U.S. and in Israel, and a member of the building committee of the hospital, to be built on Mount Scopus in association with the Hebrew University.  In 1939, the building project for the new hospital was complete. The Rothschild-Hadassah University Hospital on Mount Scopus, the first teaching hospital and medical center in Palestine, opened on May 9. The nursing school inaugurated new quarters there as well. The hospital had to be closed when Mt Scopus was behind enemy lines in Jordanian occupied Jerusalem in 1948. In 1950, Hadassah decided to build  a new and larger complex. The dental school opened in 1953. Other medical departments began operating in 1954 and 1955. The hospital complex in Ein Kerem was dedicated on May 7, 1960. Patients were moved there from the temporary hospitals on June 6, and it quickly  grew to be one of finest medical institutions in the Middle East and the world, pioneering in computer aided diagnosis and monitoring and helping to inspire Israel's biomedical industry, and pioneering innovations in cardiac and other surgery and treatment.

In 1967, following the liberation of the Mt Scopus facilities in the Six Day War, Hadassah resumed operations in the Mt. Scopus facility. It rebuilt and refurbished the hospital, which re-opened in October of 1975, and serves thousands of Arab patients from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Hadassah hospital and Hadassah Hebrew University Medical School have trained hundreds of medical personnel from Egypt, Jordan, sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world.

Hadassah in the early 1940s

In 1940, Hadassah formed its American Affairs Committee, the core of today’s American Affairs programs, reflecting Hadassah’s concern with the ideals of democracy, freedom and justice in the U.S. and in the Yishuv. War relief and defense of democracy are two immediate committee projects.

In the same year, Hadassah also initiated the Committee for the Study of Arab-Jewish Relations to promote “Zionism’s unfinished agenda,” co-existence between Palestine’s two major populations.

In 1941, Hadassah created a Home Medical Services department in Jerusalem and sent an American neurosurgeon to the land of Israel to create Hadassah Medical Organization's first Department of Neurosurgery.

Machon Szold founded by Hadassah

In 1941, at age 81, Henrietta Szold established the Child and Youth Welfare Organization,  coordinating the activities of public and voluntary child and youth welfare services with funding by Hadassah, the Va’ad Leumi and the Jewish Agency. This was renamed the Henrietta Szold Foundation for Child and Youth Welfare in 1945. In 1948 it becomes autonomous, with Hadassah participating on the board of directors. In 1960, on the centennial of Szold’s birth, the Israeli government, together with Hadassah and the Jewish Agency, undertook to contribute to the budget of the foundation, now renamed Machon Szold, the Szold Institute.

In the 1940s, Hadassah founded a variety of vocational schools and projects for young boys and girls in Palestine, helped raise money for U.S. war bond effort, and offered to cooperate with US national medical groups.

Henrietta Szold died on February 13, 1945. Her funeral was attended by numerous people saved by youth aliya, by medical personnel she helped to train and other beneficiaries of her work. In that year, Hadassah and the American Friends of Hebrew University began a fund raising campaign to build the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine.

Hadassah and the creation of Israel

With the end of World War II, Hadassah personnel provided health and social services for Jewish refugees in DP camps and assisted in illegal immigration ( Aliya Bet) to mandate Palestine.  Hadassah Medical Organization also  initiated a Postgraduate Medical Fellowship Program, enabling Hadassah physicians, nurses and hospital administrators to receive fellowships for advanced training in the U.S. and later Europe. In the United States, Hadassah lent a strong voice to those calling for establishment of a Jewish State.

As violence flared in mandatory Palestine, Hadassah personnel were busy treating victims on both sides of the conflict. Its work was hampered by numerous ambushes and ambush attempts, and the increasing isolation of the hospital and university complex on Mt. Scopus. On April 13, 1948 a convoy of medical personnel and supplies was ambushed by Arab Palestinian terrorists as it started toward Mt. Scopus, resulting in the deaths of about 80 persons (see  Hadassah Convoy Massacre).  As it was unable to guarantee the safety of its patients or staff, Hadassah evacuated all its facilities on Mount Scopus. Hadassah Medical Organization quickly improvised five makeshift hospitals in temporary quarters around Jerusalem.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Hadassah

In 1949, Hadassah established the Henrietta Szold Award as its highest honor, to be presented annually. Eleanor Roosevelt was named the first honoree for her efforts on Hadassah’s behalf, most notably as World Patron of Youth Aliyah.

Hadassah in the State of Israel

Hadassah has continued to fund medical, vocational, youth and social services in Israel after the foundation of the state. It participated in the JNF project to drain the Huleh Swamp, and financed the planting of 300,000 trees there to commemorate Holocaust victims. It provided medical services to new immigrants, expanded its hospital projects and turned over existing projects to the state and municipal authorities. It opened a community health station in the Arab village of Abu Gosh in the 1950s and has since initiated similar services. Hadassah and Youth Aliya have been active in greeting and caring for every new wave of immigration, and in treating casualties of every war on either side.

Beginning in 1979, Hadassah has held its several of its annual conventions in Israel.

Hadassah International

Hadassah International (HI) was established in 1984. It is Hadassah’s global arm, intended to advance and enhance Hadassah Medical Organization's (HMO)’s lifesaving work throughout the world. Membership is open to men and women, Jews and non-Jews. This new branch, which now operates in over thirty countries, is the inspiration of Former National President Bernice S. Tannenbaum. The organization enhances the image of Israel through the work of the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO), supports  HMO so that it remains an academic center of excellence for healing, teaching, and research, and serves as a bridge to nations through medicine. In 1988, at the invitation of U.S. AID, HMO medical staff members helped to plan, construct and open a hospital in Kinshasa, Zaire. In 1990 in a two-week period in a remote area of Kenya, HMO eye surgeons operated on 400 blind people, giving sight to many for the first time. In 1996, Hadassah delivered 100 tons of medical supplies to war torn Bosnia. In 2002, Hadassah was approved by the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a non-governmental organization (NGO), enabling Hadassah to lend its medical and social expertise to the international body.

Hadassah Israel

Hadassah Israel was set up in 1984 as a separate organization, focusing its program on health, immigrant absorption and the status of women.

Hadassah Nobel Prize Nomination

In 2005, Hadassah Rothschild Hebrew University hospital in Ein Karem and Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus were nominated by foreign academicians for the Nobel peace prize. The nomination cited three achievements that deserved recognition:

Maintaining equality in providing medical treatment, despite the need to treat more terror victims than in any other medical center.

Serving as an exemplary model of cooperation and co-existence, as reflected by the ethnic and religious diversity of its medical staff and patients.

Perseverance of the hospitals in building bridges for peace through their medical activities despite the Intifada.

(See http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3060873,00.html

Sources and references:

Encyclopedia Judaica

Hadassah Chronology

History of Hadassah at My Jewish Learning


See Hadassah Convoy Massacre   Hadassah Convoy Massacre-The Attack

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:  Hadassah Convoy Massacre   

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

Definitions of Zionism  General History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel   History of Israel and Zionism   Historical Source Documents of Israel and Zionism

Back to main page: https://zionism-israel.com Zionism and Israel Information Center

This site is a part of the Zionism and Israel on the Web Project


This work and individual entries are copyright © 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


ZioNation - Zionism-Israel Web Log    Zionism & Israel News  Israel: like this, as if Bible Bible Quotes History of Zionism Zionism FAQ Zionism Israel Center Maps of Israel Hadassah Convoy Massacre Zionism and its Impact Israel Christian Zionism