First published in Hebrew in 2019, the Israeli historian Dvora Hacohen’s biography of Henrietta Szold has recently appeared in English—with an introduction by the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Szold is best known for founding Hadassah (the women’s Zionist organization of America), as well as the Jerusalem hospital of the same name. Amy Spiro writes in her review:
Szold was born in Baltimore in 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. From a young age she pursued educational and professional paths that were normally closed off to women. She became the first-ever female editor at the Jewish Publication Society, the first woman enrolled at the Jewish Theological Seminary (though she had to promise to not seek ordination), and the only female member of the Federation of American Zionists’ executive committee. She died in 1945 in Jerusalem at age eighty-four, “a life bounded by two wars,” wrote Hacohen.
Later, Szold also became a passionate and outspoken Zionist. . . . In 1933, at age seventy-three, Szold relocated to Jerusalem and became an active driving force behind Youth Aliyah, the organization that rescued 30,000 Jewish children from Nazi Europe. Though Szold never married or had children of her own—to her great regret—she became known as such a maternal figure in Israel that the country’s Mother’s Day is marked on the anniversary of her death, “because she was called the mother of Youth Aliyah.”
“Today Hadassah is one of the largest Jewish organizations in the world, with hundreds of thousands of members,” noted Hacohen. Szold was “an ardent Zionist,” who first visited Palestine in 1909. The poverty and disease she saw during that trip spurred her to dedicate the rest of her life to the welfare and health of the Jews living there, through extensive health clinics, medical training schools, soup kitchens, educational institutions, and much more.