How Hadassah Hospital Changed Healthcare
Who would have thought a women’s study group in New York City in 1912 would change the course of Jewish women and healthcare in Israel for all time.
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, was founded then by Henrietta Szold (1860—1945) after a trip to the Holy Land in 1909 convinced her both Jews and Arabs in Ottoman-occupied Jerusalem needed better healthcare.
Under her leadership, Hadassah laid the groundwork for a modern medical system. Today the Jewish organization, with more than 350,000 members across the United States, provides a significant portion of the Hadassah Medical Center’s budget.
The women’s group adopted the name Hadassah, the Hebrew name for Esther, because it met during the holiday of Purim established in the book of Esther.
On her trip to the Holy Land, then occupied by the Ottoman Turks, Szold witnessed poverty and disease firsthand. Her experienced inspired her ideals of practical Zionism. Bringing Western medicine to the area and recruiting volunteers to improve the physical welfare of both Jewish people and Arabs formed the premises of Hadassah.
Wrote Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, “Szold insisted that the most up-to-date medical treatment be extended to the Arabs of Palestine as well as to the Jews, and Hadassah played a major role in lowering Arab infant mortality.”1
Hadassah soon expanded, with chapters across the United States that funded public-health initiatives and trained nurses in British Palestine. In 1913 a big financial gift from a single family allowed Hadassah to send two nurses to set up a small health clinic in Jerusalem.2
The year 1919 saw routine health examinations for school children in Jerusalem become available through Hadassah’s School Hygiene Department.3 Even during the Arab riots of 1920, Hadassah is credited with treated wounded Arabs.4
The huge infant mortality rate decreased after Hadassah began well-baby clinics called Tipat Halav, Hebrew for “drop of milk” because, according to Haaretz, the ministry used a donkey to travel “from house to house in Jerusalem delivering pasteurized milk to mothers with newborn children.”5
Today, wrote author Lisa Katz, “The Hadassah Medical Organization includes two hospitals, five schools, out-patients clinics, research facilities and community health centers. It treats over one million patients annually and educates health care professionals. In 2005, Hadassah’s two Jerusalem hospitals were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Middle East.”6
Katz said the hospital treats everyone equally, “regardless of religion, ethnicity and nationality and maintain[s] a mixed staff of people of all faiths, even during periods of active conflict between Israel and its neighbors.”7
- Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy (NY: William Morrow, 1991), cited in “Henrietta Szold,” Jewish Virtual Library <jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Szold.html>.
- “Hadassah,” Zionism and Israel Information Center <zionism-israel.com/dic/Hadassah.htm>.
- Alona Farber, “Tipat Halav: Timely Help,” Haaretz, October 10, 2012 <tinyurl.com/tipathalav>.
- Lisa Katz, “Henrietta’s Hadassah” <judaism.about.com/od/americanjewry/a/hadassah.htm>.