Hadassah: The Women's Zionist Organization

From its founding in 1912, Hadassah advocated a program of social feminism that addresses women of all backgrounds.

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By July 1913, Hadassah had chapters in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston and New York. In the fall of 1914, the Hadassah School of Zionism opened to provide "intellectual substance" to counteract Christian missionaries and to prepared Hadassah women to speak in public.

On June 19, 1914 Hadassah held the first national convention in Rochester, New York where it officially adopted the name Hadassah and its purpose "…to promote Jewish institutions and enterprises in Palestine and to foster Zionist ideals in America." Hadassah had already chosen a motto, suggested by Israel Friedlander, from Jer. 8:19-23, Aruchat Bat Ami, translated as "The Healing of the Daughter of My People," and a seal, designed by Victor Brenner, of myrtle (hadas) branches around a Jewish star. It affiliated with the Federation of American Zionists (FAZ).

Innovative Zionism

Hadassah introduced many innovations to Zionist organization and ideology. Male leaders of FAZ criticized Hadassah for not engaging in Zionist work designed to change Jews into a self-conscious political entity. Hadassah, they claimed, merely did work meant to improve Jewish living conditions.

Hadassah's decision to establish an urban nurse's settlement ran counter to Zionists emphasis on cooperative rural settlement and European methods of colonization. Hadassah stressed women-to-women work on humanitarian and religious grounds, as well as American social feminism. Hadassah's Zionism was distinctly nonideological, a form of practical idealism that Szold considered characteristically Jewish.

During and After WWI

World War I challenged Hadassah, which had thirty-four chapters and 2100 members when the United States entered the war. Turkish repression of Zionist activities in Palestine forced Hadassah to close it Nurses Settlement in 1915. At home, domestic politics strained Hadassah's unity. Many leaders identified themselves as progressives and advocated socialism, racial equality, and most important, pacifism. Others ardently opposed the Allies.

Despite internal conflicts, all the "factions" of Hadassah worked together to raise thousands of dollars to fund the American Zionist Medical Unit (AZMU), consisting of forty-five physicians, dentists, and nurses, as well as tons of supplies. The Unit arrived in Palestine in 1918 and established hospitals in six cities. The hospitals followed Hadassah's policy of providing services to all regardless of race, color, or creed. As soon as municipal authorities were prepared to run the hospitals, Hadassah turned them over. Hadassah rejected Zionist policy of creating institutions only for Jews in Palestine.

In 1918, Hadassah joined the restructured Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), despite doubts about its district plan of organization. Hadassah soon discovered it had lost its autonomy. Nevertheless, its membership grew--by 1922 Hadassah enrolled over twelve thousand--while the membership of ZOA declined. In 1920 it started the Hadassah Newsletter and the Central Committee also authorized the creation of Junior Hadassah, for girls eighteen and older, despite competition with Young Judea, the Zionist youth movement.

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Deborah Dash Moore

Deborah Dash Moore is the Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and a Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professor of History at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.