Purim is a time for masquerades and children’s games and good spirits to usher in the birth of Springtime and renewal. Within that, how perfect is the celebration of Hadassah Hospital and Henrietta Szold. It’s the 160th anniversary of Henrietta Szold’s birthday and the 109th anniversary of what is indisputably one of the best and most innovative hospitals in the world, let alone the Middle East.What a tale of love, life, and legacy! Henrietta brought hope and renewal and beginnings that still thrive today. All because, they say, of a broken heart.
Do you know Henrietta’s back story? How Louis Ginsberg disappointed her? He was a professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary as well as an immigrant dynamo and she, a plain Jane quite a bit older than he, became enamored of him. They worked together on behalf of other immigrants in search of work and shelter for many years-until he traveled to Berlin to meet his love. He returned home with news that made Henrietta swell with possibilities. She may have been Louis’s senior by 13 years, but this close association and all these years and all these triumphs and warm feelings-of course this is Victorian times so nothing is ever said or demonstrated to the unkeen eye and heart- must bring love. Alas, Louis returned with the announcement that he was engaged to a lovely young German/Jewish lady and they were to be wed.
Henrietta was dumbstruck. There’s even discussion that she had a nervous breakdown. In those days, a rapid response to the crestfallen was a trip to Europe or Israel if you were Jewish and able. Her mother made sure Henrietta got the overseas cure. Off they went. It worked.
Seeing the deplorable state of what she imagined were feral children, orphans and scallywags running the streets of Israel with no care or shelter, she began to care for them, tending to war wounds, as well as minor scrapes, meals, and basic shelters. The grown-ups were busy building a dream. She began to round up other women with some nurse’s training or interest and then they, under her tutelage and watchful able eye, began to minister to their needs. Their goal, mission, was saving lives and nurturing souls one by one throughout Palestine, the Promise Land. Soon the realization that a hospital, a place for help, was needed. Thus came Hadassah Hospital which is still miraculously thriving through more than a century of political and economic upheavals that can be Israel and our world. As a matter of fact, it is often regarded as the best hospital in the Middle East, and it is fully nonsectarian and unpolitical. You hurt? They help. Even their staff is as diverse as the region. Brains, commitment, cutting edge discoveries and innovations come from here and are often the birthplace for innovative and successful medical treatments throughout the world.
Henrietta never married, but she had many, many children she tended to as her own. She married Israel, health, tomorrows, and determination. Incidentally, she is the only non-native Israeli honored by an image on Israeli currency. All other Israeli bills honor native heroes.
Henrietta is the mother of Hadassah. She was the first of The Woman to Do. Her legacy lives and thrives in us, the current and future members of this strong society of able dedicated women who get into the fray to make Israel productive, progressive, healthy, and a beacon of light and hope.
Hadassah Hospital is known for its cutting-edge treatments in eye care, blood and heart work, stem cell research and uses and some cancer treatments. Henrietta founded this hospital and its mission on a multinational solution to medical aid and that is how, for over a century, it functions. We women of Hadassah who support the hospital carry the stout heart of Henrietta within us. Her broken heart still mends many.