As we celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday, we remember the exciting but difficult early years of the state. We recall with pride Hadassah’s role in the building up of the land and its people. We “dreamed big,” as Henrietta Szold said, and through our practical Zionism, Israel saw stunning achievements in medicine, education and social services.
We stand proudly with Israel and wish her continued strength.
—Ruth G. Cole
Remembering the Convoy
Just two miles separate Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus from downtown Jerusalem. But in the month before the British Mandate ended and Israel declared Independence on May 14, 1948, traveling the road to the nine-year-old medical center had become dangerous because of Arab snipers.Anyone who worked at the hospital, needed medical treatment or wanted to get to the neighboring Hebrew University of Jerusalem gathered in the center of town and rode up the hill in a convoy of vehicles, which also brought essential medical supplies to the hospital.
So it was on the morning of April 13th. A lightly armored Ford truck led the way, followed by a clearly marked ambulance, two buses, another ambulance, four trucks and a second armored car.
Renowned ophthalmologist Chaim Yassky, director general of the hospital, sat beside the driver of the first ambulance. Next to him sat his wife, Fanny. Hanna Cassouto, an Italian Holocaust survivor, was headed to work at the pathology laboratory. Batya Bass, 43, at the end of her ninth month of pregnancy, was on her way to the hospital to deliver her fourth child. Other passengers included doctors, nurses, Hebrew University students, soldiers and relatives of the sick.
The convoy left shortly after 9 A.M. oddly, the corner grocery store at the narrow Nashashibi bend in Sheik Jarrah was shuttered when the vehicles passed. When the driver of the lead car swerved to avoid a giant pothole in the road, a mine exploded. The convoy stopped and was attacked from all directions by Arab snipers. Five vehicles managed to escape the ambush, but the other five, including Dr. Yassky’s ambulance and the two buses, were trapped in the barrage of bullets.
Haganah members in the armored car were overwhelmed by armed men, who also threw Molotov cocktails intended to burn the passengers alive. British reinforcements were not far away, but they did not stop the assault that continued for hours and could be heard around the city.
Judith Steiner-Freud, who had made aliya from Czechoslovakia in 1939, was teaching nursing students on Mount Scopus that day. “We could hear the shooting, but we kept on teaching,” she recalls. “We knew war was coming and every nurse would be needed.” Only later did she learn that she had friends and colleagues among the dead.
“We went up to the roof to see what was happening,” said Bass’s daughter, Shoshana Bass Miodovnic. From Tzefania Street, she could see the column of fire and hear the shooting. Cassouto’s daughter, Sara Cassouto Evron, remembers dialing her mother’s boss at the hospital and learning she had not arrived.
Dr. Yassky died from a bullet wound to the liver. Cassouto and Bass, too, were among the 78 men and women murdered.
The gruesome massacre of people who risked their lives to care for the sick as well as the sheer number killed horrified and saddened the entire prestate Jewish community. But in a show of resilience that has remained a hallmark of Hadassah until today, the hospital remained open and operational on the day of the attack.
A mass grave in Jerusalem’s Sanhedria Cemetery contains the unidentifiable charred remains of the victims. Twenty-two of the dead were never found; the bodies were presumed to have been dragged away and buried in an Arab cemetery. A recent effort on the part of some of the families to positively identify the remains through DNA testing with the assistance of Hadassah genetics experts was halted because of the strong objection of other families to opening the burial site.
In the aftermath of the massacre, Hadassah decided to evacuate the remaining nurses, staff members and equipment from Mount Scopus. The danger was too great.
Judith Steiner-Freud stayed to the end to help close the nursing school. Hadassah rented buildings in different locations downtown, mostly in the area between Nevi’im Street and Jaffa Road, and set up a temporary hospital that functioned until the new campus in Ein Kerem opened in 1961. In July 1948, Mount Scopus became a United Nations-controlled area, with Jewish policemen guarding the hospital building. An agreement with Jordan was signed the following April, making the hospital campus on Mount Scopus a demilitarized zone in the Jordanian part of the divided city.
When jerusalem was reunited after the six-Day War in 1967, the late Teddy Kollek, mayor of the city, called Hadassah’s then National President Charlotte Jacobson to say, “Charlotte, I have your keys.” The women of Hadassah voted to return to Mount Scopus. After nine years of fundraising and renovation, the hospital was reopened.
A downtown Jerusalem street called The Seventy-Eight recalls the tragedy of the massacre that struck at the heart of a nation coming into being. The names of those murdered are inscribed on a memorial plaque in Sheik Jarrah, at the Nashashibi bend. On the anniversary of the Hebrew date of the massacre, the 4th of Nissan, hundreds of the victims’ loved ones and members of the greater Hadassah family gather for a ceremony at the hospital on Mount Scopus, where a garden is dedicated to the victims’ memory. The names are read, and each year a family member recalls the life of one member of the convoy.
After a persistent campaign by the families of the massacred and Hadassah Hospital staff, in 2007, the State of Israel made the annual memorial event a state ceremony, with government officials joining the bereaved.
May the memory of the murdered be for a blessing.
Memories From Israel’s Early Years
I was 3 1/2 years old in the spring of 1948. My mother, very pregnant, was getting the apartment ready for Passover. I felt grown up as I helped by taking the dishes out of a box and handing them to my mother to wash. As we worked together, she told me that in addition to my new brother or sister, something special would be born soon: a new country for the Jewish people.
My mother, Sylvia Vogel Zimet, was the founding president of the Junior Hadassah chapter in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in the late 1930s. She also loved to sing. So as we unwrapped and washed the dishes, she sang “Hatikva.” She told me it was the special song for the new Jewish country, and being a good mimic, I learned some of the words.
I trace my connection to Israel and Hadassah to that moment. Dianne Z. Newman
Israel and I share birthdays. Yet, our relationship is more nuanced than a confluence of dates. In the late ’40s and early ’50s, my father traveled to Tel Aviv to buy diamonds as an importer, while my mother benefited from treatments by the health specialist Moshe Feldenkrais. My first visit overseas, at age 9, was with my family to Israel.
Locked in a box along with my first boyfriend’s “going steady ring” is my social studies report from elementary school entitled “Israel.” I traced Israel’s map from the Encyclopaedia Britannica and cut out beach pictures and pictures of ancient buildings from Life magazine. There was no easy way to look up Israel’s history, geography and culture, so I included anecdotal “facts” from my parents. My friends wrote easy-to-research reports on France, Great Britain and Germany, but Israel intrigued me and I was challenged to learn as much as a third grader could on her own. It is amusing to see my naïve report, but today it is one of the possessions I hold most dear. Susan Penn
We arrived in Israel by boat on a cold winter’s day when I was 20 months old. We were taken to Netanya, at that time a vast sandy dune strewn with hundreds of canvas tents. Since it was the rainy season, water leakage was a challenge.
One day my brother announced that he found a house for us in Lod. There were two rooms, an outhouse, a kitchen with no windows and a hard dirt and cement floor. There was electricity, but sparingly, and running water. I remember a very wide covered terrace with a hanging bulb on a string. Many people stayed in the tents in Netanya for a long time; we were lucky.
It was a very difficult time in Israel in the early ’50s. My father worked for the fledgling moshavim in the area, helping build miles of pipes for irrigation. Since they had no money to pay, we were given food staples.
Periodically, we received packages from America, which my parents called “IKA” packages. To this day, I still don’t know what that means. There were prom dresses, bathing suits, shoes that didn’t fit. I am not sure what people thought we would do with them; one had to be creative to turn them into useful garments.
Once a month, we received food stamps. It was a special day, because we had chocolate, sugar, flour and butter. My mother made her wonderful Hungarian Danishes. We had a kerosene stove, but for the life of me I don’t know how she managed to make those delicacies.
At school, there were stories about Zionist heroes and songs about our beautiful country. But most important, there was a common language, Hebrew, a common culture, Israeli, and a great deal of pride. This new budding generation was Israel. Our parents were still Hungarians, Poles, Moroccans, Yemenites and Greeks. We were the thread that connected our parents to the new culture and the new language. We were the official translators. Maggie Kosmin
Long Beach, CA
Partners in Healing
Hadassah Medical Organization’s technology-transfer company, Hadasit, has joined with Harvard Medical School and its teaching affiliate Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in a venture to develop a new orally administered therapeutic treatment for autoimmune diseases. This is the first official cooperation between the three institutions.
“This joint venture is especially exciting because it establishes a wonderful and important precedent,” said HMO Director General Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef.
The new product is a combination therapy of monoclonal antibody (Anti-CD3), in development at HMS, and a line of glycolipid compounds, currently in development at Hadasit. Clinical data shows that the glycolipid compounds, which activate specific cells in the immune system when given orally, can be used without adverse side effects.
“Monoclonal antibodies are widely used in medicine intravenously, but they have never been given orally to humans,” explained Dr. Howard L. Weiner, Robert L. Kroc Professor of Neurology at HMS and director of the Partners Multiple Sclerosis Center at BWH. “It now appears possible to correct the imbalances in the immune system and subsequently treat a wide number of human diseases with an oral, nontoxic therapy.”
Mark the date and “Set Your Sites Among the Stars” for Hadassah’s 94th national convention, July 13 to 16, at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in Los Angeles. You won’t want to miss exciting sessions on current issues such as the presidential race; the politics of water, oil and other natural resources; and the nuclear threat of Iran.
On Sunday, July 13, a special Hadassah Magazine forum will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Harold U. Ribalow Prize for Jewish fiction. A panel of three past prize winners will share their views on how modern writers relate to and interpret contemporary Jewish life. Join us for this special one-time event. You will indeed be dazzled by shining stars from across the galaxy of our world! Call the toll-free convention hotline at 877-790-2676 or firstname.lastname@example.org for details.