Letter from Jerusalem: Hadassah Horizon
What if Hadassah’s founder, Henrietta Szold, came back to see us today? She would surely ask, “What’s happened to Hadassah? What has it done?”
Imagine standing with her in Jerusalem’s Ben-Gurion Square at Hadassah–Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem. We might not even notice the petite Miss Szold amid the patients and families, health care providers and researchers striding toward their destinations.
She usually wore a hat, but so do many of the visitors to the hospital—all assortments of hats and scarves that mark the constant ethnic mix.
Known as a biblical and literary scholar, Szold also taught math and handled Hadassah’s finances. Tell me some numbers, she might request. Here are a few: Some 20,000 men, women and children come through the campus every day. The 1,000-bed, 1,000-doctor hospitals and day clinics provide care and healing for nearly one million patients each year. Each year, 11,000 babies are born in Hadassah’s two Jerusalem hospitals. About a thousand of them arrive prematurely and need special care.
The schools of nursing, medicine, dentistry, public health and pharmacy involve thousands of teachers and students. Many of their graduates are recruited to run research programs, head medical departments and work in community health centers throughout the country. Men and women come to Hadassah from all over Israel, and all over the world, for advanced training and special care. The new Biotechnology Park houses Hadasit, the company developing Hadassah patents.
If Hadassah ran nothing more than its two hospitals and its schools for medical professionals, it would still occupy a place in Israeli medicine that is unparalleled in other countries. But a visiting Henrietta Szold would be pleased to find that health care is just the beginning. The organization she founded has an inescapable presence on the Israeli landscape and is permanently rooted in the country’s consciousness.
She would be pleased, but not entirely surprised. It was she who dispatched the first two Hadassah nurses to Jerusalem in 1913. By the time of her death in 1945, three years before the declaration of Israel’s independence, Hadassah had a network of some 140 hospitals and clinics across the land and was also educating refugee children in Youth Aliyah villages. The Women’s Zionist Organization of America had essentially built the new state’s medical infrastructure and much of its educational foundation. “When Israel achieved independence in 1948, we didn’t have to invent a health system,” said former minister of health Nissin Dahan at the groundbreaking for Hadassah’s Center for Emergency Medicine in 2002. “We already had one provided by Hadassah.”
After statehood, Hadassah turned most of its hospitals and clinics over to public authorities and shifted its focus to healing in Jerusalem and choosing educational horizons that would help the new country develop.
Sixty-two years after Israel’s birth, Hadassah’s reach and influence can be seen in the grand and the mundane, not only in pioneering research and treatment but on bus signs in Jerusalem, where “Hadassah” is a destination with no explanation needed. The hospital in Ein Kerem also attracts those who are neither in need of treatment nor visiting the sick. They are drawn there to see the Chagall windows in the hospital’s Abell Synagogue, which put Hadassah on the world’s tourist and cultural map.
Hadassah is also part of Israel’s daily conversation. Every Israeli knows someone who was born in Hadassah Hospital, and across the country many hospitals have doctors who were trained at the Hebrew University–Hadassah School of Medicine in Jerusalem. Beyond that, Hadassah has shown up in dozens of novels by Israeli and foreign authors—Amos Oz, Herman Wouk, Belva Plain and Naomi Ragen (and, yes, even myself)—and in numerous movies set in Israel.
Israelis have reason to be grateful for Hadassah’s contribution to the country’s image. Hadassah’s hospitals aren’t only famous for medicine. When CBS’s 60 Minutes featured a program in October 2003 called “An Island of Sanity,” it focused exclusively on Hadassah’s equal treatment of all and the cooperation among Jews and Arabs on staff. That would have pleased Szold, who was devoted to working for peace, and on whose watch the hospital instilled that philosophy.
For more than 70 years, Hadassah has educated as well as healed. Indeed, its Youth Aliyah villages and schools do both. Szold herself was in charge of Youth Aliyah and would undoubtedly be pleased to see that a program designed to rescue refugees from Nazi Germany continues to serve children at risk.
Today, most Youth Aliyah youngsters come from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, but others are Israeli born, from homes with significant challenges. They graduate from youth village high school and serve proudly in the Israel Defense Forces. At the Hadassah-Neurim Youth Village, just outside Netanya, some students become champion athletes; others, master car mechanics. At the Meir Shfeya Youth Village near Zikhron Yaakov, children from nearby towns attend the school to benefit from its award-winning education.
Graduates never forget the second chance in life they’ve received in these villages. “We all needed schooling, extracurricular activities and psychological support,” recalls Eli Amir, a Youth Aliyah graduate who grew up to be a best-selling author and eventually return to Youth Aliyah as its director. “The warm touch of Hadassah was felt by tens of thousands of children like me.”
Szold’s first passion was education, so developing career opportunities was a natural extension of Hadassah’s early efforts to help the neediest immigrant populations. If she visited Jerusalem today, Szold would certainly want to walk the Street of the Prophets and talk to the students in the classrooms and laboratories of Hadassah College Jerusalem. The college has grown with Israel’s educational needs, developing into a full academic institution.
How she would enjoy meeting immigrants from Russia training as computer engineers and religious women with large families who are studying for a bachelor’s degree in laboratory science. Hadassah’s reputation draws students from every ethnic and religious group. As the mother of a Bedouin student said, “I was afraid to let my daughter leave the village to study, but when I heard the name Hadassah, I knew she’d be fine.” Today, her daughter is the first Bedouin speech therapist in Israel.
The college helps not only the students but Jerusalem itself. Located in the city center, the college is a magnet for businesses that cater to students and faculty. Nor is it a surprise that Young Judaeans have gravitated toward the city’s trendy Baka neighborhood of cafés, experimental music clubs and theaters. The intellectual and student-friendly area is now home base to the Young Judaea Year Course, Hadassah-WUJS and The Merkaz. Young Judaea volunteers raise Hadassah’s profile in Israel by working in schools, soup kitchens and at archaeological digs.
Szold would also appreciate how the Hadassah Foundation supports programs—from Haifa to the Negev—to lift women up as entrepreneurs, with vocational training and job placement as well as legal services.
Also far afield from Jerusalem is Kibbutz Ketura, near Eilat, founded by Year Course graduates. They have made a success of communal farming despite getting only one inch of rain a year, and have demonstrated that Hadassah and Young Judaea’s values of pluralism can work in the most Israeli of institutions. Ketura today produces algae for biofuels, provides technical writing and Web site services, and cultivates rare fruit and herbs for medicine, among other enterprises (see story, page 56).
Whenever Szold traveled, she admired the trees and flowers. She would get great pleasure from the forests Hadassah helped develop with the Jewish National Fund. She would notice the ubiquitous signs marking Hadassah’s contributions—on the city park in Beersheba, the beach in Tiberias, the Jordan Valley reservoir. Not to mention streets and avenues that bear her name in cities across the country.
World leaders and movie stars frequently visit Hadassah’s projects to see its achievements. After visiting Hadassah Hospital and accepting an award from Hadassah International, actor Richard Gere said, “It’s an honor for me to be associated with Hadassah,” and saluted the “real tough women” running the organization who are only ready to accept success. “Whether you’re investing in business or in compassion, go with people like this.”
Stopping at random, Szold might ask shop owners and hotel managers who they can rely on when tourism falters in troubled times. She would hear about Hadassah missions that arrive in every crisis; Hadassah created and subsidized the Renaissance Missions to revive tourism during the second intifada. When rockets targeted Israel’s northern cities in 2006 in the Second Lebanon War, two buses of Hadassah women checked into the Dan Carmel Hotel in Haifa—to a standing ovation. The applause not only spoke to the moment but to Hadassah’s decades of service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
Hadassah is deeply embedded in the consciousness and hearts of Israelis whose lives have been bettered by the work of Hadassah over nearly a century. In 1918, when the American Zionist Medical Unit was dispatched to set up the infrastructure of prestate Israel’s medical system, Szold thought the name Hadassah would one day be replaced. That was one of her few inaccurate prognostications. “Hadassah” has become a synonym for the healing of body and soul and unbreakable commitment to Israel.
If Henrietta Szold came back today, no one would be happier than she that our achievements have exceeded her biggest dreams. H