I was talking to one of my grandchildren a few weeks ago. She is ten. She loves sport and she’s good (rose coloured eyes I hear you say). She is a student at Bialik College in Melbourne. The student population is divided in to three “houses” – Herzl, Weizmann and Szold. My grand-daughter is a member of Szold, and I couldn’t be happier.

Most will know the names of Herzl and Weizmann – two of the highest profile leaders of the Zionist movement. Herzl, the Founder of modern Zionism and Weizmann a pivotal player in the establishment of the State of Israel and its first President.

But why my excitement about Henrietta Szold? What was it about Szold that almost eighty years after her death makes her the message of her life’s work as relevant today as it was in 1912 when she launched the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organisation of America.

To me the answer is clear. Henrietta Szold identified a pathway to building civil society in Ottoman Palestine (and then Israel) through health.

It started with very, very small steps. Henrietta raised funds for the first team of nurses to travel from New York to the Middle East to help develop a modern approach to primary care in then Ottoman controlled Palestine.  

A few small steps for Hadassah. Eventually giant steps in health for Israel. Over the succeeding thirty-six years the Hadassah movement built clinics and hospitals throughout the length and breath of Palestine. These centres served all the inhabitants.

In 1928 Hadassah launched the first Tipat Halav (mother and child healthcare centres) which are a basic part of the Israeli healthcare system to this day.

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 all the clinics and hospitals were transferred to the newly born state – save for the iconic Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

What has not changed is our potential to continue Henrietta’s vision and commitment to building Israeli civil society through health.

It is Henrietta’s inspiring work that underpins our choice of programs to support – each and every one of our Hadassah Australia initiatives is underpinned by our commitment to making a difference and to addressing identified gaps in health services in Israel; whether it be strategies for dealing with children struggling with PTSD (JCIC), early childhood development (Goshen), addressing graduate nursing shortages (Achotenu) or helping to solve Jerusalem’s urgent need for acute and chronic rehabilitation (the Gandel Rehabilitation Center).

Each initiative provides a pathway for our Australian Jewish community to maintain our commitment to helping to build the State of Israel.


Ron Finkel AM

President, Hadassah Australia


10 June 2022

Back to Newsletter