Revolutionizing Experiences: Henrietta Szold’s First Visit to the Holy Land Part 1

Posted on August 14th, 2017 by

Letter by Henrietta Szold. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel

Introduction:

Henrietta Szold (1860 – 1945) has long been celebrated for her role in building a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The founder of Hadassah and the force behind Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, she virtually created the public health system in pre-state Israel and also ran the Youth Aliyah, which safely brought thousands of Jewish youth out of Nazi Germany and into Palestine during the 1930s. Remarkably, all these achievements occurred after Szold turned fifty. Though she had been involved in Zionist circles in her native Baltimore and later New York City, it was not until she traveled to Palestine with her mother in 1909 that she made improving conditions her life’s work.

Henrietta Szold and her mother Sophie, August 1909, visiting friends in England before traveling through Europe to Palestine. JMM 1992.242.7.13

Henrietta Szold and her mother Sophie, August 1909, visiting friends in England before traveling through Europe to Palestine. JMM 1992.242.7.13

Not that Szold was a late bloomer. From 1889, when she became superintendent of the nation’s first immigrant night school in Baltimore, to her many years working as an editor at the Jewish Publication Society of America, she had been an important contributor to American Jewish cultural affairs. But in 1908, when leading Jewish scholar Louis Ginzberg, with whom she had worked closely and fallen in love, rejected her for a younger woman, she suffered an emotional crisis that led her to question her previous twenty years in service to male-run institutions. She needed a new direction, and her trip to Palestine enabled her to find it. She came to see that her longstanding belief in “spiritual Zionism” – the development of Jewish settlement in the Holy Land as a way to bring about spiritual renewal for modern Jewry – could be advanced by encouraging women to engage in practical work to address the dire health conditions she had witnessed during her trip.

This realization did not occur immediately, as demonstrated by the letter printed here, one of the gems of the JMM archives (1995.206.1). Writing to her mentor, Judge Mayer Sulzberger, just after leaving Palestine, she expresses doubts about herself as well as the state of the Zionist movement. But she also vividly describes the transformative effect the visit had on her. Upon her return to America, she embarked on a new path that led to the founding of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, in 1912. Another visit to Palestine in 1920 resulted in her settling there permanently to overs the various projects she had initiated.

Szold did not always agree with the Zionist establishment; in the 1930s and 1940s, for example, she publicly supported a bi-national state. Her strongly independent thought is on display here, in her honest critique of the Zionist project as she saw it “on the ground.” But her belief in the Holy Land as a way to renew the Jewish people shines through as well.

The Letter, page 1

The Letter, page 1

The Letter:

The Mediterranean, between Alexandira and Trieste

November 28, 1909

 

Dear Judge Sulzberger:

My very indefinite dating of this letter indicates only one thing definitely – that my face is at last set westward and homeward. I feel that this is the time when I may venture to give you a little account of my impressions – don’t be alarmed, I shall not subject you to a catalogue of sights and scenes. This is the proper time because I cannot help believing that Italy, even Italy, which is to fill out the rest of my long vacation, must be in the nature of an anti-climax after my Oriental experiences. If I were younger I should call them revolutionizing experiences. At all events, if I had undergone them earlier in life, they might have had a decidedly shaping influence upon my Jewish attitude and work. As it is, they will probably be a very stimulating memory without much noticeable result in action.

It was not due to any conscious arrangement on my part that my trip abroad arranged itself as it did. I spent the first month in Scotland and England, all the time I was there I tingled with the feeling that I was in my intellectual home. My Anglo-Saxon education announced itself at every step. I had no right to feel that blood was thicker than water, to be sure, but I discovered that brain tissue is not a negligible element in appreciating relationships.

From there we went direct to Vienna and Hungary, my mother’s home, from which she had gone away fifty years to a week when we returned. And there I did learn that blood is thicker than water. I found a really huge circle of relatives, ready-made and ready to receive me as though I had had the same intellectual and sentimental antecedents with themselves. It was as rare an experience as cathedrals and picture galleries to me, for we are a very small family in America and I have never known the pleasure of the intimacy that stands between family ties and friendships. And it was curious to observe how America had done little more than modify external characteristics; the family soul had remained unimpinged by time and distance.

But I feel that my real experiences began when I left Buda-Pest and was whirled through Servia [sic], Bulgaria, and Turkey to Constantinople. Again, in the ordering of my Oriental trip, chance was kind to me. I cannot be sufficiently thankful that I had the opportunity of seeing Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria, Beirut, and Damascus before I entered the Holy Land proper.

Also, it was lucky for me that I did not, like most tourists, enter by way of Jaffa and Jerusalem. That was intentional maneuvering on my part. I wanted to see the land with my own eyes, or spectacles if you will, not through the spectacles of the warring factions in the two intellectual centres. The other chance gave me a true Oriental setting for the Holy Land, the proper atmosphere. After seeing half a dozen cities and the country districts, even if only from the car window or the carriage seat, I knew enough to distinguish between what is peculiarly Jewish and generally Oriental. It was eminently useful knowledge. I know it to be such when I remember what other six-weeks-tourists of Palestine on their return.

Continue to Part II: Entering the Holy Land[1]

[1] Interested in more Henrietta Szold history? Check out Henrietta Szold’s Baltimore from 1860-1902, an innovative and interactive mobile tour on the early life of Henrietta Szold, developed by the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Download the free izi.travel mobile app and follow the JMM’s audio tour that will lead you through the progression of Henrietta’s early life, which also tells the story of the German-Jewish immigrants to Baltimore and the Russian Jews that followed decades later. Each stop on the tour includes unique, historical images that will transport you back in time to see Baltimore through the eyes of the Szolds.

 

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Quiet on Set…Now Recording in the West Wing of the JMM!

Posted on July 24th, 2017 by

Blog post by education intern Sara Philippe. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

When I began interning at the JMM this summer, I never expected to find myself in the recording studio during my time here, but this past week co-intern Erin and I became the voices of the JMM’s new, soon-to-be downloadable Henrietta Szold audio guide. Erin and I spent time, under Museum Educator Alex’s leadership, recording a script that outlines Henrietta Szold’s Baltimore for people interested in exploring this fascinating historical figure and the city when it was her home in the late 19th century. The audio guide describes Szold and other characters in a manner that emphasizes their humanity, bringing them to life as real-life people, while maintaining a focus on the larger events and movements that influenced her.

Our signed tour scripts

Our signed tour scripts

Szold is known as the founder of the global women’s organization Hadassah, and for her role in laying the groundwork for the founding of the state of Israel, and the tour acknowledges this, while making the choice not to stray from her formative years in Baltimore. As you listen, you will discover how Szold’s experiences observing Eastern European Jewish immigrants arrive on Baltimore’s shores and providing services to these people, was a major influence on the Zionist ideology she would grow to devote herself to. But you will also get snippets of insight into her relationship with her sisters and her unfailing dedication to her father Rabbi Benjamin Szold. It is through these detailed, honest portrayals that each stop of the tour becomes alive and personal, maintaining the important historical significance of the diverse locations on the tour’s thirteen stops.

The once Eutaw Place Temple, a stop on the tour

The once Eutaw Place Temple, a stop on the tour

By releasing this audio tour, the JMM is expanding to new media, areas, and audiences, participating in an effort to make the vital work it does in preserving and teaching history and culture accessible in new and exciting ways. The museum prides itself on its particular focus on Jewish history in the state of Maryland, and by creating a tour such as this one, it does an excellent job of extending its efforts at preservation beyond the walls of the museum. As most of the buildings included as stops on the tour no longer serve the purposes they did in Szold’s lifetime, the tour does the important work of reviving old meanings and forgotten histories. The audio guide is a perfect opportunity not only to learn about Szold’s early life in Baltimore, but also to explore the city itself in a new way, gaining knowledge about other important figures and events in Baltimore Jewish history. Ranging from the harbor where Szold’s family and many other immigrants first arrived in Baltimore, to locations that once housed synagogues and department stores, to the JMM itself, the audio tour will take you on a unique tour of Baltimore that will leave you hungry to know more.

Download the izi.TRAVEL app and be sure to check out the JMM’s new audio tour! You won’t want to miss hearing rising vocal stars Sara and Erin’s debut!

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“Henrietta Szold‘s Baltimore” Bus Tour Debut

Posted on May 4th, 2017 by

The past few months I have worked with historian Barry Kessler and Ilene Dackman-Alon on the Henrietta Szold’s Baltimore Bus tour, which launched this past Thursday with a bus filled with local Hadassah members from the Greater Baltimore chapter. In preparation for the tour, I helped to create a booklet that accompanies the tour filled with quotes and images related to Henrietta’s life in Baltimore. I also went on “practice tours” throughout the city with Barry and Ilene. To create the booklet, I searched through the JMM database to find pictures of Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) and her family as well as images of Baltimore’s cityscape that she would have seen or visited in the late 1800s.

Henrietta Szold, about 1910. Gift of M. Jastrow and Alexandra Lee Levin, JMM 92.242.7.4.7

Henrietta Szold, about 1910. Gift of M. Jastrow and Alexandra Lee Levin, JMM 92.242.7.4.7

It was especially meaningful to have this premiere tour be for Hadassah, the organization Henrietta Szold founded in 1912 to provide medical aid to the people of the land of Israel. Barry’s narration of the tour allowed us to imagine what downtown Baltimore looked and felt like in the late 1800s, when Henrietta was born and raised, and gave the Hadassah group a better understanding of the early life of their founder.

I learned a lot about the life of Henrietta Szold and her family in Baltimore, and I also learned a great deal about the city’s cultural and economic history while researching this tour and working with Barry. For example, I learned about the importance of Camden Station, located down the street from where Henrietta was born on South Eutaw Street, and how it was one of the gateways to the city. Camden Station had a significant impact on the economic life of Baltimore’s mercantile industry workers. Nearby, many impressive garment factory buildings sprung up bearing the names Strouse, Sonneborn, and Hamburger, which are now loft style apartment buildings. One highlight on the tour was the stop at the Oheb Shalom Cemetery on the east side of Baltimore near Dundalk. Many prominent Baltimore Jewish families have relatives who were buried here. We stopped to pay our respects to Henrietta’s family- Rabbi Benjamin Szold and his wife Sophie Schaar Szold and their other children (Henrietta is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem).

Oheb Shalom Cemetery on O’Donnell Street. The group stopped at the gravesite of the Szold family. Photo by Alex Malischostak

Oheb Shalom Cemetery on O’Donnell Street. The group stopped at the gravesite of the Szold family. Photo by Alex Malischostak

Another memorable stop on the tour was the Oheb Shalom Eutaw Street Temple located in Bolton Hill, now run by the Prince Hall Masons. We were able to go inside the beautiful and historic sanctuary which the Masons have preserved so that others can learn more about this impressive building and its history.

Albert Queen, President of the Board of Trustees of the Prince Hall Masons addresses the tour group at the Eutaw Street Temple (former site of Oheb Shalom 1892-1960). Photo by Alex Malischostak

Albert Queen, President of the Board of Trustees of the Prince Hall Masons addresses the tour group at the Eutaw Street Temple (former site of Oheb Shalom 1892-1960). Photo by Alex Malischostak

Iconography from the Eutaw Place Temple inspired by the Great Synagogue in Florence, Italy, now the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. Photo by Ilene Dackman-Alon.

Iconography from the Eutaw Place Temple inspired by the Great Synagogue in Florence, Italy, now the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. Photo by Ilene Dackman-Alon.

Henrietta Szold: Living History Character was made possible through the generous support of the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Family Foundation, Inc., a supporting foundation of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Educational opportunities were made possible by the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund of the Associated.

Alex MalischostakPost by Museum Educator Alex Malischostak.

 

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