- Hadassah: American Women Zionists and the Rebirth of Israel by Mira Katzburg-Yungman
Mira Katzburg-Yungman’s book is a comprehensive look at the activities of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, during World War II, the creation of the state of Israel and the first decade of that nation’s existence. Her analysis draws together strands of existing scholarship while shifting our focus beyond the more frequently studied periods of Hadassah’s creation and its work during World War I and the Mandate period. Concentrating on Hadassah’s activities in the United [End Page 448] States, the Yishuv and Israel, the book highlights the uniquely American aspects of the organization’s projects and goals. Richly detailed, making extensive use of Hadassah’s own archival materials, Katzburg-Yungman’s work is a significant contribution to the history of one of America’s largest and most important women’s organizations.
The book is divided thematically into five parts examining Hadassah’s founding, ideology, interactions with other organizations, activities, and significance. Although the rationale for this organization is clearly articulated, it can lead to distracting jumps in chronology. Part I details Hadassah’s founding and work during the world wars, centering on its nursing and medical services. This part also highlights leaders’ involvement in Zionist politics during World War II, culminating in Hadassah’s embrace in 1947 of “the establishment of a legally assured, publicly secured home for the Jewish people in Palestine” as one of the organization’s chief goals (41). The final chapter in this section explores the backgrounds of the major leaders of the time, notably the group of women of Eastern European descent who led the group in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Part II examines Hadassah as an American organization looking at, in Katzburg-Yungman’s formulation, Hadassah in “The American Scene.” She identifies “three strata” in Hadassah’s ideology: the goals of the organization’s founders, the influence of Louis Brandeis, and the importance of Mordecai Kaplan’s thinking regarding “the reconstruction of Judaism in America” (114). Leaders emphasized Jewish education and promoting Jewish survival in the United States as integral to their Zionism. Not dedicated solely to building the Yishuv and Israel, Hadassah also worked to provide American Jews and their children with materials on Judaism and Jewish history. Hadassah promoted a uniquely American brand of Zionism which drew on Brandeis and Kaplan’s ideas centering on a firm commitment to Jewish life in the U.S., democracy and American patriotism. These ideas led to the creation of an American Affairs Program, which broadened Hadassah’s involvement in issues not directly related to Zionism, such as civil liberties, the U.S. role in world affairs and U.N. efforts at fostering peace.
Attention turns to “The World Zionist Organization Scene” in Part III. This section explores Hadassah’s involvement in Zionist politics during the establishment of the state and in its early years. Major questions in this period included Diaspora Zionists’ connection to the state and to what extent “pioneering” should be advocated for American youth. The latter was a particularly thorny issue, since promoting a massbased pioneering movement among American youth was at odds with the group’s commitment to American Jewish identity. President Rose [End Page 449] Halprin firmly contended that Zionism did not necessitate that all Jews emigrate to Israel. Other contentious matters, such as whether Zionist organizations should affiliate with Israeli political bodies, emerged as the world Zionist movement struggled to re-conceptualize itself in the wake of the state’s creation. Hadassah, after much debate, remained affiliated with the international Zionist movement but steadfastly refused to align with any particular Israeli party, focusing instead on its primary goals of Jewish education in the United States and practical projects in Israel.
It is the latter that Katzburg-Yungman assesses in Part IV, “The Israeli Scene,” which covers in great detail the myriad programs and services developed by Hadassah during the War of Independence and in first years of the state...