Tag Archives: National Women’s Hall of Fame

Jew of the Week: Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was born in New York City. Her father came from a Jewish family that immigrated from Germany, while her mother was from an illustrious Sephardic-Portuguese family that settled in America before the Revolution. Lazarus studied literature and language, speaking German, French, and Italian. She became a famous poet, novelist, and playwright; one of the first successful Jewish-American authors. Her first book of poetry was published when she was just 17 years old, and she went on to collaborate with such great writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lazarus was also an influential social activist. Her first cause was fighting for tax reform and fairer distribution of land. After hearing of the violent pogroms in Russia, she advocated strongly on behalf of Russian Jews and helped settle Jewish refugees in New York. Lazarus worked for the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society, training impoverished immigrants and helping them find work. She also co-founded the Hebrew Technical Institute to educate Jewish refugees. Meanwhile, Lazarus argued passionately for the creation of a Jewish state in Israel – thirteen years before Theodor Herzl arrived on the scene! (For this, among other reasons, she was once described as the “fiery prophet of the American Jewish community.”) Lazarus is undoubtedly most famous for her poem “The New Colossus”, which she wrote to raise money for the construction of the Statue of Liberty. The sonnet’s powerful words – familiar to most Americans – have inspired many, and have been quoted by leaders like John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. Two decades after she first wrote it, the poem was etched onto a bronze plaque at the base of the Statue. It has been said that the poem transformed the Statue into a symbol of immigration and freedom, and defined “the American vision of liberty”. Sadly, Lazarus did not live to see this day. She tragically died at the young age of 38, from lymphoma. She has since been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Words of the Week

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
– From “The New Colossus”, by Emma Lazarus

Plaque of the “The New Colossus” in the Statue of Liberty

Jew of the Week: Henrietta Szold

Founder of Hadassah, Mother of Israel

Henrietta Szold

Henrietta Szold

Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) was born in Baltimore, the eldest of eight daughters. After finishing high school, she became a teacher, and while working at both an all-girls school and a Jewish school, she was also taking additional studies at Johns Hopkins University. Soon, she opened up her own night school to assist Russian-Jewish immigrants and teach them English. After some 15 years as a teacher, Szold became the first editor of the Jewish Publication Society (famous for its JPS Tanakh, and now the oldest non-profit publisher of Jewish literature in English). Over the next 23 years at this position, she translated multiple Hebrew books into English, edited many others, wrote countless articles, and helped to produce the popular Jewish Encyclopedia, as well as Marcus Jastrow’s well-known Talmudic Dictionary. Meanwhile, Szold pursued advanced studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary (America’s leading Conservative Jewish academy). At the time, these studies were reserved only for men, but Szold managed to persuade the school president to let her in. In 1898, she was elected to the executive committee of the Federation of American Zionists, the first woman on the board. Her devotion to Zionism became even greater when she took her first trip to Israel in 1909. Three years later, she founded Hadassah, an organization that worked to establish a proper health care system in Israel – for both Jews and Arabs. Under Szold’s leadership, Hadassah helped to create some of Israel’s very first dental clinics, maternity clinics, food banks, medical schools, nursing programs, and at least half a dozen hospitals (Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Centre is still one of the largest hospitals in Israel). Today, Hadassah, or the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world, with over 330,000 active members serving to support health education, women’s rights, freedom of religion, and the State of Israel. Among her many other accomplishments, Szold co-founded the Ihud political party, and played a key role in Youth Aliyah, an organization that rescued over 30,000 Jewish children from the Nazis. Today, many institutions are named after her (including a public school in Manhattan), and Israelis celebrate Mother’s Day on her yahrzeit, the 30th of Shevat. Szold passed away in the Jerusalem hospital she helped to found, and was buried in the nearby Mount of Olives. She was recently inducted into America’s National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Words of the Week

… there is no ending that is not a beginning.
– Henrietta Szold