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Lost Love: The Untold Story of Henrietta Szold

by Baila R. Shargel

Bibliographic information

TitleLost Love: The Untold Story of Henrietta Szold
AuthorBaila R. Shargel
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001


Henrietta Szold was a brilliant Jewish scholar who became a voice for the Zionist movement. She is best known as the founder of Hadassah, today the largest Jewish organization in the world. Yet in her earlier years, when she was editor of The Jewish Publication Society, she fell in love with the respected scholar and writer Louis Ginzberg with whom she collaborated on a multitude of projects. Shy about personal matters and chained to her Victorian upbringing, Szold never spoke of her feelings. Nevertheless, the fact that he unburdened himself to her, divulging his deepest hopes, even an occasional feeling of inadequacy, led her to believe that her love was returned in some measure.

Ginzberg's sudden engagement to a beautiful younger woman set the tongues of Jewish New York wagging and triggered in Szold a nervous breakdown. Her recuperation from disappointment and shame took more than three years. Only then did she muster the resolution to found Hadassah.

This book tells the story of Szold's lost love in her own words through her correspondence with Ginzberg and a previously unpublished private journal that expresses longings and passions Szold kept secret from the world. Expertly edited by Baila Shargel, these documents show a side of Szold not seen by the people around her. Shargel's commentary discusses how these writings reveal both Szold's inner life and her role as a tough-minded leader of women.

About the Author 

Baila R. Shargel ---

Baila Round Shargel, a Fellow of the Ratner Center for the Study of Conservative Judaism at the Jewish Theological Seminary, teaches at the State University of New York at Purchase. She is the author of three books and many articles on Jewish cultural and social history.


Preface and Acknowledgments


The Exceptional Friendship of Henrietta Szold and Louis Ginzberg

Meditation on Lost Love

Editor's Note: Sources and Structure

Awakening Love, 1903-1906

Critical Years, 1906-1908

Reconsiderations: "Dark Chronicle of a Broken Heart"


Writing a Life Before Living It


Glossary of Proper Names



April 21, 1909

Yesterday it was six months since he came and told me of his betrothal to another, it was a rainy Tuesday again and a letter came from him. On my return from Baltimore, after spending the Passover holidays there, I thought I was prood even such a combination. I came back feeling that I had regained some of my personality. My family had petted me into it, dear Rachel had even come all the way from Madison to help them do it. After my address to the Federation of Charities and again after my address before Council, there had been so much praise, so many demonstrations of joy and pleasure at my being a Baltimorean, so much adulation and kind speech as to my appearance, my manner, my voice, my language, my ideas, that for once I permitted praise to enter my soul and give me consolation which I needed so sorely. The minute I stepped into New York, I knew that it was self-deception my nature was the same, it craved realities, not childish concessions. Yet I kept brave. I behaved with self-respect at the synagogue on Saturday. But on Sunday when I began to work at his book, I realized how little reserve bravery I had stored up. Before I left for Baltimore I had sent him the galley proof of Joseph, adding the request that if there was front matter to the second volume, of which Joseph would form the first chapter, to send it to me now. He returned the proof Saturday evening with a note saying he could not write his preface to the second volume until the whole was in type. Thereupon I wrote him:

In view of the fact that your withholding copy for over two months and your tacit refusal to accept my time limit, the middle of July, have made it impossible for me to read the proof of this volume to the end, I would request you to stretch a point and furnish me with the front matter, so that at least the translation, if not proof-reading of the volume, may be done uniformly. If you can not grant this concession, there I herewith make the formal request that my connection with the second volume whatever it may turn out to be, shall be explicitly and impersonally stated in your preface, wherever it is written and by whomever translated.

It was to this that the answer came yesterday:

I am trying to get the chapter on Moses all done before I leave for Europe but I doubt whether I will succeed. In all events I will have the greater part of it ready before my departure and I hope that you will not on account of a few pages make me and the Jewish Pub. Soc. look for another translator.

I wonder whether he understands my psychology sufficiently to realize that what keeps me excited is the fear that he will put me in such position that his book will have to be done by someone else, and not done so carefully as I can do it, or at least so consistently and uniformly as I can. Rachel and Mamma noticed my excitement and there was a scene, Mamma threatening to write a brusque letter to him. They certainly do not understand! They think it resentment on my part, and on his, and I know it to be love on mine, unwounded love, the more wounded as I must wound the loved one, and know at the same time that he, too, thinks it resentment, Mamma's threat drove me wild, she had written her letter out and showed it to me. So I wrote as my feelings dictated a private letter this one:

In reply to a paragraph in your business letter of April 18 to me, I want to say that your desire to have me finish the translation of the Legends cannot possibly be so great as mine. My literary conscience is very sensitive upon the subjects, and for this reason, as well as fro the sake of other days, it would be lasting pain to me to mutilate your book, as it pains to have to resign the fourth volume to other hands. That is why I have been urging you so persistently all along to go on with the work. If my act in setting time-limit seems to belie these regrets, it is because I am driven to measures of self-preservation. My strength is giving out under the strain of emotion. Can't you understand that it has been hourly torture, as I told you when I spoke to you last, for me to occupy myself with your book? For the first time in my life I must give up work and seek forgetfulness and restoration. If I have your book on my mind, and if I must resume it and relations with you on my return, even if only business relations, my efforts to regain physical strength and peace of mind will have been vain. I appeal to you to make a desperate exertion to get the third (seemed it should have been) volume done even to the reading proof. I go so far to ask a sacrifice of you. Give me a fair chance to get your book off my hands now, and there may be a possibility for me to recover to a normal attitude towards life.


Szold (1860-1945) and Ginzberg (1873-1953) were two of the great figures of American Jewish life. Szold was one of the founders of Hadassah and Youth Aliyah, while Ginzberg was a professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Szold's unrequited love for Ginzberg is revealed here in her diary writings and letters she exchanged with Ginzberg. Editor Shargel (Joseph and Miriam Ratner Ctr. for the Study of Conservative Judaism) has done a good job in introducing and editing the selections. A strange affair, the relationship was a story of knowledge, misunderstanding, and selfishness set in turn-of-the-century New York City. This book reveals with wonder a world and a people long gone. Their desires, hates, and concerns have been silenced, but the story redeems with love their poignant human existence. Recommended for Jewish studies collections.

- Gene Shaw

New York Public Library

As an historical document, the book is immensely valuable for the fresh light that it shed on Szold, Ginzberg, and the coterie of young scholars and rabbis clustered around the Jewish Theological Seminary in early twentieth-century New York. As an human document, the book is even more valuable, offering the unique perspective of America's most accomplished Jewish woman on love, loss, and changing sexual proprieties in an era of rapid social transformation. A remarkable and unforgettable work of raw emotion and high intelligence.

- Jonathan D. Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun

Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University

Lost Love is a stunning work that takes us into the heart and mind of one of the great women in Judaism. With superb skill and exquisite sensitivity, Baila Shargel's most intimate writings alive for us. Profoundly moving, Szold's journal and letters reveal the difficult role even the most talented of women had to endure in traditional Jewish society. With honesty and passion, she rose above that role to transform American Jewish life. Her story is touching, gripping and unforgettable.

- Francine Klagsbrun

Author of Jewish Days: A Book of Jewish Life and Culture Around the Year

The story of Henrietta Szold's love and passion for the great scholar Louis Ginzberg is now finally told in her own words. In her letters and memoir of this glorious and most painful part of her life, we encounter two Henrietta Szold whom we have not yet met, a Victorian woman breaking the mold and inventing herself as a leader in intellectual and communal affairs and, more surprising, as a very gifted and remarkably honest writer. The plaster saint is gone. We now know the trembling, despairing and ultimately heroic human being.

- Arthur Hertzberg

Bronfman Visiting Professor of Humanities, New York University

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