Harlem’s Jessie Sampter, Educator, A Poet, And A Zionist Pioneer

April 5, 2016

Jessie Sampter1Jessie Sampter was an influential Zionist educator, a poet, and a Zionist pioneer influenced by Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, Josephine Lazarus, Mary Antin,Mordecai Kaplan, Unitarian minister Rev. Merle St. Croix Wright and others to become an ardent advocate of Judaism and Zionism born March 22, 1883 in Harlem, New York.

Sampter was born March 22, 1883 in New York City to Rudolph Sampter, an influential New York attorney, and Virginia Kohlberg Sampter, who maintained a highly assimilated Jewish home. She had one sister, Elvie. At the age of thirteen she was crippled by polio, which prevented her from leaving the home. Unable to attend school, her family hired tutors. Later she audited courses at Columbia University.

In her twenties, she joined the Unitarian Church, and began writing poetry. Her poems and short stories emphasized her primary concerns: pacifism, Zionism, and social justice. Around this time, she began spending time in the home of Szold and began to appreciate the Eastern European Jews of New York City. She moved from Harlem into a settlement house on the Lower East Side, then to a Young Women’s Hebrew Association.

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Assuming the role of Hadassah’s leading educator, she produced manuals and textbooks and organized lectures and classes. She led Hadassah’s School of Zionism, training speakers and leaders for both Hadassah and other Zionist organizations like the Federation of American Zionists, then the Zionist Organization of America. She composed educational manuals with Alice Seligsberg and edited a textbook on Zionism.

She settled in Palestine in 1919 where she helped organize the country’s first Jewish Scout camp. Sampter developed a strong commitment to assisting Yemenite Jews, founding classes and clubs especially for Yemenite girls and women who often received no education. She adopted a Yemenite foundling and raised her with progressive education.

Sampter died at Beilinson Hospital at 10:00 am on November 25, 1938 of malaria and heart disease. At the time of her death, she had established a vegetarian convalescent home at Kibbutz Givat Brenner. Szold presided at her funeral.

Sampter is one of several popular ‘philosophers’ whose quotations appear on the roadsigns of Project HIMANK in the Ladakh region of northern India.

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