With a large assist from the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest, the Yeshiva University Museum in Manhattan will make Newark Beth Israel Medical Center a centerpiece of an upcoming exhibit called “Jews and Modern Medicine.”
Artifacts, photographs, and records dating from the earliest days of the 110-year-old hospital will be on loan from the JHS to the Yeshiva museum between February and June 2012. The actual dates have not yet been determined.
“The idea is to use medicine as a lens for looking at the modern Jewish experience,” explained Joshua Feinberg, project curator for the museum, which is housed at the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street.
“One of the big stories that relates to Jews and medicine is Jewish hospitals. They were established partly because of anti-Semitism and partly to provide for the Jewish community and have kosher meals,” he said.
Among the JHS contributions will be a replica of a vintage nurse’s uniform, a printed program from the Beth’s dedication, and a newspaper ad for the hospital — in Yiddish and English.
As he perused the JHS archives at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany on Aug. 31, Feinberg told NJ Jewish News he selected Newark Beth Israel because it is “a case study of a Jewish hospital which was founded not only to serve the Jewish community but the broader community as well. It was a gift to the Newark community — not a sectarian institution. It serves everyone, and it is a symbol of the Jewish community of having arrived.”
The Beth was not the first American hospital to be established by the Jewish philanthropic community. Cincinnati Jewish Hospital was founded in response to a cholera epidemic in 1850. Two years later, Mount Sinai Medical Center opened in New York. The Beth began as a 21-bed facility in 1901 and evolved into a state-of-the-art institution created through the generosity of Newark’s Jewish community.
“I felt Newark Beth Israel fit better than the others because it was founded at a time when immigration was at its peak,” Feinberg said.
“Everybody donated,” added JHS executive director Linda Forgosh.
“It was everybody’s hospital,” she said, “and if you didn’t donate money, you donated a sack of potatoes, you donated a jar of chicken fat, you donated a jar of raspberry jam — whatever it was that could go toward patient care.
“It was glorious.”
The Beth’s history fits perfectly with the museum curator’s concept of his exhibit.
“We are choosing a few stories that get at some important themes from the story of Jews and medicine that emerge over the past 150 years — themes such as anti-Semitism and the dynamic between tradition and ethics and science.”
The exhibit will also examine “how Jews have looked to improve health within their communities and also use medicine as a form of tikun olam to improve the world regardless of ethnicity or religion,” Feinberg said.
The museum show will also present the story of OZE, an organization that operated for the Jewish community in Eastern Europe between World War I and World War II. It ran clinics and infant wellness centers and summer camps for the Jews of Eastern Europe as a way to promote public health.
Another part of the exhibit will tell the story of Dr. Paul Ehrlich, a Jew born in Prussia in 1854 whose discovery of a cure for syphilis was immortalized in Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, a 1940 Hollywood film starring Edward G. Robinson.
As a pioneer of chemotherapy and immunology, “Ehrlich represented Jews going into more marginal fields of medicine at a time when Jews were welcome in more established fields like surgery,” said the curator.
Forgosh said she is pleased to put part of the JHS collection on loan to the New York museum.
“We are talking about some remarkable history that just got lost in the shuffle until Josh rediscovered it,” she said. “I want to make the exhibit come alive because we really do have the artifacts. If an archive stays in boxes and nobody sees it, we wouldn’t need an archive.
“To me it is a great opportunity to let people see it and we are happy to be its source.”