Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America

On Sunday, October 8th, over 200 medical professionals, history buffs, and members of the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage gathered to preview the newest special exhibition on view, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America, presented by the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation.

Telling the important story of how Jews were forced to create access to their own health care in the face of discrimination, the special exhibition features over 200 artifacts, photographs, and documents, including highlights from Cleveland’s own Mt. Sinai Hospital. “It was an emotional day,” said the Museum’s Managing Director, David Schafer. “Doctors who hadn’t seen each other in decades met at the Museum to recall the important work of Mt. Sinai Hospital. The exhibition brings up a lot of personal memories for people.”

When Jewish doctors were shunned from medical schools and couldn’t train in teaching hospitals because of their religious affiliation, Jewish communities established Jewish-sponsored hospitals, which also met the religious and cultural needs of Jewish patients. Mt. Sinai Hospital was created in Cleveland for this reason. A Jewish teaching hospital, established in the early 1900s with the mission to serve all people even if they couldn’t afford care, Mt Sinai closed its doors a century later leaving behind a legacy of compassion and innovation in medicine.

The exhibition’s Advisory Chair, Dr. Jeffery Ponsky, who served as Chief of Surgery at Mt. Sinai for 18 years before assuming leadership positions at University Hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic, recalled that “At the beginning of the last century, Jews who wanted to be doctors had a hard time getting into schools because there were quotas. But, when we got through the barriers, look what a difference we made. Jewish doctors were pioneers and innovators.” He went on to say, “Disease was the enemy we were fighting.”

Mitchell Balk, President of Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, said at the event, “The Jewish Mishna, the first book of the Talmud, says that ‘He who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the entire world.’ Mt. Sinai was a Jewish hospital created because of anti-Semitism in the medical profession but known for serving anyone, particularly the urban poor.”

The exhibition brings up issues that are being discussed around health care today. “Is it a privilege or a right? Who should have access to care?” Schafer asked. “We look at our past to better understand our present and create a more inclusive future for everyone. That’s what this Museum is all about.”

Special thanks go out to the Museum’s members, donors, and sponsors for making this exhibition possible, and a very special thank you to Deborah Cardin of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, where the exhibition originated, for joining guests at the Preview Event.

Join us now through April 8, 2018, to learn more about the historic fight for equality in health care and a look to the future of medicine in America. Thought-provoking programming related to the special exhibition is ongoing.