A casual reader of these blog posts might think we’ve grown obsessive about the Civil War. It is certainly true that our upcoming exhibit (member’s preview on October 12 at 7:30) has occupied many hours of staff and intern time – researching, writing, designing, fundraising, marketing and more. And I think all of us have gotten more engaged and intrigued by the topic as we have understood it better.
Still all of us have other interests. In my case, I am keeping one eye on ophthalmology. This is not only because I am scheduled to have cataract surgery next week, but also because of a prominent role of one particular family of eye doctors in our plans for the 2015 exhibit Jews, Health and Healing.
The Friedenwald family included three generations of Baltimore ophthalmologists whose work and interests influenced much more than the field of medicine. Dr. Aaron Friedenwald (1836-1902), Dr. Harry Friedenwald (1864-1950) and Dr. Jonas Stein Friedenwald (1897-1955). The progenitor of this medical dynasty was none other than the Jonas Friedenwald who served as one of the original Board members of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and led the faction that broke away to create Chizuk Amuno. It is a genuine American Jewish success story that this former umbrella mender and junk dealer would become the patriarch of generations of healers.
A special focus of the exhibit will be the middle generation – Dr. Harry Friedenwald. Harry, whose sesquicentennial is September 21st of next year, spent much of his career as a professor at the University of Maryland Medical School. He was a well-published scholar, completing some pioneering work on the connections between diabetes and eye disease. But the most important reason we have chosen to shine a light on Harry Friedenwald is for his work as a collector.
According to several sources, Harry was inspired by a lecture his father gave in 1897 entitled, “Jewish Physicians and the Contributions of the Jews to the Science of Medicine”. From that point forward, Harry began to acquire one of the largest collections of material on this topic ever assembled in the United States. His library included the codex of a 10th century Italian Jewish physician, Sabbato Donnolo, describing over 120 medicinal plants known at that time. There is also 15th century translation of the original Arabic manuscripts of the 9th century Jewish physician to the Caliph as well as 15th century Latin translations of the work of Maimonides. There are astronomical and astrological tables of Jewish origin from the early renaissance. It includes the writings of Francisco Lopez de Villalobos, the Jewish-born converso who served as court physician to King Ferdinand (and I’m sure this is just a coincidence) was one of the first authors to describe the causes of syphilis. And there is the writing of Jacob Mantino ben Samuel, a refugee from the Inquisition who became a physician to Pope Clement VII after nixing biblical nullification for the marriage of Henry VIII to Queen Catherine (you can bet I will be pursuing this story).
So what happened to Harry’s collection? All three generations of Friedenwald doctors were active in the Zionist movements of their times. Harry helped establish the medical care system in Palestine during the period just before World War I. In 1948, Harry gave his entire collection of manuscripts to the newly formed National Library of Israel.
As we began to prepare for our exhibit we contacted the Library. They have given us agreement in principle to return a small number of works to Baltimore for inclusion in this project. We couldn’t be more excited.
The extraordinary story of the Friedenwalds and the collection also has us thinking about the “why” behind the Jewish connection with the healing arts and sciences, not only physicians, but pharmacists, nurses, medical researchers, etc. So we would like to hear your stories. If you or someone you are close too is in the healing professions we’d like to learn about how that choice of occupation was made – what role did parental or family expectations, financial needs, Jewish learning or other factors play in this decision. If you have a story you’d like to share send us a note. You can respond to this blog post or send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We now take you back to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War…which is still in progress.
A blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts by Marvin, click here.