Jewish Doctors!

Posted on July 12th, 2013 by

Elaine HallA blog post by Exhibitions Intern Elaine Hall. Elaine is working with curator Karen Falk on the Jews, Health and Healing exhibition currently in development. To read more posts by Elaine and our other interns, click here

At the end of the twentieth century it is estimated that 2% of the American population was Jewish and yet 12-15% of the doctors were Jewish! Early in the twentieth century that number was even higher. Similarly, 20% of Nobel Prize winners in physiology and medicine have been Jewish! Baltimore was no exception to this phenomenon. Baltimore has been called home by numerous Jewish doctors, many of whom made great contributions to medicine. Besides practicing great medicine, Jews also have a history of scientific invention and discovery in America, and in Baltimore. Here are just a few:

Dr. Robert Austrian (1916-2007) was born and raised in Baltimore and graduated from JHU medical school in 1909. He was particularly interested in infectious diseases and was important in early research that helped develop two pneumococcal vaccines that ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives. He was also physician-in-chief of Sinai Hospital from 1921-1944.

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1930’s microscope used by Dr. Melvin Borden at the University of Maryland. JMM 1996.105.1a

Dr. Robert Fischell (1929-2011) was a physicist who dedicated most of his life to biomedical engineering. He began at JHU in the space department but later moved into medical devices. He holds numerous patents involved with the rechargeable pacemakers, implantable heart defibrillator, implantable insulin pump, coronary stints, and feedback systems for early warning of seizures and heart attacks, among other.

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Dr. Bernard Mark Berngatt studying in his room (1907). A lot of time and effort goes into being a great doctor and a great scientist.

Dr. Bessie Moses (1893-1965) was an OB-GYN who was extremely important in the expansion of access to birth control in America. She was the first female intern in obstetrics at John’s Hopkins University and in conjunction with JHU she opened the first birth control clinic in Baltimore in 1927. She is remembered for how much her patients trusted her and how much she cared about them.

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Jonas Friedenwald, a big name in Baltimore optometry, at his microscope.

Daniel Nathans (1928-1999) moved to Baltimore in the mid-1960’s and begun running a division of genetics at John’s Hopkins. Eventually, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Werner Arber and Hamilton O. Smith for the discovery of restriction enzymes and their application in molecular genetics.

 

 References: 

All Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine.” NobelPrize.org.

Altman, Lawrence. “Robert Austrian, 90, Dies; Developed Major Vaccine.” The New York Times: Health. N.p., 30 Mar. 2007.

“Bessie Moses.Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame. Maryland State Archives, 2001. Web. 10 July 2013.

Gray, Beverly. “Is There a ‘Docta’ in the House?JewishJournal.com. N.p., 4 Sept. 2003. Web.

Jewish Biographies: Nobel Prize Laureates.Jewish Virtual Library.

Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Neel, Eric. “Technology for Humanity: Robert Fischell.” Discover Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

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Health, Healing, History: New Thoughts on Jews and Medicine

Posted on July 31st, 2012 by

A blog post by Exhibitions Intern Meryl Feinstein.

As the sole exhibitions intern currently on staff at the JMM, I have had the exciting opportunity to fully delve into the initial workings of exhibition development. Along with curator Karen Falk, I have been exploring the “big ideas” for an exhibition regarding Jews and the medical profession in Maryland.

When first approaching the topic, we mainly looked at Maryland Jews who had contributed to the medical field (largely from Hopkins and Sinai Hospital) and Jewish-founded institutions in the Baltimore area. For me, aside from the stereotype of “My son the doctor,” I didn’t think there was a deeply Jewish connection to the medical profession. Many of today’s Jewish doctors see themselves as doctors who just happen to be Jewish. American modern medicine is a profoundly Western concept – of a scientific foundation – not one inherently religious or cultural per se… Right? This line of thought guided the direction of the exhibition for the past few weeks. We saw the Jewish facet as a case study; that is to say, we were going to look at the development of modern medicine through the lens of Jewish people and institutions in Maryland and the achievements that followed. This would include a wide array of professionals: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychiatrists, etc.

With this mindset, Karen and I took a short daytrip to New York City to see the Yeshiva University Museum’s current exhibition, Trail of the Magic Bullet: The Jewish Encounter with Modern Medicine, 1860-1960 at the Center for Jewish History. Trail of the Magic Bullet was not limited to the achievements and institutions of Maryland; thus, the exhibition’s main goal was to provide an image of the larger modern Jewish experience through the lens of the Jewish relationship with – and contribution to – modern medicine. Trail of the Magic Bullet began with a nod to the pre-modern history of Jewish physicians by way of a series of ancient manuscripts and one very lovely Rembrandt etching of the Jewish physician Ephraim Bonus. The majority of the show, however, was dedicated to highlighting specific Jewish personalities who made significant contributions to medical science in the modern era. Public health was also included, such as the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society, the Visiting Nurse Service, Hadassah, and the establishment of various Jewish hospitals. The exhibition concluded with a short video discussing current issues of medical ethics.

Center for Jewish History, NYC.

Rembrandt etching of Ephraim Bonus (1647), the Jewish physician to discover the first cure for syphilis shown at YUM’s Trail of the Magic Bullet: The Jewish Encounter with Modern Medicine, 1860-1960.

After our tour through the exhibition, Karen and I stopped for some delicious falafel at taim before heading back to Baltimore.

As I walked through Trail of the Magic Bullet, I was conflicted. The exhibition explored some truly intriguing and important themes and dichotomies: anti-Semitism vs. assimilation, Jewish particularism vs. universalism (or rather, serving the Jewish community vs. the global community), science vs. tradition. These themes are as wholly relevant to the Jews of Maryland as anywhere else in the Western world; we could easily adapt the YUM template for our purposes. Yet although the exhibition was informative and widely acclaimed – and closely related to our own ideas – I walked away feeling that the YU approach just wasn’t for us. I thought about the JMM’s demographic: how could we make this topic exciting and interactive, especially for school groups? And, on a more personal level, how could we make this exciting and interactive for me – that is to say, others like me – a young adult with little knowledge of science and medicine?

Karen and I seemed to share this opinion, and after a series of brainstorming sessions and exploring our collection, we kept circling back to the same idea: instead of talking about Jews and medicine, why don’t we talk about Jews and health? It may be a minor adjustment, but the word ‘health’ rings more inclusive, more positive in its connotation than the word ‘medicine.’ Furthermore, everyone engages with health. From the doctor’s office to yoga to alternative, holistic medicine to nutrition, optimal health is something we all constantly strive to attain and maintain. Health touches upon the physical, the mental, and the emotional – the body, the mind, and the soul. It’s personal, it’s communal, and it’s global. This small change could thereby attract a larger audience and more diverse demographic.

On a most basic level, the switch to ‘health’ allows us to explore the general cultural constructions of health and illness in America. Ultimately, however, the question remains: is there a Jewish meaning embedded within these cultural constructions? If so, what is it? If not, why not? The themes we are currently considering include the relationship between patient and healer, the communal response to caring for the sick and promoting wellness, the evolution of the connection between Jews and health/illness over time, and the meaning of “Jewish diseases.” We intend to approach these topics from a regional perspective.

Though there are still more questions than answers, it seems like we may be on to something. Right now I am starting at the source: Jewish text. This includes health-related passages in Biblical, Talmudic, and Rabbinic sources (especially Maimonides). These texts focus largely on healing – the root of health – and the relationship between the body and soul. To be healthy, the individual must maintain balance in all things physical and mental – extreme states are strongly discouraged – and moderation is key. When illness strikes, the physician acts as God’s helper, one whose duty is to encourage the natural course of healing to restore good health. One of the more amusing passages I have come across was written by Jedaiah ben Avraham Bedersi, or “HaP’nini,” a Medieval French poet and philosopher:

When you need a physician, esteem him a god;
When he has brought you out of danger, you consider him a king;
When you have been cured, he becomes human like yourself.
When he sends you the bill, you think him a devil.

It doesn’t look like much has changed!

 

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MS 100 Abramovitz Medical Papers

Posted on August 4th, 2011 by

Dr. Morris Abramovitz's office sign. 2001.26.8

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