Posted on June 11th, 2013 by Rachel
A blog post by summer intern Elaine Hall. Elaine is working in our exhibitions department with curator Karen Falk.
This summer I am lucky enough to be an intern doing research for an exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I specifically applied to this position because of my interest in the topic of an upcoming exhibit on Jewish Health and Healing. Due to my background in both anthropology and biology as well as my future in public health, this topic seemed like a perfect way to put my education to use and gain some interesting experience relating to health.
The exhibit is in its very beginning stages, which gives me an interesting opportunity to be involved in the design of the overall concepts to be included. However before I can really dive into planning and brainstorming it is important that I become familiar with the topic. I am attempting to get to know this subject by looking through the related collections at the museum, articles that have been gathered on the subject as well as on Jewish doctors, and interviews that the museum and others have conducted. I especially enjoy reading through the interviews of prominent Jewish doctors, nurses, and community members that have been collected. Listening to individuals tell their personal stories always ends up being both emotional and educational, in the best ways.
The women of the Sinai Hospital nursing school from the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s were facing discrimination and limitation of opportunities because they were Jewish AND because they were women. They describe going into nursing as a natural choice, since there were not many other options as far as higher education and good career opportunities were concerned and because they were drawn towards service.
Tobi Mower, a former Sinai Hospital nurse gave her stories of Nursing School in an interview conducted by the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Tobi Mower graduated from Sinai Hospital Nursing School in 1963 and is a fascinating and passionate woman. She is well known for her pursuance of women’s rights and her rule-breaking attitude. The Sinai Hospital was created in the mid 1800’s to provide a place where Jewish patients could eat Kosher food, be a part of holiday rituals, and be given appropriate care. However it also served as a place for Jewish nurses and doctors to do their internships and residencies in a time when they were blocked from many opportunities.
Nursing School graduating class of 1963.
“It was more or less like sink or swim, and if you didn’t swim, you sunk, and you were kicked out.” Tobi Mower
Instructor and student nurses around 1959.
“I was picked out as a troublemaker early from my training… Because I was an older girl and I thought some of the rules were really, really stupid” Tobi Mower
A nurse, possibly Molly Roseman, pinning a cap on a student nurse in a capping ceremony.
“If you had a wrinkle in your uniform, you found out about it from Molly, or if you had a scuff mark on your white shoes, you found out about it from Molly, or if your starched nursing cap was disheveled, you found out… she scared everybody, except me…She was screaming at the top of her voice. And I just looked at her, and I said to her, ‘Ms. Roseman, are you finished?’ And she said ‘yes,’ in a very harsh voice. I said ‘fine,’ and as nice- as polite as I could be, but as forceful as I could be, I said, ‘Don’t you ever do that to me again. I don’t allow my mother to yell at me like that anymore, and I will not allow you to do that to me anymore.’ And she just looked at me like I slapped her in the face, but I never had another problem with Molly after that. She loved me, and I think that’s the way when we stood up for ourselves, those of us that felt comfortable with it, we were treated with more respect.” Tobi Mower
Student nurses and doctor with a patient.
“And I remember one doctor asked me for scissors, and I gave him a scissor, and he threw it across the room. And I started crying- well, I wasn’t about to let him see my tears. And he said ‘Young lady, didn’t anybody ever teach you that when we do a breast, we use a [curved or straight] instead of what you gave me?’… And I said ‘no sir, I’m here to learn and be taught.’… While we were waiting for the results of the biopsy, I walked away from the table and broke scrub… ‘I’m not going to have that man [meaning the surgeon] abuse me anymore.’ … And never had a student broken scrub on a private doctor … That doctor did come over to me and apologized, and asked me if I’d rescrub. Yeah. Once again I stood up for myself.” Tobi Mower
Student nurse and doctor with a young patient.
“And then there was- you know, there was a lot of sexual harassment in those years… But in those years it wasn’t considered sexual harassment. In fact, I reminded this guy, who’s now an old man, that if he had done the same thing 20 years later, he would’ve had his rear end hauled to court a lot of times.” Tobi Mower
- Kellman, Naomi. “The Origins of Health Care for the Hebrew Poor.” Generations (Spring 1988): 13.
- Mower, Tobi and Morton. Interview By Barry Lever. Jewish Museum of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, 2001.
- Umansky, Paul I. “The Story of Sinai Hospital, 1866 to 1959.” Generations (Fall 1998): 12-16.
Posted on July 31st, 2012 by Rachel
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!