A Curator’s Wish List

Posted on January 28th, 2015 by

A Collecting Wish List For

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America

 Our curator, Karen Falk, needs YOUR help! We’re working on our next original exhibit, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. The exhibition spans the late 19th century until today, with an emphasis on medicine’s “golden age” in America, roughly the 1920s through 60s.* As with all our exhibits we started with our own collections but we need more. Check out the lists below and see if you, your family or any of your friends have examples of the items below that you would be willing to lend (or donate!) to us here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

If you think you’ve got something, please contact Karen right away at kfalk@jewishmuseummd.org or call her at 410-732-6402 x227.

Envisioning a Jewish Medicine

Envisioning a Jewish Medicine

Memorabilia from Jewish fraternities:

*Phil Delta Epsilon, Phi Lambda Kappa, Aleph Yod He (medical)

*Alpha Omega, Sigma Epsilon Delta (dental)

*Alpha Zeta Omega, Rho Pi Phi (pharmaceutical)


Section 2 Banner

“My Son, the Doctor”

Health professions education:

*acceptance/rejection letters

*school and lab notebooks

*study guides, devices to help memory

*instruments/equipment required or helpful for coursework

*memorabilia from white coat ceremony

*photos of students at work: dissection/cadaver, study groups, classroom, laboratory and clinical settings

*memorabilia from body donor ceremonies

*graduation photos, announcements


A 'Golden Age' of Medicine?

A ‘Golden Age’ of Medicine?

Health professions practice:

*journals or diaries

*pneumothorax machine, other early treatment equipment for TB

*photos of physicians, nurses, technicians, and others in hospital settings, working with patients or working with equipment

*early 20th century white coat

* early x-ray equipment or components


The Care of Strangers

The Care of Strangers

The image of the Jewish doctor in the American imagination:



*greeting cards

*humor books

*“my son the doctor” jokes

*“physician’s oath” plaques or inscriptions


*kitsch and shtick


Body Work

Body Work

Health, hygiene, diet, and exercise:

*materials in Yiddish

*posters, pamplets, signs aimed at Jewish opinions or behaviors


*Note: We will remove names and other identifying characteristics from anything that includes protected health information prior to display. We normally use your name to attribute quotations, and to acknowledge loans or donations of materials used in the exhibition. You have the option to remain anonymous by request.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Thanking Gil Marks

Posted on December 10th, 2014 by

I never met him, but I and the JMM owe a great debt to the late rabbi and historian of Jewish food Gil Marks, who died on December 5. Marks’ magnum opus, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food was published in 2010 and became an enormously important reference for our 2011 exhibition, Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity.  It’s a remarkable work with entries for dishes from Jewish communities around the world, and for the Jewish meanings of foods one would never think of as “Jewish.” His entry on “Challah,” for example, explains the meaning and origins of the name of our delicious Sabbath bread, and describes the sort of loaf it actually referred to in the time of the Jewish Kingdom. He also has an entry on “Salt.” The book also contains recipes and detailed instructions for several of his entries. I have given it as a gift to several of my foodie friends, and I consult my own copy frequently. I highly recommend it as an irreplaceable resource and a fun read.

Recently published remembrances, (links to two good posts: http://blogs.forward.com/the-jew-and-the-carrot/210409/gil-marks-jewish-food-scholar-dies-at-/  and http://tabletmag.com/scroll/187460/remembering-a-jewish-food-giant )of Rabbi Marks note that even greater than his knowledge of Jewish food and its importance to Jewish culture and identity was his enthusiasm and generosity in sharing his knowledge and work with all who asked. The JMM experienced this generosity first-hand when in 2012 he allowed us to post the recipes for cholent and cholent kugel on our Chosen Food blog. With gratitude for his generosity and sorrow at his loss, here is an excerpt from that post.


I decided to try a cholent made “the right way,” turning for instruction to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food  http://www.gilmarks.com/. Here I found not only the recipe, but the fascinating history of this very Jewish food.

Two Jewish girls carrying pots of food for the Sabbath, Chicago. October 20, 1903. Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.

Two Jewish girls carrying pots of food for the Sabbath, Chicago. October 20, 1903. Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.

Cholent (also called schalet), based on the slow cooked stews (hamin, from the Hebrew word meaning “hot”) of the Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews, reached the Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe in the 12th or 13th century, via Spain and France. The word cholent may be derived from the Old French word for warm (chald/chalt) or it may come more directly from the Spanish escallento, also meaning warm. It became the custom for the homemakers of Europe to bring their pots of stew, lids sealed with flour paste to ensure against non-kosher taint, to the local bakery where the coals were banked to remain hot during Shabbat—a custom followed in Europe until the Shoah, and also brought by immigrants to the United States.

Cholent ingredients

Cholent ingredients

 I arranged the ingredients in the pot, following the order specified in Marks’ recipe. I had a little trouble with “water to cover,” since my pot was very full. (In fact, it boiled over during the cooking, leaving me with a major post-Shabbat cleaning project.) Don’t skip the hour long simmer Marks recommends. The cholent must go hot into the oven.

Cooking in the pot.

Cooking in the pot.

Two teaspoons of salt seemed like a lot to me, but it turns out to be just right. And don’t make the recipe at all if you don’t like the flavor of bay leaves. This ingredient is absolutely essential!

I topped the cholent with Marks’ cholent kugel, rolled into a long log that extended down the center of the cholent, from one end of the pot to the other. When I lifted the heavy lid the next day, I found the loaf flattened into an oval, but it was a beautiful brick red-brown from the paprika. It was surprisingly delicious, if somewhat solid.

How was the cholent? The beans and barley were not only cooked through, they almost lost definition. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth soft, and the seasonings were just on the edge of overcooked. I would have liked a little more gravy; don’t lose yours over the side of the pot!

Recipes (courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, by Gil Marks)

Ashkenazic Sabbath Stew (Cholent)

6 to 8 servings

1 ½ pounds beef or veal marrow bones

About 2 cups any combination mixed dried navy, lima, pink, pinto, and kidney beans

3 medium yellow onions, sliced

2 to 3 cloves garlic, whole or minced

6 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered

3 pounds beef flanken, brisket, or chuck roast

¾ to 1 cup barley

2 to 3 bay leaves

About 2 teaspoons table salt or 4 teaspoons kosher salt

About 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

About 2 quarts water

1. In the order given, place the bones, beans, onions, garlic, potatoes, beef, barley, bay leaves, salt and pepper in a large, heavy pot. Add enough water to cover.

2. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, skimming the froth from the surface, until the beans are nearly soft, about 1 hour.

3. Add more water if necessary. Tightly cover, place on a blech (a thin sheet of metal placed over the range top and knobs) over low heat, or in a 225° F oven, and cook overnight. Serve warm.

Cholent Kugel

4 to 6 servings

5 thick slices challah or 2 large rolls, torn into small pieces

1 ½ cups (7.5 ounces) all-purpose flour

¼ cup vegetable oil or schmaltz

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 to 3 teaspoons paprika

About 1 teaspoon table salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground white or black pepper

In a medium bowl, soak the challah in water until soft but not mushy, about 2 minutes. Drain and squeeze out the excess moisture. Place in a medium bowl and mash until smooth. Add the flour, oil, egg, paprika, salt, and pepper, adding more flour if too loose; the mixture should be able to hold its shape. Form into a log and place it on top of hot cholent [before placing the cholent into the oven].

 karenA blog post by Curator Karen Falk. To read more posts from Karen click HERE.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Buried Alive: Eighteenth Century Terror and a “Superstar” Jewish Doctor

Posted on November 13th, 2014 by

“Oh God of faithfulness, place in the heart of the sick trust in me and my work, and an ear to listen to my advice. Remove from their bedside every quack [and all] heralds and saviors who come forth regularly… [and] dare to rise up and criticize the work of a doctor.” –Physician’s Prayer, written by Marcus Herz, 1789

I am indebted for the substance of this post to John M. Efron’s Medicine and the German Jews: A History (2001) 

Title page, Uber die fruhe Beerdigung der Juden (On the Premature Burial of the Jews), by Marcus Herz, 1787. Courtesy of The National Library of Israel, Jerusalem.

Title page, Uber die fruhe Beerdigung der Juden (On the Premature Burial of the Jews), by Marcus Herz, 1787. Courtesy of The National Library of Israel, Jerusalem.

Among Dr. Harry Friedenwald’s magnificent collection of books and manuscripts documenting the activities of Jewish physicians through the ages (selections of which  will be displayed in our upcoming exhibition on Jews and medicine in America, scheduled to open in fall 2015) is a sixty-page pamphlet titled Uber die fruhe Beerdigung der Juden, On the Premature Burial of the Jews. Its riveting cover illustration cries out for explanation from the world of the author, Dr. Marcus Herz (1747-1803).

Marcus Herz, c. 1790s at the height of his reputation. Painted by Friedrich Georg Weitsch.

Marcus Herz, c. 1790s at the height of his reputation. Painted by Friedrich Georg Weitsch.

Herz was a sought-after physician, philosopher and friend of Immanuel Kant, and wealthy socialite who, together with his brilliant and beautiful wife Henriette, opened his home to the literati of his time, Jewish and Christian. Son of a poor sofer (Torah scribe), the precocious Herz first studied for the rabbinate, then became a clerk in a commercial concern, and at age 19 began to attend lectures at the University of Koenigsberg. He could not then afford to continue his studies, but made such an impression while there that Kant asked Herz to act as his “advocate” in the defense of his dissertation. Several years later, having acquired a patron among the Jewish reformers of the city to support him, he completed degrees in medicine and philosophy. While his education and social contacts led him to abandon ritual observance (and his persuasively rationalist lectures caused, in the words of a contemporary, “many an orthodox Jew…to doubt the teachings on miracles”), Herz remained proudly Jewish, a pioneer in a model of Jewish communal leadership and philanthropy we would recognize today. A proponent of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), his sincere concern was to lead his Jewish brethren out of the ghettoes and into European citizenship.

With all the authority of his position in the community and status as a physician, Herz stepped into a raging controversy of the day: the medical uncertainty in determining the death of an individual and the resulting fear of premature burial that scholars have described as “pathological” and “a vast anxiety [which took] hold of the collective consciousness” (Ingrid Stoessel and Philippe Aries, quoted in Efron). Having learned how to resuscitate a drowning victim, scientists of the day began to question formerly agreed upon signs of death: lack of respiration and pulse, skin pallor, rigor mortis. Many insisted one could be sure death had occurred only with the onset of decay. As scientists argued and public feeling ran high, the state began to weigh in with legislation requiring burial be delayed until that point.


Henriette De Lemos Herz, 1778 around the time of her marriage to Marcus at age 15. Painted by Anna Dorothea Lisiewska. For more information about this interesting and independent woman, see the entry on her in the Jewish Women’s Archive’s online encyclopedia http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/herz-henriette

Among Christians burial several days after death was normal custom, but Jews are enjoined by Torah (Deuteronomy 21:22-3) to bury the dead within twenty-four hours. The first official action affecting Jewish burial customs came in 1772 when the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin decreed that Jews be required to wait three days before burying their dead. Moses Mendelssohn, the great interpreter of secular and Jewish culture, interceded for the community by suggesting that a physician be required to certify death before burial, a solution uneasily accepted by both sides of the controversy. The issue created lasting rifts within the Jewish community because physicians of the haskalah such as Herz, for reasons articulated in his 1787 pamphlet, tended to side with the state, while traditional authorities maintained that burial society members were quite expert in recognizing death.

Detail, Uber die fruhe Beerdigung der Juden. You may need to enlarge this image to see how the man’s entire upper body seems to be emerging from the mound of dirt on his grave in the background. Courtesy of The National Library of Israel, Jerusalem.

Detail, Uber die fruhe Beerdigung der Juden. You may need to enlarge this image to see how the man’s entire upper body seems to be emerging from the mound of dirt on his grave in the background. Courtesy of The National Library of Israel, Jerusalem.

The cover of Herz’s pamphlet is macabre. An engraving by Wilhelm Chodwiecki shows a mourner contemplating Moses Mendelssohn’s headstone while behind him in the moonlight, hands reach out, begging for liberation from a newly covered grave. Herz, at least partially motivated by a near-death illness of his own, gives passionate voice to the scene depicted on the cover: “My brothers, you simply can never have imagined the true horror of what it must be like for someone to awake in the grave!…He opens his eyes, around him everything is dark and desolate….He groans, cries, pleads with all the powers that he has struggled so hard to regain: to no avail, he languishes unheard.”

Herz proposed that Jews wait two to three days before burying their dead, with the alleged deceased resting in a mortuary and visited by a physician trained to recognize the signs of returning life or of decay. In the interim, the body was not to be considered a corpse or prepared for burial. In this he was opposed, as one might expect, by traditional Jewish authorities. But Herz was also challenged by conservative members of his own movement, who saw things differently. These opponents, also medically trained, argued—with some justification—that premature burial was not only a Jewish problem, that to single out Jewish practice for legislation was an act of discrimination by the state, and that, in fact, early burial was more hygienic than delayed burial, a claim backed by a Berlin College of Medicine study of victims of smallpox and other contagious diseases.

Is this story an example of official discrimination against the Jews, or of the struggle between Jewish traditionalists and reformers? In either case, it is a powerful demonstration of the ways in which medical arguments were mustered by those on both sides of the debate, suggesting the complexity of the relationships between medicine and the Jews.


A blog post by Curator Karen Falk. To read more posts from Karen click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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