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.


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JMM Insights: There Were Doctors in the House

Posted on January 23rd, 2015 by

On Thursday, January 22, the JMM, in partnership with the Associated, hosted a special event for medical professionals to learn about our upcoming exhibition, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. The goal of the event was to spread the word about this landmark exhibit among medical professionals and also as an opportunity for the exhibition team to gain feedback about the exhibition that can help inform its development.

Drs. Ira Papel and Robert Keehn check out the displays.

Drs. Ira Papel and Robert Keehn check out the displays.

Beyond Chicken Soup explores the interplay of cultural beliefs and medical practice and contributes to the contemporary conversation about health and medicine in America by illuminating the social meanings and values intrinsic to medical interactions. While national in scope, the exhibition focuses on many local stories and highlights the central role that our local community has played in the medical arena. To that end, the exhibition team has been actively seeking stories and artifacts to help flesh out exhibit themes. Having so many medical professionals from across the spectrum – including surgeons, pediatricians, pharmacists, orthopedists, ob/gyns, nurses, and even a mohel! – gave JMM staff the chance to learn about the experiences of a diverse group of local professionals.

Marvin shares details of the upcoming exhibit.

Marvin shares details of the upcoming exhibit.

40 people attended the program and enjoyed having the chance to interact with the exhibit team. Curator, Karen Falk and collections manager, Joanna Church, created a temporary display of several fascinating objects and photographs that will be featured in the exhibit.  These included such iconic items as “Mr. Bones”, a model skeleton created by Leon Schlossberg (courtesy of the Chesney Medical Archives), a medical artist, as a teaching tool at Hopkins; historical pharmaceutical tools from the collection of Adolf Ed Baer, a pharmacist who practiced in western Maryland; a doctor’s bag belonging to Dr. Morris Abramowitz who practiced medicine in East Baltimore in the first half of the 20th century; a silver tea set used by Sinai Hospital nurses; and a diploma from Louis Hamburger, who was among the first graduating class at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine in 1897. Staff members positioned at each of the display areas were armed with questions to ask guests about their specific experiences. Attendees were encouraged to provide answers to thought provoking questions such as “Why did you decide to become a doctor?” and “Do you ever pray with your patients?” designed to inspire conversation around topics that will be explored in depth in the exhibit.

Trustee Rikki Specter with some doctor friends!

Trustee Rikki Specter with some doctor friends!

The event was hosted by four JMM board members who are also doctors – board president, Ira Papel; board vice president, Robert Keehn; Sheldon Bearman and Crystal Watkins Johannson. Remarks were presented by Ira Papel who thanked exhibition donors and encouraged attendees to spread the word about the exhibit. JMM executive director, Marvin Pinkert, further elaborated on why Beyond Chicken Soup is such an important project of local, national and even international significance.

Researcher Alicia Puglionesi collects stories from attendees.

Researcher Alicia Puglionesi collects stories from attendees.

Thursday evening provided the JMM with our first opportunity to showcase Beyond Chicken Soup to an important constituency. We were delighted by the enthusiastic response we received by everyone in attendance, including several people who had never visited the JMM previously. We look forward to following up on many of the leads provided that will help enrich the exhibit’s content. Please help us continue to spread the word about this exciting project.


Have something to share? Call or email Curator Karen Falk! 410-732-6402 x227, kfalk@jewishmuseummd.org


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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.

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