It’s often been said that Jerusalem’s hospitals and clinics are a bastion of coexistence and cooperation in this otherwise fractious city.
Now a new exhibit, “Jerusalem: A Medical Diagnosis,” at the Tower of David Museum takes a look back at that history of healing.
“When you walk into a clinic, you’re just a person,” said Eilat Lieber, the museum’s director. “These are the places where all the conflicts and tensions are null and void.”
Muslims, Christians and Jews were all patients at the Hansen Hospital, a sprawling villa that once housed the city’s lepers (and was recently restored as a media center). Hadassah Hospital, the sprawling medical center that’s run into tough financial times, was an early savior for the city’s sick, founded by American Henrietta Szold, who first set up a visiting nurse rotation.
Likewise, it was the Franciscan monks, based in the Old City, who had the largest pharmacy in Ottoman Jerusalem; their balsam-based remedy saved many of the city’s residents during an 1860s plague of smallpox. And just up the road, the Spafford Children’s Center at the American Colony helped the people of Jerusalem regardless of religious affiliation.
A student of Jerusalem history, it was Lieber who first considered the idea of an exhibit about Israel’s medical history, while still working at her previous position at the Agnon House. At the time, she was engrossed in studying Agnon’s posthumous novel, Shira.
The book tells the story of a middle-aged Hebrew University professor who is bored with his wife — the ironically named Henrietta — and spends his days and nights searching for Shira, a nurse he met at a hospital years ago. There are two different endings to the novel, one of which has the professor spending the rest of his days at the Hansen Hospital, with Shira, who has contracted leprosy, like the rest of Hansen’s patients.
The story, by one of the city’s premier storytellers, offers the perfect backdrop for a portion of the exhibit, offering details about the city and the development of its medical establishments during the British Mandate period.
In its entirety, the exhibit, which is curated by historian Nirit Shalev-Khalifa, takes a longer, nonchronological look at the history of medicine in Jerusalem, touching on moments of sickness and health, healing and miracles over the course of thousands of years in the Holy City.
Unusually for the museum, which normally stays away from artifacts in its exhibits, this one includes objects gathered from near and far, including remedies and early pharmaceutical herbs and more modern prescriptions like Optalgin (created by Teva, Israel’s generic pharmaceutical maker, which was founded in Jerusalem and helped fund the exhibit) to camel-stenciled hospital bed rails from the 1920s and record books from Shaare Zedek Hospital.
It’s also larger than most of the recent exhibits, spread throughout the Citadel, from the interior rooms down to an outdoor medicinal herb garden. The exhibit runs through April 2015 and will be accompanied by ongoing events, including guided tours through the Old City based on the communities who brought their medical expertise to the people of Jerusalem.
“Medical establishments are islands of mercy,” said Shalev-Khalifa, “and no more so than in Jerusalem. We had someone here from the Health Ministry, and do you know what he said? Jerusalem has the longest life expectancy of all the cities in Israel, probably because of its strong communal life. It keeps people healthy.”
During a global pandemic, one tiny country is producing research that's helping to guide health policy across the world. How effective are COVID-19 vaccines? After the initial two shots, does a third dose help? What about a fourth?
When The Times of Israel began covering COVID-19, we had no idea that our small beat would become such a central part of the global story. Who could have known that Israel would be first at nearly every juncture of the vaccination story - and generate the research that's so urgently needed today?
Our team has covered this story with the rigor and accuracy that characterizes Times of Israel reporting across topics. If it’s important to you that this kind of media organization exists and thrives, I urge you to support our work. Will you join The Times of Israel Community today?
Nathan Jeffay, Health & Science Correspondent
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.