*The days and years of the Tichos*

A new book about the Jerusalem medical career of famed ophthalmologist Dr. Avraham (Albert) Ticho and his artist wife Anna is a fascinating read.

February 21, 2015 22:57
LEMA’AN ZION Eye Clinic, 1913

LEMA’AN ZION Eye Clinic, 1913. (photo credit: HADASSAH)

A century ago in Jerusalem, there were already hospitals named Misgav Ladach, Bikur Cholim and Shaare Zedek, but the diseases that brought in masses of desperate patients were typhus, trachoma and cholera rather than today’s strokes, heart attacks and cancer. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire, and later the British, were in control and limiting Jewish immigration, and the State of Israel was only a dream of Theodor Herzl’s. Ben-Gurion, Ben-Yehuda, Ruppin, Weizmann, Balfour, Jabotinsky, Agnon and Allenby were not streets, avenues and squares but living people.

If the renowned ophthalmologist Dr. Avraham (Albert) Ticho and his artist wife and first cousin Anna had arrived here from Vienna in 2012 rather than 1912, they would have marveled at Jerusalem’s skyscrapers, museums and theaters, the world-class medical centers, community health clinics and much more – but sadly, today’s periodic Arab-Jewish tensions and outbreaks of terrorism would have been painfully familiar to them.

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She was born in Brno, Moravia (now the Czech Republic) and emigrated from Vienna to Palestine with her mother Bertha in 1912, just a few months after her fiancée Avraham – born to a traditional family not far away in Boskovice – came to Jerusalem to take charge of the Lema’an Zion Eye Hospital in the Musrara quarter.

Dr. David Reifler, a Jewish ophthalmologist at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, has written a meticulous and fascinating 473-page, hardcover English-language volume on the long medical career in Jerusalem of Dr. Ticho until his death in 1960. Constantly in the background are the tumultuous events in the Yishuv leading up to 1948.

The $30 volume from Gefen Publishing also includes a dollop of information about Anna’s career – beginning as a nurse and assistant to her husband, then turning to drawing the Jerusalem hills and portraits until her death in 1980. Anna and Avraham were not only first cousins, but they shared a birthday on October 27, albeit 11 years apart.

The author, who specializes in oculoplastic and reconstructive surgery, seems to have read decades worth of Hebrew newspapers like Ben-Yehuda’s Ha’Or, Havatzelet and Doar Ha’Yom and the English-language Palestine Post. He also uses a cornucopia of other sources, listed in more than 70 pages of amazingly detailed notes.

He also provides a huge list of periodicals, books, catalogues, encyclopedias, books and articles in a 40-page bibliography.

He managed to dig up the obscure fact that Anna graduated from the Austrian art school that rejected would-be artist Adolph Hitler! The appendix contains a list of Dr.

Ticho’s various residences, university courses and professors’ names; information on lectures at the “First Trachoma Conference of Hebrew Physicians in Eretz Yisrael in Jerusalem, 1914” and exactly how many patients were treated in his eye clinic between August to December 1916. The volume is topped off with dozens (but not enough) of black-and-white photos and family portraits, ending with the Tichos’ adjacent graves in the Har Hamenuhot cemetery.

ALTHOUGH THE couple had no children – Anna had a half-dozen miscarriages due to incompatibility of their RH blood types, which is treatable today – Ticho (meaning “quiet” or “silent” in Czech) is a well-known name to most Jerusalemites. The couple’s longtime home and sometimes-clinic off Jaffa Road (built by a wealthy Arab in 1864) is today Beit Ticho, a popular dairy and fish restaurant and gallery of Anna’s art run by the Israel Museum.

Most of the Ticho relatives who did not leave Europe in the 1930s were murdered in the Holocaust. But the family name continues here with their nephew, Dr. Uri Ticho, an emeritus professor of ophthalmology at the capital’s Hadassah University Medical Center; when it was Hadassah Hospital, Avraham Ticho was director of its ophthalmology department between 1919 and 1922.

“Days of Ticho,” in Hebrew, is a play on words of a modern Hebrew expression that evokes the pre-State era. It is used, says Reifler, to describe an antique or piece of clothing that is “out of date” or “old fashioned.”

But the good doctor – a graduate of the University of Vienna Medical School – was certainly not obsolescent, as he arrived in Jerusalem with the latest expertise in eye diseases and surgery.

Dr. Ticho never considered himself a “Zionist” in the political meaning of the word.

“Although Albert [the name he went by in Vienna] Ticho was exposed to the rhetoric and the emotions that lay behind it, he never embraced political Zionism with much passion,” the author notes. But he and Anna still came on aliya, as the doctor “had found that his Jewish religion and his Hebrew name [were] liabilities when he sought out career opportunities in Vienna.”

He learned that the Lema’an Zion clinic needed an ophthalmologist to run it and decided to come and treat the poor residents of Jerusalem – Jews, Christians and Muslims from the area, as well as distinguished Arab leaders including emir Abdullah ibn Hussein, a future king of Jordan.

ONE OF the main eye diseases that kept Dr. Ticho busy was trachoma – first known to the ancient Egyptians to modern doctors as granular conjunctivitis – which is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria.

The infection, spread by both direct and indirect contact with an affected person’s eyes or nose or indirectly via clothing or flies that have come into contact with an affected person’s eyes or nose, was rampant in the region and caused many cases of blindness due to the roughening of the inner surface of the eyelids, and the erosion of the cornea. Due to crowded living conditions, poor sanitation and the dearth of clean water and toilets in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the area, it was very common, especially among children and women.

Although it has been treatable with oral and topical (cream or drops) antibiotics since the middle of the 20th century, in the Third World there are today some 80 million people have an active trachoma infection.

But in the pre-antibiotic era in Jerusalem, there was no effective cure. Once the eyelids damaged the cornea, Ticho performed surgery to remove the scars. Ticho’s clinic and eye hospital were so packed with patients that he often treated hundreds of them per day.

In 1838, the population of Ottoman-controlled Jerusalem was only 11,000, but by 1912, it had grown to 68,000 – including 50,000 Jews, 10,000 Christians and 8,000 Muslims. At the same time, there were only 32 Jews doctors in all of Palestine. Christian and other non-Jewish hospitals tried to convert the Jews, according to the author, so the arrival of Dr. Ticho – only 28 years old – was very welcome. He and Anna were married on November 7 at Mamilla’s Hotel Kaminitz (where Herzl had stayed during his only visit in 1898). The young couple spent their honeymoon in Jericho.

A major landmark in Jerusalem healthcare was when New Yorker Henrietta Szold and her “Daughters of Zion” organization received money from philanthropist Nathan Straus to cover the costs of two female nurses – Rose Kaplan and Rachael Landy – to work in Jerusalem. Living in a settlement house in Mea She’arim near the Musrara clinic, the nurses cooperated with the Tichos as they distributed cow’s milk to poor Jerusalem families; this was the basis for the establishment of Tipat Halav well-baby clinics and the Hadassah Medical Organization.

Despite the heavy patient load – partly assembling by dragging off both Jewish and Arab children he saw in the streets so he could treat them for eye diseases in his clinic – Dr. Ticho also found time to write some articles for medical journals, starting with one in German. The author describes the major “language war” over using German or Hebrew in educational and other institutions.

Dr. Ticho’s favorite hobby was collecting Hanukka candelabra, and some of them were given to him by patients in lieu of payment.

His remarkable collection of menorahs is a prized exhibit today in the Israel Museum.

World War I broke out in 1914, and in October, Turkey formally entered the war on the side of the Germans and Austrians.

While some Jews enlisted in the Turkish army, others sided with the British. Ticho continued as usual in a non-political manner, but his workload grew due to a new epidemic of eye infections all over the country that he diagnosed as gonococcal conjunctivitis.

One extraordinary event described in the book was the arrival in Jerusalem in November 1914 of a biblical-style plague of locusts that chewed up anything green in the city until they left over a year later.

There was much starvation caused by disruptions in the supply of donations and food from abroad, disease and emigration, and the Jewish population declined significantly during the war years. Dr. Ticho joined in the fight against typhus and cholera, but he and his wife were forced in December 1917 to move temporarily to Damascus – where they worked as doctor and nurse until Allenby marched into Jerusalem and it was safe to return.

Avraham was hired to head the eye department at Hadassah, but his service was controversial. When he was given various social and financial benefits – including being the first Hadassah physician with the right to do private medicine (Sharap), some of his colleagues got jealous. This led to a “domino effect” of other senior doctors demanding the same (reminding contemporary readers of Hadassah’s recent financial and organizational chaos and bad blood that has still not been fully resolved). In January 1921, Hadassah reached the “world’s first formal adoption of the salaried physician model,” prohibiting private practice, but this money- making arrangement was restored after the establishment of Israel and was adopted by all of Jerusalem’s voluntary hospitals decades ago.

QUIETER TIMES followed, and Dr. Ticho even served as president of the Jerusalem Medical Association for three years. In 1923, he was present at the February lecture on the Theory of Relativity by the famed Albert Einstein. The Tichos bought their Jaffa Road mansion in 1924 and commissioned extensive renovation of the house, where they both lived and received patients.

In the Hebrew year of 5689 (which began in September 1928), the Yishuv in Palestine was terribly shaken by the violent massacres and mutilation of Jews by Arab rioters in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and elsewhere.

This period, notes the author, was regarded by later historians as a “critical period through various Zionist, non-Zionist and Arab perspectives. Although Ticho aimed to be apolitical, his frame of reference at the beginning of this period was probably not far removed from a viewpoint popular among the ‘new historians.’ Even so, it is likely that Ticho’s personal involvement in many of the events of the coming year...continued to shape his views.”

The Western Wall became a flashpoint of conflict between the Jews and Arab mobs, causing chaos in 1929. An Arab would-be assassin stabbed Dr. Ticho, causing thousands of Jews, Christians and Muslims to pray for him, and in fact he recovered and was able to work.

The rise of Hitler in Germany led to the emigration from Europe of as many as 2,000 Jewish physicians to Palestine, thereby forming a solid cadre that formed the basis of Israeli medicine for decades.

“The dream of an independent Jewish state was not Dr. Ticho’s personal dream,” notes Reifler in the epilogue, “but he became a loyal citizen of the State of Israel. Sentimental and ultimately unrealistic notions of a binational state of Jews and Arabs had to be set aside.”

In 1950, he retired, and he and Anna bought a home in Motza Ilit west of Jerusalem where she could concentrate on her painting and drawing. He suffered a stroke in the mid-50s and he gave up surgery, but continued to see patients. Shortly before her death, Anna received an Israel Prize for her work. The last sentence of the book recalls that their “best-known legacy” was Ticho House that they bequeathed to the Israel Museum. The former hospital and residence became a Jerusalem landmark “providing space for art exhibits, musical performances, dining and a place to learn about the ‘days of Ticho.’”

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