God says, “I am the Lord who heals you.” But He delegated to doctors the holy task of treating the sick as well. Throughout the millennia, Jerusalem has seen plagues, miracles, potions, hospitals founded by missionaries, donkeys hauling milk for babies, efficient health fund clinics and gleaming medical centers offering some of the best healthcare in the world.
Now the capital’s Tower of David Museum (www.towerofdavid.org.il), located inside the breathtaking medieval citadel near the Jaffa Gate of the Old City, has launched for the first time an exhibition that touches on the thousands of years of life in Jerusalem through the lens of medical milestones, beginning with the days of King David and King Hezekiah.
Called Jerusalem: A Medical Diagnosis – The History of Jerusalem through the Lens of Medicine and Faith, the exhibition combines electronic and print photographs, displays of medical equipment and other paraphernalia lent by hospitals, pharmacies, Old City churches, and individuals.
Depicting the human struggle for a healthy life in the unique context of Jerusalem, it will be open to the public until April 2015. The museum is open Sundays to Thursdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Shabbat from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On a recent press tour, museum director Eilat Lieber and exhibition curator Dr. Nirit Shalev-Khalifa said it took 18 months to prepare the exhibition in the museum, which was founded 25 years ago by the late and legendary mayor Teddy Kollek. “We see the museum as the gate to both the Old City and to the new city,” said Lieber. “The exhibition looks at the partnerships and contradictions found in the space between miracles and medicine.”
The medical advisers for the exhibition were Prof. Zohar Amar, Prof. Raphael Udassin, MD, Prof. Estēe Dvorjetski, Prof. Eran Dolev and Dr. Dan Barel. It was financed by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
As part of the ongoing events surrounding the exhibition, there will be walking tours that use the exhibition as a platform to explore on Friday mornings “The Secrets of Medicine in Jerusalem” in and around the Old City.
ONE PART of the exhibition, called The Physicians’ Wisdom and Medical Mercy, is located on the ground floor. Yet even before entering the stonefaced Crusader Hall, the visitor encounters a large collection of medicinal herbs growing in pots and is even encouraged to clip a few pieces for potting at home.
One is greeting by an electronic screen displaying a series of photographs going back a century or more. They include images from the capital’s Shaare Zedek Hospital (now upgraded to a medical center), which was built by German Jews and originally opened in Jaffa Road in 1902. There are also photos of a sanatorium established by the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews, the Marienstift Children’s Hospital, Meyer Rothschild Hospital (the first Jewish hospital outside the Old City), Bikur Holim Hospital, the English Mission Hospital and the Italian Hospital. The ophthalmology clinic of Dr. Avraham Ticho is not forgotten.
There is a moving, 1895 photograph of a tired, desperate-looking mother holding her obviously ill baby, framed by a window at the Marioenstift hospital.
The images also narrate the wars of faith and the missionary activity in the 19th century and early 20th century, which ironically led to the establishment of hospitals and clinics.
Jerusalem needed medical care not only for its growing number of residents but also the constant stream of travelers and pilgrims who came to visit and pray here.
What is striking in these photographs are the long queues of weary-looking patients waiting for doctors to see them – something that is not out of place in ultra-modern emergency departments today.
Near the entrance to the exhibition are hand-written medical record books from Shaare Zedek – since the late Seventies a modern, growing complex opposite Mount Herzl, and a plain-looking bench that a century ago stood in its synagogue. Also on display are albums from the Rothschild Archives in England, a very stark-looking X-ray machine dating back to the 1920s, lotions and potions, and diaries of nurses and doctors from the early 20th century.
Many of the items on display are being shown to the public for the first time. A metal door-knocker from the Order of St John’s hospital (lent by the Order of St John in London) is displayed, as is a cradle filled with cuddly dolls from the US in 1908 that made children in another Jerusalem hospital smile despite their illness. Many objects, said Shalev-Khalifa, are very old, and original. Every artifact, explained by cards in Hebrew, English and Arabic attached to the walls, tell a story.
“The exhibition is not [about] buildings or hospitals but [about] what happened inside,” added Shalev-Khalifa. “It tells the unique story of faith and medicine. Despite the great tension and contradictions of Jerusalem between faith and apostasy, disease and medication, everything that happens in Jerusalem is big. We paint it with a broad brush.”
Symbols of medicine, including the snake on the caduceus (the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology), are represented in several display boxes. This image also appears on the metal emblem of the Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps.
Not far from an original nurse’s uniform from St. John’s Eye Hospital – which still exists in eastern Jerusalem – is the uniform of a nurse from the well-baby clinic (Tipat Halav) established over a century ago by the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
The London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews, established in 1844, which established a medical facility in the Old City and then moved it to Hanevi’im Street, was open-minded enough to set up a place for Jewish religious services; there is a sculpted marble lectern where the person heading the prayers stood.
A zinc charity box at Shaare Zedek represents the always-existing need to solicit funds from abroad to build and develop Jerusalem’s existing voluntary hospitals.
Doctors and nurses who treated victims of leprosy at Hansen’s Hospital near today’s Jerusalem Theater are shown on a staircase in one photograph.
Although the medical institution in the Talbiyeh quarter was closed down years ago, it has only recently been turned into a cultural and arts center.
Another photo shows forlorn lepers sitting in Zion Square. There is also an unforgettable, ghoulish photo of 1909 wedding held in a cemetery to “discourage the Evil Eye” and “ward off an epidemic.”
One of the few replicas on show is that of a stone commode (toilet) where patients at the turn of the 20th century would sit, their waste falling into a cesspit not far below. Hanging behind it is a broom made from thorny boughs of the rosaceae bush; these were hastily distributed and used to clean the town when Kaiser Wilhelm visited Jerusalem in 1898.
ONE MUST make a steep climb to the second part of the exhibition – The Miracle and the Plague and the Historical Apothecary – in the Phasael Tower that overlooks the entire grounds of the museum. It focuses on medicines used in Jerusalem from biblical times, with original prescriptions of minerals and plants. See one specimen that was prescribed to treat the biblical plague of boils.
The visitor to this worthwhile and impressive exhibition comes away with an optimistic message: Although Jerusalem had been the focus of endless political and religious disputes, the capital’s doctors, nurses and paraprofessionals of different faiths work in harmony, unquestioningly and devotedly treating patients from all backgrounds.