A mission to heal

In the second and final part of a series dedicated to the city’s historical hospitals, take a stroll along Hanevi’im Street toward Safra Square.

The International Anglican School, formerly the English Mission Hospital (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
The International Anglican School, formerly the English Mission Hospital
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
In 1844, the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews made medical history when it opened the first modern hospital in Jerusalem. Along with providing the latest in healthcare, doctors at the English Mission Hospital planned to preach Christianity over the beds of their patients.
Not surprisingly, the reaction of the Jewish Orthodox establishment was harsh, and Jews who died within the hospital’s walls were refused a Jewish burial. Yet lacking any other suitable option, Jews continued to take advantage of its services (see IJ, July 25, “The doctor is in”).
History repeated itself just over 50 years later, when the LJS (today known as the Church’s Ministry Among the Jews or CMJ) inaugurated a splendid new medical facility along Hanevi’im Street – complete with a kosher kitchen! Aghast, Jerusalem rabbis posted a long list of severe punishments for any Jew who dared use the hospital.
One day a lone and destitute Jewish woman fell ill, and her non-Jewish neighbors rushed her to the English Mission Hospital. After she died there, the rabbis refused to let her be buried in the Jewish cemetery. Accompanied by an escort of Turkish soldiers to keep order, she was then laid to rest in a mission plot. That night the grave was desecrated, and the woman’s body was dumped on the ground.
The situation was so bad that the CMJ purchased land near the Mount of Olives for Jewish burial. But eventually, the rabbis’ opposition diminished and the hospital filled with Jewish patients.
This week’s suggested stroll takes you along Hanevi’im Street – also known as the Street of the Hospitals – and ends at Safra Square. From there, it is less than a fiveminute walk to the Tower of David Museum, where you can enjoy its fascinating exhibit, “Jerusalem: A Medical Diagnosis.”
BEGIN AT No. 82 Hanevi’im Street, with the compound that once held the English Mission Hospital. It sat on property bought in 1863 as one of the first plots of land purchased outside the Old City walls. The CMJ built a sanatorium/retreat on the site that same year, and later added a girls’ boarding school. But the hospital only opened – with flags, garlands and fanfare – in 1897.
During World War I, the Turks cared here for their wounded soldiers, and in 1917 the British turned the hospital into headquarters for the division that conquered Jerusalem. Gen. Edmund Allenby, head of British forces, lunched here one day with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia).
Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus was forced to close during the War of Independence in 1948, and in March of that year, the CMJ loaned part of its hospital rent-free to the Jewish National Council. What became known as Hadassah “A” was vacated only in 1962, a year after Hadassah University Medical Center was inaugurated in Ein Kerem.
Over many decades, the school that was operating on the property expanded greatly, and today the striking buildings host the International Anglican School. Try to gain entrance, but if that doesn’t work, your best view is from between the bars of the vehicular gate near the far end of the wall.
When you reach the junction with Straus Street, turn right and stand before the impressive entrance to Bikur Cholim Hospital. It boasts pilasters, splendid arches and three sets of double doors made of beaten copper and covered with biblical verses. Built in 1925 to replace the Bikur Cholim Hospital in the Old City, it belongs today to Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
During the Arab riots of 1929 and the Arab revolt against the British a decade later, many of the wounded were brought to Bikur Cholim. Among them were Jewish underground fighters, who were given fictitious names so they would not be caught by the British.
The elegant and superbly preserved hospital directly opposite was built in 1894, and stretches around the corner to Hanevi’im Street. Run by a German order of Lutheran nuns called the Deaconess Sisters, the new hospital was a far cry from the small facility they had opened in the Old City in 1851.
If the Straus Street entrance is open, walk inside to view a comprehensive exhibit depicting the history of medicine in Jerusalem. As you enter, look up to see the year construction began – 1892 – and the symbol of the order: a sculpted dove holding an olive branch in its mouth.
Back on Hanevi’im Street, you can see that same dove of peace on the keystone of the hospital’s main entrance.
The original inscription on the lintel reads, in German, “I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26).
In 1948 several departments from Hadassah Mount Scopus moved here, to what became known as Sieff Hadassah Hospital. Years later, the hospital began housing clinics and departments of Bikur Cholim; it, too, is now part of Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
Cross Hanevi’im Street and look back to gaze up at the roof, topped by a little bell tower. Then continue down the road to No. 64, an enchanting little lane bursting with trees and flowers. Famous poetess Rachel lived in the little hut on your right for a short while in 1925, after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. The lovely structure on the left, dating back to 1870, served both as home and clinic for Dr. Helena Kagan.
When the 25-year-old Dr. Kagan reached the Holy Land in 1914, she was already a practicing pediatrician.
The Turks, however, refused to give her a working permit because women doctors were unheard of in the Ottoman Empire. During World War I, when doctors were scarce, she began treating children in Jerusalem’s hospitals as the first female pediatrician in the Land of Israel.
Turn left when you exit onto Hanevi’im Street, and at Harav Kook Street turn right. Head right again and follow tiny Beit Ticho Street to its end. You have reached a splendid villa built by the Arab Nashashibi family in the middle of the 19th century, today a restaurant housing a branch of the Israel Museum.
In 1924, the magnificent dwelling was purchased by prominent Jerusalem ophthalmologist Abraham Ticho and his wife, Anna, a world-famous artist. It was here, in his clinic, that Dr. Ticho became famous for his treatment of trachoma.
Dr. Ticho was stabbed in the back by an Arab in 1929, a year in which the city was torn by Arab riots. He was rushed to Hadassah Hospital (originally the Rothschild – your next site) and despite a wound four centimeters wide that reached all the way through to his ribs, he recovered from his injury.
Located on the corner of Hanevi’im and Harav Kook streets, and completed in 1888, the Rothschild Hospital was the first Jewish-owned hospital to appear outside the walls of the Old City, and replaced an older, overcrowded facility in the Old City. Rothschild Hospital provided free treatment and drugs to patients of all religions and nationalities. It was also the subject of a fascinating story.
It seems that some time in the late 19th century, a group of earnest Presbyterians lugged masses of fabric to Jerusalem. Certain that the Second Coming of Jesus was imminent, they hoped to set up a gargantuan tent on the Mount of Olives to shelter thousands of devout pilgrims in the event of rain.
In the meantime, they stored the material – all of it stamped “Property of the Presbyterian Church” – wherever they could. Its final resting place was in the basement of the Rothschild Hospital.
According to this tale, which is quite possibly true, the hospital ran out of sheets and hospital gowns. That’s when the head administrator recalled the Presbyterians’ fabric. He ordered it cut up to provide patients with bedclothes and garments, and turned everything else into fuel for heating ice-cold hospital rooms.
Unfortunately for the administrator, a disgruntled staff member sent samples of the clothes and sheets – still labeled as Presbyterian property – to the Rothschild family that was funding the hospital. The administrator was summarily dismissed (and, some say, later committed suicide).
Shut down during World War I, the hospital began to deteriorate. Fortunately, in 1918 it was taken over by the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
More recently, the impressive building was incorporated into the Hadassah College of Technology.
Pass the rotary and stop at No. 29 Hanevi’im Street.
One of the first structures to appear outside the Old City walls, it is here that in 1872, a German-trained pediatric surgeon named Max Sandreczky founded the first children’s hospital in the Middle East.
When Sandreczky and his wife, Johanna, moved to the Holy Land in 1868, they found that none of the rapidly developing hospitals in Jerusalem were meant for children. Appalled at the city’s unusually high mortality rate among infants and children, he convinced the German archduke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin to help him build a pediatric hospital.
It was called the Marienstift Kinderhospital, named for the archduke’s wife, Princess Marie. There were two conditions to their support: no proselytizing could take place, and the hospital would treat children of every nationality and religion.
And, indeed, not only did children come from all over the Middle East, but Sandreczky was greatly admired by the Jewish community in Jerusalem. And despite the fact that Sandreczky couldn’t afford to operate a kosher kitchen, Jews flocked to the hospital as well, Although Sandreczky and his wife – who worked as his nurse – refused to accept a salary, they were always short of money. Since staff didn’t proselytize, established churches refused financial help and the more suitable hospital premises they desperately needed never materialized.
After working tirelessly at the hospital for 27 years, Sandreczky became ill. Stress added to stress and, in June 1899, the selfless Sandreczky committed suicide. The hospital closed down soon afterwards.
In 1994, the historic site once again began serving as a children’s medical facility. Today, it is filled with infants and children whose congenital heart defects require specialized heart surgery. Brought here and cared for by the nonprofit Shevet Achim, they come from homes in Gaza, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Morocco.
Now backtrack to the traffic circle and turn left, to take Monbaz Street through the Russian Compound. At city hall, just before you enter Safra Square, look right. The stunning edifice – building No. 13 – is currently being restored.
Dating back to 1863, the lovely structure was built by the Russian Church to serve as a hospital. Though it would be decades before any other significant medical facility would appear outside the Old City walls, its services were limited to Russian pilgrims and people connected with the church.
During the British Mandate, it served as a prison hospital where wounded members of the Jewish underground received medical care. On September 15, 1943, Stern Group fighter Emmanuel Hanegbi – father of Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi – escaped from the hospital. Three years later, Stern Group member Geula Cohen – who would later marry Hanegbi – was apprehended by the British and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Cohen was sent to the women’s facility in Bethlehem, and soon afterwards tried to flee. Wounded in the attempt, she was hospitalized at the former Russian hospital. From here, disguised as an Arab, she was able to escape.
During the War of Independence, wounded Israeli soldiers were cared for in the former British prison hospital. That’s when the hospital became known by its current name: Avichail, which means, “My father is a soldier.”
A special thanks to Kelvin Crombie for giving me his book A Prophetic Prophecy to use as source material for both parts of this series on historic Jerusalem hospitals.