Jerusalem Day tribute honoring city landmark and the people who made it so

Living in Jerusalem in the 1920s was not simple.

‘A FEW minutes later we boarded an Egged bus that mercifully stopped for us.’ (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘A FEW minutes later we boarded an Egged bus that mercifully stopped for us.’
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
'You are not taking a train to Jerusalem,” was the emphatic decision of my Aunt Ella. “You will take a sherut.” 
It was late 1953 and I had recently arrived in Israel and wanted to visit with my uncle Avraham (Albert) Ticho and his wife Anna in Jerusalem. Aunt Ella and her husband Aaron Ticho have very kindly invited me to stay in their home in Tel Aviv and, as a guest in their house, politeness dictated that I must accept her decision. “But please tell me, ‘What is a sherut?’” 
I soon learned that a sherut was a large DeSoto taxicab that could accommodate eight people – a driver and as many as seven passengers who shared the cost of the trip. It is safer and more comfortable, I was told, though a bit more expensive. Two days later I was squeezed between two men in the back seat of the sherut on my way to Jerusalem.
The ride was pleasant. My neighbors spoke rudimentary English and asked a lot of questions and tried to sell me on the idea to make aliyah. As the road turned uphill our car stopped and refused to move further. We were invited to exit the car, collect our baggage and find transportation for the balance of the trip. So much for “safer and more comfortable.” 
A few minutes later we boarded an Egged bus that mercifully stopped for us and I completed the trip to Jerusalem standing in a crowded bus. Now what? When we arrived I asked a few people about the Ticho house. A nice man took my hand and led me out the back of the station, pointed uphill to a large white building and said (what I believed was), “That’s the Ticho home.” That is how I learned that, in 1953, the Ticho home was a stone’s throw away from the Jerusalem bus station, that Ticho was a well-known name in Jerusalem and that Israelis are friendly and welcoming people.
I hiked up the hill and reached the house to be greeted by Aunt Anna. Anna immediately inquired whether I wanted to eat or drink something. She then ignored my response and personally saw to my assumed needs. Then, with the food and drink set before me, she sat down facing me and inquired about all the news I could bring to her. In 1953, I was the first family member from the United States to arrive after the war and the Shoah, so the questioning was quite extensive and detailed. She looked straight into my eyes and I got the feeling that every word I uttered was of great interest to her. My interrogation ended when Anna’s husband, Dr. Abraham Ticho, arrived to have lunch.
I had met this uncle once before in 1934 when he came to my older brother’s bar mitzvah ceremony in Czechoslovakia. But I was only seven years old and few of the many guests paid any attention to me. I was determined to make this meeting more meaningful. I was in the midst of writing my memoir From Generation to Generation and I had every intention to include material about my “famous” uncle. I brought my cassette audio recorder determined to interview both my uncle and my aunt.
Here is what I gathered: 
ALBERT (WHOSE Hebrew name was Abraham), the sixth in the line of 13 Ticho siblings, was born in 1883 in Boskovice, which was then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He followed his two brothers, Joseph and Max, to university studies in Vienna. Unlike them, however, he opted to study medicine – instead of law – and decided to specialize in eye diseases. However, when he reached the final examinations in this field, he encountered some difficulties and decided to switch to the Charles University in Prague. There, a year later, he received his diploma in the field of ophthalmology. Albert returned to Vienna where he was offered a position on the staff of one of the professors at the hospital. 
“However,” said the learned doctor, “two of my assistants are Jews, and I can’t put another Jew on my staff. You’ll just have to convert to Christianity.” Albert was very upset by the professor’s bigotry but, nevertheless, responded politely: “My father would be deeply hurt. So, I must respectfully refuse the offer.” 
DR. ALBERT and Anna Ticho relaxing on their balcony. The building behind Anna housed the clinic. (Courtesy Ticho family)DR. ALBERT and Anna Ticho relaxing on their balcony. The building behind Anna housed the clinic. (Courtesy Ticho family)
An older doctor and friend, a Dr. Stern, turned to the young man and told him: “Leave these goyim and these antisemites. Why put up with this abuse? The Lemaan Zion eye clinic in Jerusalem is looking for a doctor to run the clinic. Why don’t you apply?” 
Albert applied for the position and in 1912 found himself on a donkey on his way from the port city of Jaffa to Jerusalem. There, near the Mandelbaum Gate, just outside of the Mea She’arim Jewish Quarters, he found the clinic. It consisted of a rented house with 40 beds, an assistant doctor, some nurses and hundreds of people waiting to be treated in a country where nearly every second person was suffering from an eye disease.
The family reluctantly accepted Albert’s departure for Palestine, secretly hoping that a lengthy separation from his first cousin Anna might break up, what they considered, an undesirable romance that had been flourishing for some months. They were due for a disappointment. In 1912, the family had gathered in Brno to celebrate the pidion haben of David’s son Robert. While everyone was there, a telegram arrived that simply stated: “Mazal Tov to everyone. Albert and Anna are engaged.” This struck the family like a bolt of lightning. The family was deeply disappointed and concerned what a marriage between two first cousins might bring. Unfortunately, the family’s worst fears became true, as all six of Anna’s pregnancies ended in miscarriages.
It is difficult today to get a true picture of the vast influence that Dr. Albert Ticho had during his lifetime. He came into a country where poor sanitation and poor medical attention caused many people to lose their eyesight. Trachoma, an ancient eye disease caused by an invasion of parasites into the eye, was the principal cause of blindness. Dr. Ticho determined that the spread of trachoma could be reduced with improved hygienic conditions and the elimination of flies in homes. He devised a clever plan of getting his message into the homes by mounting an intense campaign to educate the children in schools regarding proper hygienic care. The children brought the information back home and, after only a few years of this effort, the incidents of trachoma were greatly reduced. 
Dr. Ticho’s day was an extremely busy one. It wasn’t unusual, at times, for a whole Arab village to arrive at the clinic’s door. For example, an Arab eye doctor was overwhelmed by an outbreak of a form of gonorrhea that attacked the eyes in a village near Rishon Lezion. The whole village was brought to the clinic for examination and treatment. For many Arab patients, the most important part of the treatment was an injection. Albert learned that an Arab patient who did not get an injection as part of the treatment felt that he had not been properly cared for. An injection of plain sugar water would often send the patient home beaming.
WORLD WAR I greatly disrupted the lives of Albert and Anna. As an Austrian citizen, he was forced to leave Jerusalem and join the Austrian Army. Thus Albert found himself in Damascus in charge of an eye clinic at an Austrian army hospital. Life for Albert and Anna was very difficult. Prejudice and abuse were rampant. Jews, in particular, were subjected to a great deal of persecution. Albert was forced to witness the execution of a Jew by the name of Nilli who was hanged on a trumped-up charge of treason. 
In the meantime, the Turkish army in Palestine was defeated by the British. The British army occupied Jerusalem and Albert’s eye clinic was converted into a horse barn for the army’s cavalry. When they finally returned home, Albert and Anna were confronted by their ruined clinic. Further, Albert’s wallet contained only Turkish money that was worthless. Albert and Anna were penniless. The family came to the aid of the destitute couple, and Albert and Anna proceeded to rebuild their lives.
After a three-year term as head of the eye department at the Rothschild Hospital in Jerusalem, Dr. Ticho decided to open a private clinic and hospital. His reputation grew far and wide, and patients from all over the Middle East came to his door. For 36 years, until he died of a stroke in 1960, Dr. Ticho and his staff performed thousands of operations and treated hundreds of thousands of patients – ranging from the royal house of the Hashemite Kingdom to the poorest peasant. No one was turned away. 
The rich were charged a high fee to offset the cost of treating those who could not afford to pay anything. At first Anna was Albert’s assistant, but soon nurses were added to the hospital’s staff, then doctors and other technicians. At its busiest time, five doctors were active, assisting Albert in the clinic and at the hospital. Early each morning a line started forming in front of the clinic door. Patients learned to arrive early to secure a spot at the front. This applied to everyone. Not even British Army officers got preferential treatment. The same procedure applied in the operating room.
INSIDE TICHO House today: Treasures abound. (Wikimedia Commons)INSIDE TICHO House today: Treasures abound. (Wikimedia Commons)
In 1924 Albert purchased a building called “The Castle of Haj Rashid” and converted it into a hospital. The downstairs housed the surgery, recovery wards, pharmacy, kitchen, laundry, library and reception area. The upstairs was converted into the couple’s apartment. The house was located in a beautiful garden just a few feet from Jerusalem’s busiest intersection of Jaffa Road and Ben Yehuda Street. When the house was originally constructed it was set in a wide open area. Built as a summer castle for the Nashashibi family, it served as an idyllic place in which to spend the hot summer days outside the crowded Old City. The house had several owners before it came on the market and was purchased by Albert and Anna.
LIVING IN Jerusalem in the 1920s was not simple. There were a great number of political pressures affecting everyday life. Two Arab families, the Husseini and the Nashashibi, ruled Jerusalem. They could be bribed at times to allow Jews to make some progress in the city. Nevertheless, they still essentially pursued Arab nationalistic goals. At times the two families competed with each other for control of the city, but when it came to fighting the Jews, they usually managed to present a united front. 
The British, in order to control the country, played the various factions against each other. In response to the demands from the Arabs, the British suddenly decided to prohibit the blowing of the shofar at the end of the Yom Kippur services. A British policeman was stationed in the synagogues to enforce the rule. In Jerusalem’s main synagogue, when the services concluded, a turmoil was suddenly created and from the midst of the milling crowd the shofar was heard. In the confusion the perpetrator disappeared and could not be arrested. The rule was repealed soon thereafter.
In 1929, Arab resentment over British rule resulted in serious rioting. The major victims of the rioting were the Jewish people living in Palestine. Many settlements were attacked and fighting spread throughout the area. The British tried to separate the factions as best as they could. At the height of the rioting, Albert was attacked by a young Arab and stabbed in the back. The exact reason for the attack was never determined. Some claimed that Albert was one of four Jewish leaders that had been targeted for assassination by the Arab revolutionary group. 
Albert was rushed to the Hadassah Hospital where a Dr. Wundereich attended him. When the knife was removed, Albert collapsed. Fortunately, the knife had missed the heart by a fraction of an inch and Albert survived. A great wave of concern flooded the country. People were asked to pray for Albert’s recovery, and letters of concern arrived from all over the world. Alfred Ticho, Albert’s youngest brother, decided to send a special letter and gift to his brother. He sent one of his field workers to Jerusalem to deliver the goods. The man rode a donkey from Tul Karem and returned a few days later with a glowing account of the manner in which he was welcomed, fed, and given a place to sleep. From the description of the event, Alfred realized that the man had gone to the wrong eye hospital. Even without Alfred’s gift and wishes, Albert recovered from his wound and returned to his tasks.
THE HOME of Albert and Anna became a key element of Jerusalem social life. Everyone of stature residing in Jerusalem or arriving as a visitor was seen at social events at the Ticho house. Writers, poets, philosophers, statesmen, politicians, scientists, artists, musicians, physicians, officers – Arabs, Jews, Christians – all found their way to the Ticho apartment. Quietly in the background, Anna practiced her talent as an artist. For many years it was considered a hobby of a rich man’s wife who had nothing better to do with her time. But as years passed, her works were becoming more and more known and in ever-greater demand. Most of her subjects were the faces of Israel and the hills around Jerusalem. 
When her husband died, she was able to give her art all of her time. For 20 years, even as arthritis made hand movements painful, she continued working. She spent more time now in the studio working from memory and hardly ever going back to her beloved mountains and villages. When she died in 1980 at the age of 86, she left behind a large portfolio of her art. This, along with the Ticho house, she willed to the Israel Museum. 
With the funds made available in her will, the former Abraham Ticho Eye Clinic was converted into an Artists House and today is part of the Israel Museum. Visitors who come to the house can sit in the garden, view the works of many artists including Anna Ticho’s in several large rooms, view a portion of Albert’s large collection of Jewish menorahs, examine documents and photographs from the lives of Albert and Anna, purchase souvenirs, attend a concert or recital, and have a wonderful outdoor meal on the veranda. 
The Ticho House is now a prominent landmark in the heart of Jerusalem.