A Century of Caring (Part 8)

This article, the eighth in a yearlong JUF News series, traces the growth of the Chicago Jewish community's pioneering leadership in quality health care services and research, and the Federation's vital role on behalf of that commitment.

In the beginning, there was a Jewish Burial Ground Society, born in 1845, perhaps of necessity as well as communal interest, just a few years after the arrival of the first Jewish immigrants to Chicago. But there was also a traditional Jewish commitment to extending life, by caring for the sick and less fortunate. Appropriately, when the United Hebrew Relief Association (UHRA) was formed in 1859, one of its first priorities was to secure the means to open a Jewish sponsored hospital.

A variety of fund-raising activities ensued, including a banquet and ball in 1864 and a mass meeting in October 1866, which raised close to $10,000. Additional communal benefits were held, including a play attended by 200 children who each contributed 10 cents.

Construction plans proceeded, and finally a gala cornerstone-laying event was held on September 2, 1867. Marching bands, the mayor, judges, members of the press, and invited guests joined representatives of congregations and UHRA organizations in parading from downtown to the hospital site on La Salle Street, between Goethe and Schiller streets. Godfrey Snydacker, one of two principal speakers, addressed the gathering in German. The other orator, Henry Greenebaum, who spoke in English, stated, Although reared and maintained by Israelites, no distinction shall be made on account of denomination, nationality, or race. This ethos has been a hallmark of Federation-sponsored health care services to this day.

On August 10, 1868, the Jewish Hospital was opened for patients, at a final cost of $25,286, exclusive of lot and furnishings of $1,987.

A Chicago Tribune report on the 1866 mass meeting noted that a fire alarm had caused many people to leave before the fund-raising was complete. Ironically, the hospital was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, never to be rebuilt. Other Jewish health care facilities would arise, but, ken ayina hora ("not to jinx"), there were no more parades.

There were efforts by UHRA to raise funds for another hospital during the 1870s, but other crises, precipitated by a second major fire in 1874 and a depression and financial panic three years, later kept the issue on hold. Help was to come from an unexpected source.

Michael Reese was a lifelong bachelor who spent a short time in Chicago, where he had six sisters, all of whom were active in communal and philanthropic activities. He settled in California where he invested in real estate and made his fortune. After his on shipboard during a trip to Europe, it was revealed that he left $30,000 to two of his nephews, Henry L. and Joseph Frank, to be expressly devoted to charitable use in Chicago. Specific use of the funds was left to the nephews, who offered the money to UHRA to be used for a new hospital bearing the name of the donor.

Reese's sister, Mrs. Henriette Rosenfeld, and brother-in-law, Jacob Rosenberg also recipients of a sum left by Michael Reese for charitable use provided an additional $50,000 as an endowment fund for the hospital. A subscription drive and other activities raised sufficient funds for construction of the hospital, which opened in October 1881.

In 1893, the West Side Dispensary was opened by Michael Reese Hospital to serve the growing immigrant population in the Maxwell Street neighborhood. Two years later the Chicago Lying-In Dispensary was founded, to provide charitable aid to needy obstetrical cases, and training for nurses and interns. This led to the establishment of a maternity hospital under the name of Lying-In Hospital.

In 1900, the Associated Jewish Charities, forerunner of today's Jewish Federation, was formed and included among its constituent organizations UHRA and the health care facilities.

During the 20th century, Michael Reese Hospital became renowned for its pioneering leadership in medical care, research and education. A centennial history of the facility, "All Our Lives," edited by Sarah Gordon, describes many of the innovations developed by their physicians and researchers, including: the Hess incubator bed for premature infants; the link between cholesterol and diet and heart disease; a vaccine for certain strains of polio; the first linear cancer therapy accelerator; the mechanism of action of insulin; and the first practical artificial shoulder.

From its inception, the hospital served all segments of the community, including many patients who could not afford to pay for their care. They also contributed to the physical well-being of their area. When the neighborhood declined, Reese helped redevelop the area in a major private urban renewal project.

One thing the hospital did not serve was kosher food. The Michael Reese supporters were largely German Jews who had adopted Reform Judaism, and while they strove to maintain a Jewish identity, they did not provide for kashrut at the facility. The largely Orthodox Eastern European Jews, settling in large numbers on the West Side, also resented the Reese policy of hiring only German Jewish doctors. By the early 1900s, the West Side physicians began to formulate plans for their own hospital. Property was purchased at California near 15th Street, in the newly emerging Orthodox neighborhood of Lawndale.

The new facility, onides Hospital, opened in June1912 and was, from the beginning, a part of the new Federated Orthodox Jewish Charities. Beset by financial problems, the institution lasted only until 1915, its doors remaining closed for the next four years.

As the Lawndale Jewish community grew, and economic conditions improved, efforts were begun to reestablish the hospital. Spurred by Morris Kurtzon, who bought the hospital under foreclosure proceedings and later donated the building and its equipment to the community, auxiliaries and other supporters joined in the cause. Renamed Mount Sinai Hospital, the institution reopened in 1919.

Like Michael Reese, Mount Sinai has always served health care needs of the Jewish and general communities. And it remained a viable presence in the community, long after Jews left the Lawndale area. It continues to serve the Jewish community, particularly providing for the health care needs of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and other patients referred by the Jewish Federation. Its physicians and other health care staff also serve clients of a number of Federation agencies. With the sale of Michael Reese to a private health care firm in the early 1990s, Mount Sinai is now the only Jewish Federation supported hospital medical center in Chicago.

Mount Sinai is a member of Sinai Health System, along with Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and Care Network, Sinai Community Institute, Sinai Medical Group and Sinai HealthFirst.

In addition to health care services, medical research has been an integral part of the hospital since its beginning. In the 1920s, Sinai physicians stressed clinical research in areas such as cardiology, the study and treatment of obesity, gastrointestinal surgery, obstetrics, and gynecology. In the following years through 1945, medical research moved to the laboratory, where new procedures and tests were developed. In the post-World War II era there was growth in research activities in many areas, including pathology, cardiology, hematology, surgery, psychiatry, anesthesiology and radiology.

Through the decades, there have been several expansions of the hospital campus and development of innovative community-based programs and medical offerings. In recent years there have been physical and service improvements in outpatient areas, maternal and child health, and the emergency department. As one of the Level 1 trauma centers in Chicago, Mount Sinai each year cares for more than 2,000 of the city's most seriously injured trauma patients. Last year they had 40,286 emergency room visits. The youngest patients now have their own area in the emergency room, with toys and games available to help make their experience less stressful.

Mount Sinai also has developed partnerships with community agencies, government and other health care providers. They now have an affiliation with Finch University of Health Sciences/The Chicago Medical School to help train their physicians.

Harold Rosen served as director of communications and associate executive director of JUF/JF from 1968-1992. He is now a consultant on special projects. 

A Century of Caring

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Irving Cutler

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