In the late 1930s or early '40s, the Ladies' Sewing
Society of Baltimore's Sinai Hospital Auxiliary
gathered for an awards ceremony. The society's
members mended sheets and made toys for
Dr. Alfred Sherman, of the Obstetrics and
Gynecological Department of Detroit's Sinai
Hospital, lectures to a group of interns.
Dr. Samuel Frank was director
of Baltimore's Hebrew Hospital
between 1903 and 1906.
president of Beth Israel of Boston and vet-
eran of the early days. You could open up
to one another. We weren't competitors.
You could hang it all out on the table and
others would critique you in a non-hostile
way." Their talks ranged all over the lot,
from the big picture, to philosophical is-
sues, to little things." They talked about
nursing problems, about hassles with the
local medical societies, about the federa-
tions, about financial issues, about how to
deal with governing boards, and about
whether to have separate legal counsel,
about making kosher food available.
Among the most persistent issues was
the tumultuous demographic shift, as
Jews fled in waves to the suburbs, leaving
many of the old Jewish hospitals overrun
by new, non-Jewish neighbors. Sinai of
Detroit's huge facility, for example, was
left squarely in the midst of a black com-
munity, 20 minutes by expressway from
the developing heart of the Jewish com-
munity. What could they do about that?
Could they retain their old patients?
Should they move out? Stay where they
were? Nor was there consensus; each hos-
pital dealt with the problem in its own
By the late 1970s, according to Alan
Weinstein, today president of the organ-
ization that ultimately grew out of those
early annual gatherings, they were no
longer an informal knife and fork club.
Now they were throwing some money in."
They were meeting quarterly now, setting
up little task forces, studying crucial is-
sues. Should they try to organize data
processing collectively? What about pro-
viding employee benefits? Or group buy-
ing of IVs and surgical supplies?
In time, the focus of the group grew
less Jewish. In 1982, they had become the
Consortium of Jewish Hospitals. But now
they acknowledged that while they shared
a certain style and certain problems that
originated in their Jewish roots, these had
little to do with their being Jewish. They
were big, non-profit, usually in large
cities, and their mission went beyond the
care of the sick to research and teaching.
Perhaps, they began to think, they might
take in some large, non-profit, big city
teaching hospitals that were not Jewish.
The first was Memorial Medical Cen-
ter of Jacksonville, Florida, some of whose
top people had formerly been with Mount
Sinai of Milwaukee. There were Catholic
and Baptist hospitals out there, too, that
could benefit from joining, but just try ap-
proaching them . . . "It's hard for us to go to
our board and say, 'Let's join the consor-
tium of, uh, Jewish Hospitals,' " they'd
hear. So they debated giving up the con-
sortium's Jewish identity. Some among
them counseled caution. What if they