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February 27, 1987 - Image 26

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-02-27

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Baltimore's Hebrew Hospital, depicted in an old
engraving, looked like this in the 1860s.

Surgical staff, probably including interns and
residents, watch an operation performed in the
Baltimore Sinai Hospital's Monument Street
facility in the 1920s.

say 20 years ago, more Jewish money goes
to symphonies, museums, and other non-
Jewish institutions. In Detroit, reports Dr.
Conrad Giles, a wealthy Jewish family re-
cently gave $8 million to a non-Jewish
hospital, Harper-Grace, along with a far
lesser sum to Sinai. Says Lorraine Blass,
planning director at Baltimore's Associ-
ated Jewish Charities: "We know Jewish
money is going to Johns Hopkins, and
elsewhere . . . There's more of a spreading
around of Jewish giving."
So far the problem remains more
potential than real, with Jewish hospital
presidents acknowledging little dimuni-
tion of philanthropic and volunteer com-
mitment from old Jewish families. But
what of the next generation of such
families? Might they feel a weaker bond
with their cities' Jewish hospitals? Today,
says Baltimore's Lorraine Blass, "not
everyone so closely identifies with the
Jewish community as people once did. . . .
We're a more open society now." Indeed,
she sees part of her job as "to reach out to
Jews, to develop that sense of community
. . . We don't want to wait and find out that
the younger generation is not as commit-
ted as their parents were." In Detroit, Irv-
ing Shapiro sees signs of just such a prob-
lem: Sinai, he admits, "hasn't done as good
a job in bonding (to the younger generation
of wealthy Jewish families). We haven't
established a basis for giving."
That Jewish hospitals tend to be
among the more distinguished medical in-
stitutions softens the impact some; they
attract Jewish philanthropy, says Les Le-
vin, director of community planning of the
Council of Jewish Federations, as much
because they are good as because they are
Jewish. Still, warns Al Schwartz, "in years
to come, we could conceivably have a prob-
lem, a serious problem."
One way around it, says Federation's
Giles, is to "reach out to portions of the
community we never would have reached
out to before." Which is just what some
Jewish hospitals have begun to do. "You
can't go back to the well again, to the same
few people who have given in the past,"
says the vice president for development of
a Jewish hospital in the northeast that has
seen its patient load grow ever less Jewish.
So the hospital has begun to weigh non-
Jews as potential targets for seven-figure
giving. Translated, that means opening its
board of trustees, currently all Jewish, to
others. "I like to think," says she, "that we
are sophisticated enough now, and not so
parochial, that we go only to Jewish
Thus, just as once largely WASP bas-
tions have become less "theirs," Jewish
hospitals are opening up to other groups
and becoming less exclusively "ours."


n Detroit, a Sinai Hospital ad appear-
ing in local papers pictures a smiling
young mother, baby in arms, who in
the accompanying text thanks Sinai's
obstetrical staff for the care she received.
"I feel it's important for the Jewish com-
munity to support a Jewish-sponsored
hospital," adds the woman, identified as
Janice Goldfein, who also comments on the
kosher food and Sabbath candles fur-
nished her during her stay. Reads the
headline: "Sinai Is My Hospital."
A determined Sinai campaign to reaf-
firm the Jewish community's special bond
to its hospital? Not quite. Because in other
"Sinai is My Hospital" ads, the sense of
ownership and identity expands to in-
clude, for example, a black minister who
suffered a cerebral hemorrhage just before
attending church and was rushed to the
Sinai emergency room, and a Roman
Catholic woman expressing thanks for
how Sinai found her a lay minister to ad-
minister the Eucharist. It wasn't Jews
alone who could say Sinai was their hospi-
tal, the ad series seemed to say, but
Throughout much of their history,
Jewish hospitals have reflected the
American Jew's nervous, ever-shifting
balance between being narrowly "Jewish"
and more broadly "American" — a tension
played out in Detroit, as elsewhere. Dur-
ing its half-century genesis, writes Harry
Saltzstein, the future Sinai of Detroit be-
came "submerged in a storm of emotional
conflict about the status of Jewish life in
America." Some viewed a sectarian
Jewish hospital as a means of promoting
Jewish identity and perpetuating the
Jewish community; others saw it as un-
necessary, as merely intensifying clannish
segregation. A 1938 survey, for example,
found many Detroit Jews looking to a
Jewish hospital for the opportunities it
would afford Jewish doctors and the con-
genial surroundings it would furnish
Jewish patients. Yet others, perhaps more
eager to assimilate, worried that Jewish
doctors would never be able to get along
with Jewish nurses, that Jewish patients
really preferred Gentile doctors.
In fact, Jewish hospitals have been
growing less narrowly Jewish almost since
their founding. In Baltimore, one day in
January 1926, the president of what was
then still called Hebrew Hospital got a let-
ter from the rabbi of a local temple advis-
ing him that the name of the hospital
ought to be changed. Mount Sinai would
do. So would Mount Carmel or Mount
Olive. Anything, wrote the rabbi, but He-
brew Hospital. With the existing name,
potential patients might mistakenly think
only Jews could be admitted. Potential
nursing students might worry about feel-

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