Chicken soup doesn’t just heal the soul — it also heals the body. The comforting concoction has been shown to help reduce the respiratory-tract inflammation that goes with the common cold.
But that hot, healing soup is far from the only Jewish contribution to health care.
Hepatitis B vaccine. Chemotherapy. Lasik. All were created by Jewish Americans.
So it may come as a surprise that, well into the 20th century, American Jews faced significant barriers to practicing medicine and even receiving medical care. Before World War II, for example, many medical schools put strict quotas on Jewish students.
“Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America,” an exhibition at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage outside Cleveland, looks at the ways Jews in America created their own health-care system in response to widespread discrimination.
As anti-Semitism threatened American Jews, they sidestepped the medical establishment, creating everything from medical schools to hospitals to provide much-needed care.
One such hospital, Mount Sinai in Cleveland, morphed from a facility focused on Jewish patients to one where the poor could get care.
Although the hospital closed in 1996 — done in by the overwhelming cost of its mission — it lives on as a charitable foundation focusing on Jewish health. (The foundation helped fund the exhibition, which was created by the Jewish Museum of Maryland with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.)
More than 200 items from Mount Sinai Hospital and elsewhere tell the story of how Jews used medicine to assimilate into American society despite the odds — and contribute to medicine along the way.
The exhibition is locally focused, but its story is national. It’s free with admission to the museum, which also tells other stories of diversity and tolerance. Check it out through April 8.