Covenant of Care: Newark Beth Israel and the Jewish Hospital in America

Covenant of Care: Newark Beth Israel and the Jewish Hospital in America

Covenant of Care: Newark Beth Israel and the Jewish Hospital in America

Covenant of Care: Newark Beth Israel and the Jewish Hospital in America


Where were you born? Were you born at the Beth? Many thousands of Americans-Jewish and non-Jewish-were born at a hospital bearing the Star of David and named Beth Israel, Mount Sinai, or Montefiore. In the United States, health care has been bound closely to the religious impulse. Newark Beth Israel Hospital is a distinguished modern medical institution in New Jersey whose history opens a window on American health care, the immigrant experience, and urban life. Alan M. and Deborah A. Kraut tell the story of this important institution, illuminating the broader history of voluntary nonprofit hospitals created under religious auspices initially to serve poor immigrant communities. Like so many Jewish hospitals in the early half of the twentieth century, "the Beth" cared not only for its own community's poor and underprivileged, a responsibility grounded in the Jewish traditions of tzedakah ("justice") and tikkun olam ("to heal the world"), but for all Newarkers.

Since it first opened its doors in 1902, the Beth has been an engine of social change. Jewish women activists and immigrant physicians founded an institution with a nonsectarian admissions policy and a welcome mat for physicians and nurses seeking opportunity denied them by anti-Semitism elsewhere. Research, too, flourished at the Beth. Here dedicated medical detectives did path-breaking research on the Rh blood factor and pacemaker development. When economic shortfalls and the Great Depression threatened the Beth's existence, philanthropic contributions from prominent Newark Jews such as Louis Bamberger and Felix Fuld, the efforts of women volunteers, and, later, income from well-insured patients saved the institution that had become the pride of the Jewish community.

The Krauts tell the Beth Israel story against the backdrop of twentieth-century medical progress, Newark's tumultuous history, and the broader social and demographic changes altering the landscape of American cities. Today, the United States, in the midst of another great wave of immigration, once again faces the question of how to provide newcomers with culturally sensitive and economically accessible medical care. Covenant of Care will inform and inspire all those working to meet these demands, offering a compelling look at the creative ways that voluntary hospitals navigated similar challenges throughout the twentieth century.


The history of Newark Beth Israel Hospital and Medical Center chronicles the transformation of a twentyeight-bed converted house in the midst of a teeming immigrant neighborhood to a modern regional medical center serving the city of Newark and the state of New Jersey. This history offers a prism though which to comprehend the broader experiences of voluntary hospitals created under Jewish auspices.

Early in the twentieth century, hospital administrators of a progressive bent argued that the modern hospital had the potential to be an engine of social change, as well as a place to heal and care for the sick. the 1913 inaugural issue of the journal Modern Hospital proclaimed in its editorial that each “hospital of the future” was to be a “social service,” a “new human melting pot, wherein the weak and the poor and the unfortunate are blended in the warm fires of a common brotherhood with the rich, the strong, and the self-reliant; and the process must bring forth a new humanity, a new moral code, a new religion.” the editorial resonated with the values that gave rise to Jewish hospitals, especially the core values expressed in the Hebrew word tzedakah. Although often taken to mean “charity,” tzedakah quite literally means “justice,” and to bring justice to those in need is part of the even larger mission that Jews undertake, tikkun olam, “repairing the world.” How similar that notion of justice was to Modern Hospital’s vision that the “social service of today is no charity, but a meager and halting attempt to mete out a common justice, to right the wrongs which are the accumulated transgressions of all the ages.” Inherently modern in their mission, then, Jewish hospitals still needed to transform themselves into modern medical institutions of distinction. the history of Newark Beth Israel Hospital epitomizes that struggle as it unfolded across the twentieth century.

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