This Day in Jewish History |

Mt. Sinai Hospital Is Founded by Jews, for Jews

The Jewish population of New York was exploding, but there was no medical center that spoke their language - German.

David Green
David B. Green
David Green
David B. Green

On January 15, 1852, the group of nine men who constituted the first directors of the Jews’ Hospital, in New York, signed the incorporation papers that established the institution today known as Mount Sinai Hospital.

When the Jews’ Hospital opened its doors to patients, three years later, on June 5, 1855, it became the United States’ second hospital founded by Jews for Jews. The first was the Jewish Hospital, in Cincinnati, which opened in 1850.

In the mid-19th century, the Jewish population of New York was rising at an even faster rate then the overall population of the city, which grew by more than 50 percent during the 1840s, and exceeded 60 percent growth in the 1850s. Whereas New York had some 2,000 Jewish residents in 1836, the number had increased to some 7,000 four years later, and 16,000 by 1850.

There was no hospital, however, dedicated to serving the special needs of the Jewish population: an institution that offered kosher food, could assure patients they would receive a Jewish burial if they died, or even had staff that spoke German, the language of most of the new Jewish arrivals in New York during those years.

In 1850, the financier and philanthropist Mordecai Manuel Noah gathered the leaders of the city’s Jewish social-assistance organizations to plan the founding of a hospital, but his death the following year brought that project to a halt. In his place, Sampson Simson, a Jewish lawyer and philanthropist, quickly organized an alternate group of prominent Jewish citizens – including Benjamin Nathan, Theodore J. Seixas and Rabbi Samuel M. Isaacs – to pursue the same idea. They met in the Trustees’ Room of the Synagogue in Crosby Street, at the time the home of Shearith Israel Congregation to formalize their plan.

Simson donated two lots of land, and the group purchased an additional two adjacent lots, on West 28th Street, between Seventh and Eight Avenues, then a rural area. On the site, a new 45-room structure was built, at a cost of $30,000.

During its first year of operation, Jews’ Hospital had 216 admissions, only five of whom were American born (most were from Germany). Initially, it was open to Jewish patients only, nearly all of them indigent, although on an emergency basis, people of all backgrounds were received.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), the hospital agreed to care for wounded Union soldiers, and it became increasingly self-conscious about defining itself as sectarian. Hence, a formal change of its mission, in 1864, and its renaming, two years later, as Mount Sinai Hospital.

In 1870, the hospital moved uptown, to 66th Street, on the East Side, and in 1904, it came to its current location at 100th Street and Fifth Ave. In 1968, it opened its own medical school, which is today named for corporate raider Carl Icahn. (It also should be noted that in 1962, Allan Sherman paid homage to Mount Sinai, when he recorded his parody version of “St. James Infirmary”: “I went down to Mt. Sinai – Hospital / To see my old zaydie there / And I said, Thanks God / For the Blue Cross / And I wish we had the Medicare.”)

Today, the hospital has over 1,100 patient beds, and close to 2,200 attending physicians, as well as 1,800 registered nurses. In terms of both patient care and medical education and research, Mount Sinai is generally ranked among the top medical centers in the United States.

Twitter: @davidbeegreen

View of Mt. Sinai Hospital from Central Park, New York.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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