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23-05-2015, 21:03

The Jewish Hospital: Expansion and Growth

When Kiev's Jewish merchants petitioned in 1875 to expand the hospital from forty beds to eighty, they proposed that the plot they intended to acquire and the buildings upon it would remain "the property of the Kiev Jewish Hospital in perpetuity," while the hospital itself would be governed by Kiev Jewish merchants, elected by the city council.15 The city council agreed to the expansion on the condition that the land and structures, while given over for the permanent use of the hospital, would constitute municipal property.16 For some reason, then, the council was interested that the hospital be owned and subject to city authority. The chair of the Kiev Philanthropic Society, Princess Nadezhda Andreevna Dondukova-Korsakova, intervened on behalf of the trustees, requesting that the hospital remain under the auspices of her organization, and the council acquiesced. after years of an unsuccessful search for a suitable plot, the council offered several acres of municipally owned land for the new hospital building; it had only to decide whether to sell the land to the hospital's trustees or grant it outright. To this the hospital's representatives, who were also city councilors themselves, replied that the Jewish community wished to purchase the land.

Even though the details surrounding them are unavailable to us, these negotiations bear some analysis. It seems that the Jewish Hospital was an institution of some significance, whether materially or symbolically, for the Philanthropic Society, the city of Kiev, and the Jewish community (or at least the hospital's board) all wanted control of it. In some ways, this is not surprising. In reform-era Russia, municipalities were often reluctant to spend their scant resources on welfare, so a hospital funded entirely by the Jewish community would have been an unmitigated good on the city's balance sheet. From this perspective, it was also advantageous for the Philanthropic Society to have control over an institution for which it needed to pay nothing.

There may, however, have been ulterior motives involved. As we have seen, the original charter of the hospital contained a provision advocating that it be located in an area distant from the city center, near the Kirillov Institution. The plot later offered by the council for the hospital was also not far from the Kirillov, on the outskirts of the Lukianov district. Though by that time the hospital was housed in a rented complex at a more central site (Starozhitomirskaia Street), an attempt on the part of the hospital trustees to purchase the site was unsuccessful.17 Was it a coincidence that both of the locations suggested by the city council were as far as one could get from the center of Kiev without actually leaving the city? To be sure, no one wanted a hospital in the city center for fear of spreading disease, but it is also likely that the city councilors, while not opposed to the existence of the hospital, were interested in reducing its visibility as much as possible. This was to be expected in a city where Jewish settlement was restricted and, as we saw in chapter 1, the profile of Jewish residents was highly contested.

The hospital trustees had their own goals in mind. Their proposal that the new structure and the land upon which it was situated belong to the Jewish Hospital, and their insistence on purchasing the plot offered by the city council when they could have obtained it at no cost, suggests that they, too, were interested in having as much control as possible over the institution (a later account that they proposed that the hospital building and grounds be the property of the Kiev Jewish community is conceivable, though less likely).18 Their specification that Jewish merchants govern the institution was also an attempt to reserve power for the wealthy elite of the Jewish community, consistent with the history of the Representation for Jewish Welfare surveyed in chapter 2. at the same time, their offer for the hospital administration to be selected by the city council implies that they saw an advantage in an institutional linkage to the municipality. The vesting of power in them by city authorities would put the final seal, as it were, on their dominance in Jewish affairs in Kiev.

The acquisition of the hospital complex, though hailed by many at the time, was in subsequent years subject to regular criticism because of the site's distance from the city and its Jewish neighborhoods. One critic, for example, wrote that the distance from the center of town put off both Jews and non-Jews from visiting the hospital; only "the most destitute [of Jewish women] go there, those engaged in heavy physical labor and those without their own kin."19

The dedication of the new Jewish Hospital in October 1885 was a grand affair, reported in the Hebrew press and in Kiev's Russian papers. The ceremony, attended by the governor-general, the governor, and other local dignitaries, was an opportunity for the leaders of Kiev Jewry to broadcast a political message about their hopes for acceptance by Russian society, and revealed some of the genuine motivations behind the building of the new hospital.20 The proceedings emphasized that Kiev's Jews, while remaining true to their faith and heritage, felt quite at home in the Russian context. Crown Rabbi Tsukkerman preached in Russian, the choir sang songs in both Hebrew and Russian (a Russian folk song, according to one attendee), and the plaque dedicating the institution in memory of Israel Brodsky's wife was inscribed in both Hebrew and Russian. That Jews could and did make important contributions to their city and country was suggested by one witness's testimony that the "Great Jewish Hospital," as he called it, was "the best hospital in the city, both in terms of outward beauty and inward level of medicine and care, and some say one of the three or four best in the country."21

The same correspondent reported that the Russian dignitaries, impressed by the fact that the governor-general had chosen to honor the Jewish community with his presence, showered praise upon Jews; they noted that Jews, always a charitable nation, did not neglect those outside their faith, assisting others "for the love of mankind" without differentiating between Jew and non-Jew. This nonsectarianism, they indicated, must surely extend to the Jewish Hospital, which would accept any non-Jew who needed its services. The Jewish notables present, continued the correspondent, confirmed that this was indeed the case and that the institution was only called a "Jewish" hospital because it provided kosher food. This politically fraught exchange enabled both sides to express their assumptions about the hospital: Russian officials, clearly uncomfortable with the notion of a specifically Jewish institution in Kiev, asked for confirmation that the hospital would also serve non-Jews, making it a more universalist undertaking. Not only did their Jewish interlocutors affirm that this was the case, but they went even further in watering down the Jewish character of the hospital by explaining that it was only the adherence to one ritual practice—kashruth—that made the institution "Jewish" at all.22 (Not incidentally, this was a practice to which bureaucrats could hardly object, seeing as the tax on kosher meat provided thousands of rubles in income to the municipal coffers.)

The comments of the correspondent for Ha-melits, one Y. N. Goldberg, and of Alexander Tsederbaum, who edited the newspaper from St. Petersburg, reveal the hopes that Jews in Kiev and throughout the empire placed in the new hospital and similar institutions. Goldberg repeatedly described his hope that the impressive event would convince the authorities of the integrity and probity of the Jews and lead them to change their minds about Jews and Judaism.23 Echoing Goldberg, Tsederbaum wrote that he hoped that the event had made a lasting impression on the officials present and—now that they had seen cultured Jews familiar with European ways, decorous Jewish worship, and Jewish preaching in Russian—that they would change their minds about Jews. "Now they know that even in a city that barely tolerates Jews, the Jewish community gathers together to heal its sick, and even welcomes non-Jews into its hospital."24 Accurate information about Jews and especially the acculturated and Europeanized among them would serve to combat the slander and misrepresentation that the officials had always heard. The Kiev Jewish Hospital, a concrete representation of the new, genuine face of Russian Jewry, would thus serve as a tool in the quest for acceptance and emancipation. That this tool was in the arena of health care was no coincidence; as Lisa Epstein argues, it was precisely in the 1860s, when the hospital was founded, that maskilim, and the acculturating, usually prosperous Jews whom they influenced, began to point to health care as a field in which reforms were necessary in order to eliminate "backwardness" among Russian Jewry and to bring them up to the level of Western society:

The desire to remold the attitudes and practices of the Jews regarding hygiene was motivated by both altruistic and self-serving goals, to improve the health of the Jews but also to improve their image and status within modern society, in order to render them worthy of acceptance as equals in the eyes of other peoples.25

The expectations some Kiev Jews had of the hospital were no different from those regarding the proposed choral synagogue, which Darewski advised should be "full of sanctity and beautiful to the eye, more so than other synagogues in the Pale, so that our Christian neighbors will see that we are called by the name of God." Such a synagogue would prove to Christians not only that Jewish worship was just as decorous and thus worthy of respect as theirs, but that Jews were just as loyal as well—if not more so. As Darewski wrote, "On [the tsar's] birthdays, we can invite one of the government ministers to the synagogue when we pray for the peace of the kingdom so that they will see that we are more loyal to our king than his loyal servants."26

The hospital dedication was also significant from the point of view of Kiev's Jewish communal politics, serving as a kind of coronation of Israel Brodsky and his son Lazar’ as indisputable leaders of the hospital and the community as a whole. (Interestingly—given the fact that the Brodskys would later be dubbed the Jewish "kings" of Kiev—Israel Brodsky's initial pledge of 15,000 rubles for the hospital was made in 1875, one year after a donation of 12,000 rubles for a children's ward at the city hospital was made by Princess San-Donato, wife of Kiev Mayor Petr Demidov.)27 Much of the ceremony was devoted to praise of Israel for providing the lion's share of the funds for the new building (165,000 rubles); not only was the sugar magnate made honorary trustee of the hospital, but the position was made hereditary, to be inherited by the eldest Brodsky son in each generation. A portrait of Israel Brodsky to be hung in its halls, as well as the dedication inscription, would always remind patients, employees, and visitors alike of the moving force behind the institution. Israel was compared to the biblical forefather Jacob (who was renamed Israel)—both had "struggled with God and with man, and emerged victorious."

In a sign of the passing of the mantle of leadership from father to son, Lazar’ Brodsky—who had served as chair of the building committee—was presented with a calligraphed epistle composed by the local Hebrew poet Yehalel in the form of an acrostic spelling out his name. In a gesture of homage, the epistle had been signed by all the men of note in the community and was proffered to Brodsky fils by Crown Rabbi Tsukkerman. A witness noted that the honoree accepted the gift with modesty, acknowledging his youth (he was then thirty-seven years old). Remarking that Lazar’'s first accomplishments showed great promise, the writer intimated that he would soon be serving as leader of the Jewish community in Kiev and that under his guidance, communal affairs would be conducted in an orderly and successful manner.28 Institutions such as the Jewish Hospital thus served a dual function: sending a political message to Russian officialdom and society, and creating a new sphere within which acculturated Jews could maintain a Jewish identity and a connection to the larger Jewish community.

Moshe Reikhesberg, a frequent contributor to Ha-melits from Kiev, praised Israel Brodsky for his many charitable works but nonetheless maintained that the huge outlays on the hospital could better have been spent on aid to Kiev's many poor Jews (other causes included the Talmud-Torah, Bikur Holim [biker khoylim, sick care society], the maternity clinic, care for orphans and apprentices, and aid for poor gymnasium and university students). Indeed, he accused some of Kiev's Jewish philanthropists of giving to the hospital project solely to enhance their prestige. (The previous year, Lazar’ Brodsky had been similarly criticized for making large donations to non-Jewish institutions to enhance his reputation, despite their disrespectful treatment of him; for example, his name was not mentioned at a university ceremony despite his large gift to that institution.)29 This rare instance of criticism among coverage that was usually nothing less than glowing, if not sycophantic, adumbrated a more widespread critique of Jewish philanthropic practices that would follow within only a few years. Despite his reservations, however, Reikhesberg recommended that the Jewish Hospital be named after Brodsky so that the gratitude of Kiev Jewry could be expressed not just in words but in concrete action.30