Sha'arei Tzedek (Gates of Righteousness)
At the turn of the century, the population of Jerusalem was plagued with malaria, malnutrition, diphtheria, and other diseases, and a Middle Eastern streak of fatalism. Concerned by the situation, German Jews formed a Central Committee for the Construction of a Jewish Hospital in Jerusalem, and in 1890 sent 26-year-old Cologne-born Dr. Moritz (Moshe) Wallach to Jerusalem. The inauguration of Sha'arei Tzedek hospital on January 27, 1902 was a splendid affair, graced by such dignitaries as Jawad Pasha, Turkish governor of Jerusalem, German consul Dr. Schmidt, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Salant and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Haham Bashi Eliashar. The rabbis recited prayers for the sultan and the kaiser.
For 45 years the hospital was not only Dr. Wallach's place of work, but also his home. In fact, because of the good doctor's total identification with the place and its patients, the hospital was called simply "Wallach." Another devoted member of the hospital's team was Schwester Selma, a tiny person and the hospital's only graduate nurse, trained at the Heinrich Heine Hospital in Hamburg. Like Dr. Wallach, she lived in the hospital, to be more readily available. Dubbed by Time Magazine "something of an angel," Schwester Selma served the hospital as head nurse for 48 years.
The hospital stood on Jaffa Road, on a two-and-a-half acre plot. It was a 20-minute donkey ride away from the Old City, where most Jerusalemites lived. The sick arrived on carts, camels and donkeys, not only from the Old City, but also from other parts of the country.
During World War I, when there was an acute shortage of milk, a cowshed housing 40 cows was built on the hospital premises. And, in 1917, British Major General Shea, commanding the 60th Division, accepted the surrender of the Turkish army in the hospital gardens.
Over the years, Sha'arei Tzedek kept its doors open to rich and poor, Jews and non-Jews treating outbreaks of scarlet fever, meningitis and typhoid despite Arab riots and massacres. During the War of Independence, when Jerusalem was besieged and cut off from the rest of the country, Sha'arei Tzedek took in and cared for 60-80 new patients every day. On the first day of the Six-Day War in 1967, 150 casualties were treated by its doctors and its underground operating theater remained in constant use. The hospital received three direct hits, but miraculously no one was hurt.
By 1978 Sha'arei Tzedek's facilities had become inadequate and the hospital moved to larger premises in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood, equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The hospital, which had boasted 21 beds in 1902, now had 525; and many more patients could now receive medical attention.
The original Sha'arei Tzedek building on Jaffa Road stood empty for almost 20 years, suffering neglect and vandalism. With awareness of its architectural and historic value, it is slated for preservation and is currently being restored. While the new facade is expected to be almost identical to the original, the interior will be redesigned to fit its new function as the home of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.