AS HEARD FROM REBBETZIN CHANA MINTSER
BY VARDAH LITTMANN
Photos by Vardah Littmann, courtesy of Shaare
Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem
Dr. Moshe (Morris) Wallach sacrificed his all for the Old Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in Yerushalayim, for over sixty years. From the time he arrived in Jerusalem in 1892 until his strength declined, he saved the lives of thousands of Jewish men, women and children, treating their illnesses and assuaging their pain. He was a pediatrician, an obstetrician and gynecologist, an ophthalmologist and a general practitioner, but what made him great was his total dedication to others.
A Reminder of Dr. Wallach
I went to see the beautiful complex of today’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, looking for something that bore Dr.Wallach’s name. In my time, Shaare Zedek was known as Wallach’s Hospital (Beit Cholim Wallach).
I knew Dr. Wallach personally. He was my doctor and a close personal friend of my father, and I was often in his company. He was my brother’s mohel. So yes — I knew Dr. Wallach very well.
The Way It Was
Let me give you some general background. In the late 1800s Jerusalem had no plumbing or water taps. People drew water from cisterns, and it was kept in enormous jugs called tanajeh. There were no refrigerators, and food was preserved by wrapping it and placing it in these water cisterns. The sewer holes and the water cisterns were in close proximity, so that germs and disease carriers leached into the drinking water and food.
To the credit of the Yerushalmi housewives — and this is so until today — they kept their houses scrupulously clean and washed the floors several times a day. This was a great deterrent that helped keep illness at bay, but even so, disease often spread unabated.
In those years there were hardly any doctors in Jerusalem. there was one Greek doctor and some French doctors. The Bikur Cholim Hospital in the Old City was small and too inadequate to meet the needs of the Yishuv. The English Christian mission had a hospital in the Keren Avraham neighborhood, Geulah today. A sick person who stepped over their threshold was subjected to intense missionizing. The Jews of Yerushalayim preferred to die rather than enter their grounds.
Dr. Moshe Wallach Comes to Jerusalem
The Rabbanim of the Old Yishuv wrote to Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rav Ezriel (Ariel) Hildesheimer in Germany, asking them to send medical help. They turned to Moshe (Morris) Wallach, an observant German Jewish doctor, and asked him to travel to Eretz Yisrael. Dr. Wallach was engaged to a girl from a very wealthy family with an illustrious lineage. When he asked her to accompany him, she refused outright. So he broke off his engagement to her, and she subsequently became engaged to his brother.
Dr. Moshe Wallach left Germany for Jerusalem in 1892 at the age of twenty six.
He never married, and the residents of the city joked fondly about him, “Three never marry: der galach (a priest), der malach (an angel), un der Doctor Wallach.”
By day Dr. Wallach ministered to the citizens of Yerushalayim, and by night he went from house to house on a donkey, distributing money and food. He was a “Jack-of-all-trades” doctor; he took expert care of every part of the body and soul.
Today we administer antibiotics for many infectious diseases and give very little thought to it. But in those days illnesses such as cholera, tuberculosis, pneumonia and typhus were deadly. At the time, diphtheria (askarah) was treated with a complicated throat
operation. Dr. Wallach performed this surgery daily, which saved hundreds of babies in Yerushalayim. He later introduced an inoculation against diphtheria, again saving hundreds of lives.
Dr. Wallach’s Hospital
At first Dr. Wallach served as a doctor in the Bikur Cholim Hospital in the Old City. The Rabbanim saw the great need
for a large hospital and turned to the charity Kollel Poland/Deutchland (K.P.D.), whose members responded generously to Yerushalayim’s appeal for help. They decided to build a hospital near the Shechem Gate, but the Arabs and the Turks would not hear of it. So Dr. Wallach bought land on Jaffa Road, two miles outside the Old City, where the old Shaare Zedek Hospital building still stands.
People were astounded.
“Who in his right mind would build a hospital so far out of town?” they asked.
“Can you imagine forcing poor sick people to take a carriage to reach the hospital? What a waste!”
“The hospital will be empty; no one will come to it.”
“A total waste of communal funds.”
People even joked that Dr. Wallach would have to pay people to come to his hospital if he wanted patients to treat.
No one could have dreamed then that this site would be the center of the city in 2011. Even then, in its prime, it proved to be the perfect location. What would they have said about the present Shaare Zedek Medical Center?
The contractor of the main section of the original hospital building was Reb Yaakov Mann, son of Rav Chaim Mann,
the renowned melamed. He committed himself to completing the building within three years, but the inaugural ceremony was actually held four and a half years later, on January 27, 1902. In his will, Reb Yaakov
requested that his heirs return a year and a half’s salary, which he had received as payment, to “Wallach’s Hospital.” They paid it back in installments.
The majestic building housed an advanced operating theater, hospital rooms for patients, a large dining hall and a magnificent shul. In 1910 a separate building was opened for those with contagious diseases. A school of
nursing was opened on the premises in 1934. At the time it was built, it was the most modern hospital in the Middle East.
State-of-the-Art and Kosher
Dr. Wallach insisted that the hospital building be kept immaculate. He used to hide coins in strange places all over the building and announced that any stray coins were the finder’s property, in order to encourage the cleaning staff to do a thorough job and clean even the remotest corners. He ran a very tight ship; hours and regulations were strictly adhered to. Yet his stern demeanor
belied his gentleness when he treated patients. I remember how he treated me when I had meningitis as a child.
He was extremely careful when it came to observing halachah in his hospital. To avoid kashrus mix-ups, there were three completely separate areas in the kitchen: one for dairy, one for meat, and one for pareve.
Moreover, even though the electric power station in the Old City was manned mainly by non-Jews, Dr. Wallach feared that the Jews working there might be assigned work shifts on Shabbos, so he had a generator built for the hospital.
He also arranged to have a large shed built on the hospital grounds to house a number of cows and a dairy; he wanted to make sure there was always fresh kosher milk for his patients. The dairy produced yogurt, sour cream, butter and cheese. He also kept chickens to ensure a supply of fresh eggs. The extra milk products and eggs were sold to bring in revenue for the hospital. During the 1948 siege of Jerusalem, Shaare Zedek Hospital was the only place where no one went hungry.
When the cows were purchased, one was expecting. When a male offspring was born, the Arab seller claimed that this calf was a firstborn, and Dr. Wallach immediately went to ask a she’eilah. He was told that on the slight chance the calf was really a firstborn, it was never to be slaughtered. So it was given a place of honor in the shed, and it grew up to be a wild and unruly ox.
To add to his legend: the good doctor kept all the keys to all the rooms on a large key ring on his person, and his arrival could be heard from far away. That was when the employees would tend to disappear.
The Zhviller Rebbe and Dr. Wallach
As I have mentioned, Dr. Wallach was a very close friend of my father. Once before Sukkos in the late 1920s,the Zhviller Rebbe, Harav Shlomo (Shlomke) Goldman, zt”l, who came to Eretz Yisrael in 1925 and passed away in 1945, fell seriously ill an needed an operation. The surgeon’s fee was prohibitive, not to mention other medical expenses. The Rebbe had only recently come from Russia and had no money. How could he pay? At that time there were no health insurance funds or any other organization to defray the cost of medical treatment.
My father went to Dr. Wallach to arrange a payment plan, explaining to him the Rebbe’s greatness. Dr. Wallach agreed to divide the payment into three. He said, “The hospital will forgo a third — that’s your third; the surgeon will forgo a third; and the last third I’ll pay from my own pocket.”
After the operation the Zhviller Rebbe was given explicit instructions not to get off his bed. But as the Rebbe lay there, he felt his heart would burst because he was missing out on the mitzvah of sitting in a sukkah. The Rebbe called over the male nurse and asked him to help him get to the sukkah. Out of fear of Dr. Wallach, the man refused. The Rebbe tried to bribe the nurse by offering him a whole lira — a fortune at the time. Again the man balked. The Rebbe raised his bribe to ten lirot, but nothing
worked. The Rebbe did not get to sit in the sukkah, but Dr. Wallach heard of the incident.
On the first day of Chol Hamoed my father received a phone call.
“Dr. Wallach speaking.”
This was strange; not even the usual holiday greeting, “Mo’adim l’simchah!”
What did this coldness on Dr. Wallach’s part mean? We were like family to him. Every Sukkos Father took all of us children to visit the doctor in the large three-room sukkah the hospital built for him. Dr. Wallach would host us in style, giving out delicacies of nuts and fruit.
Father answered, “Yes, how can I help you? And mo’adim l’simchah to you.”
“What mo’adim l’simchah? I don’t believe anyone anymore! Until today you were the only one I trusted. But now I see that you too are a liar, a thief and totally crooked. I can never trust anyone again!”
Father racked his brain but came up with a blank.
“Dr. Wallach, can you explain to me what I did and why you are shouting at me like this?”
“This, this ... Rebbe of yours … you said he had no money. Ten lirot he wanted to give the nurse to get out of bed, and you say he has no money!”
“Very well. Now, if you are finished with your tirade, we can talk. The Rebbe has no money. This is a fact. But for the Rebbe a mitzvah is everything. To go around and collect money to pay for a mitzvah he was willing to do, but to collect for the expense of the operation he was not. This shows you the sublime greatness of this person.”
Dr. Wallach accepted this explanation and peace was restored.
Dr. Wallach, among all his other endeavors, also established a kollel in the Nachalas Shivah neighborhood. He was one of the organizers of an institute for ethical study, the beis hamussar of Rav Naftali of Amsterdam, in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Dr. Wallach was a tzaddik. He never took money from patients because, he said, he was paid a salary by the hospital. (He actually gave his patients money most of the time). He was totally moser nefesh for the Yishuv; indeed, he never married so that he could devote himself entirely to his patients.
After his hospital hours he spent his time in charity work, helping destitute new immigrants find jobs, housing and employment. When asked why he did not go home to rest, he responded that usually a doctor goes home after work and devotes his time to his family, and his family were the people of the Yishuv.
Dr. Wallach earned the eternal gratitude of the people of Yerushalayim.
The father of my aunt Leah Leiber, may she rest in peace, passed away when Leah was twelve or so. As she was the oldest of five orphans, she had to go out to work to support the family. She found work in Wallach Hospital’s sewing and laundry room. Because she lived in the Old City, Leah had to walk two miles to work each day, no matter how hot or cold or rainy the weather. To take a horse and carriage would have been too expensive, defeating the purpose of earning money for the family. She left at six-thirty in the morning in order to arrive at the hospital at seven-thirty. She brought with her two slices of bread, one for breakfast and one for lunch. The work was exhausting. She had to cut and sew sheets from rolls of heavy material. All the dirty laundry had to be washed by hand and hung to dry, then ironed. The iron of those days was very heavy, and it was heated by hot coals that were placed inside.
Once, the young girl came up with an idea. If she brought a little pot of beans and placed it on the iron to cook, she would have warm soup to eat. She did this for one day and enjoyed the warm food. The second day she did the same; but on the third day her conscience began to prick her. The heat belonged to the hospital and she had no right to use it.
She had to ask Dr. Wallach forgiveness. She did not know what to fear more, the sin or Dr. Wallach. She decided that the consequences of stealing were indeed more dreadful than Dr. Wallach’s anger. A thin little figure, she approached the doctor and stammered,
“Herr Doctor, HerrDoctor...”
“Nu, what is it?”
“Herr Doctor, Herr Doctor...”
“So say already.”
She managed to stammer out the soup saga. To Leah Leiber’s enormous relief, Dr. Wallach called out his forgiveness,