Then and Now: A Jewish hospital without regard to race or creed

Before there was a universal health care debate or Jews on the Supreme Court or the great broccoli scare of 2012, there was Mount Zion Hospital.

Women with babies at Mount Zion Hospital, 1933 photo/courtesy of san francisco history center, s.f. public library

The brainchild of San Francisco’s German-Jewish elite, the hospital’s first building — a small wooden structure on Sutter Street — was conceived in 1887 to take care of the Jewish ill. But the hospital also made a philosophical statement about the value of caring for those outside the “family circle.”

Unlike almost every other city, San Francisco’s first Jewish hospital was not only for Jews — setting the stage for generations of Jewish civic leadership combining self-preservation with expansive generosity.

In 1935, Daniel Koshland famously described the community’s philosophy with these words: “Perhaps our financial contributions are generous in a comparative way. But should we not strive to do more than our share? Not because we want to buy peace and good will (they cannot be purchased), not because we can thus overcome the age-old accusations of avarice — but because we thereby increase our own self-respect, and because we help to alleviate pain and suffering among our neighbors in a troubled world.”

One of Mount Zion Hospital’s first credos was about rendering medical aid “to the needy and distressed sick of the community … without regard to race or creed.” Today, Mount Zion Hospital is called UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion. Centered around 1600 Divisadero St., it is a major teaching facility for UCSF.

This column is provided to j. by Daniel Schifrin, writer-in-residence at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, where stories of local Jewish life are explored in “California Dreaming: Jewish Life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present.”

Dan Schifrin
Dan Schifrin

Daniel Schifrin, a local teacher and writer, is writing a play about medieval Jewish Spain as a LABA Fellow at the JCC East Bay.