Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

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- Daniel S. Berman, MD
- Victor Gura, MD
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- Chrisandra Shufelt, MD
- Allan W. Silberman, MD, PhD

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CME Newsletter - July 2012 (PDF)

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Mural illustrates Jewish legacy in medicine

Time moves from left to right in the Harvey Morse Auditorium, where "Jewish Contributions to Medicine," the mural that lines the wall, blends art with history. From the concept of a weekly day of rest, as called for in the Fourth Commandment in the Old Testament, to panels that celebrate specific medical contributions throughout the centuries, the mural reveals how much Jewish doctors and scientists, as well as Jewish law itself, have contributed to the growth of medicine.

"The mural was created by Terry Schoonhoven, an L.A. artist who has since passed away," said John T. Lange, curator of the Cedars-Sinai art collection. "He created the mural in his studio, and then it was installed in the auditorium, placed on the walls in a fashion similar to putting up wallpaper."

The mural, donated by Beverly and Joseph Mitchell, was dedicated on May 2, 1999. Schoonhoven planned the mural in cooperation with the medical center's Art Council, and with a special committee, Lange said.

The mural's opening panel depicts a snake wrapped around a staff, an image that, since ancient times, has been associated with the healing arts. Leon Morgenstern, MD, emeritus chair of the Department of Surgery, chair of the mural committee and the author of a booklet about the artwork, ties the image to a passage in Numbers 21:6-10. In the text, God directs Moses to "... take a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole ..."

The artwork goes on to celebrate early Jewish scholars and scientists, like Asaph Harofe. A sixth-century physician living in Palestine, Harofe's teachings were compiled by his students and constitute the earliest medical manuscript written in Hebrew. Asaph the Physician, as he was called, recognized the hereditary nature of certain diseases, and is known for the "Asaph Oath," which closely resembles the Hippocratic Oath.

In more recent history, Schoonhoven's mural celebrates Jewish doctors like Paul Ehrlich, whose research led to advances in anti-microbial therapy and the development of chemotherapy, and scientists like Stanley Cohen, who shared a Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1986 for his work in isolating nerve growth factor. While 10 Jewish winners of the Nobel in physiology and medicine are singled out in the mural, all 47 who received the award between 1908 and 1997 are honored.

The mural also highlights the importance of the Talmud, which expands upon and explains biblical references to health and well-being. However, as Morgenstern notes in his introduction, a number of Jewish doctors and scientists who deserve to be recognized could not be pictured.

For those who want to learn more about the history shown in the mural, a few signed and numbered limited edition prints of the artwork are available for sale, Lange said. The reproduction comes with Morgenstern's booklet, as well as a 20-minute video that walks you through the piece.

"Schoonhoven did a lot of murals around the city, typically outdoors, so many of those were lost; either they were painted over, or the buildings are no longer there," Lange said. "This is one of, if not the last, surviving mural that he made."

Click here to access an interactive tool and learn more about those featured in the mural.