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President's Perspective: What Is a Jewish Hospital?

By Thomas M. Priselac, President and CEO

What Is a Jewish Hospital?

The Star of David prominently located on the top of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center makes it clear to everyone that Cedars-Sinai is a Jewish hospital. But what that means, especially in a diverse region like Los Angeles in 2019, is not equally well understood. 

If you look closely, you will see hallmarks of Cedars-Sinai's Jewish roots around the medical center. We maintain a kosher kitchen, for example, to meet the needs of religiously observant patients, and operate Sabbath elevators that stop on each floor. We also affix mezuzahs (small boxes containing parchment scrolls) to the sides of doorways.

The Jewish values that underlie these things established Cedars-Sinai and remain essential to our mission, our shared identity and our role serving all of our patients and community.

Like many Jewish hospitals in America, our founding in 1902 (as Kaspare Cohn Hospital in Angelino Heights) came in response to discrimination and exclusion: Jewish patients often were unable to obtain equitable care in most existing hospitals of the time, and Jewish physicians often were banned from joining the medical staffs of those hospitals. 

As a Jewish hospital, Kaspare Cohn embodied a core value of welcoming and treating all people with dignity and respect, especially anyone who felt excluded or victimized. This core Judaic value remains visible and deeply embedded in the very fabric of today’s Cedars-Sinai, as evidenced by the diversity of people and communities we care for, the diversity of our employees and our wide-ranging community benefit contributions that support those in need across the Los Angeles region. This is something I immediately identified with, as a non-Jew, when I first came to Cedars-Sinai 40 years ago.

As a Jewish hospital, Cedars-Sinai welcomes and embraces all backgrounds and faiths and works hard to enable everyone to practice their faith in their own way, including those who are secular or spiritual but not religious. This is why we offer many different types of prayer services in our chapel each week ranging from Catholic Mass to Muslim Jumu’ah prayers, and why our hospital chaplain staff represent Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Armenian Orthodox, Unitarian Universalist and many other religious traditions. 

This respect for diversity and pluralism extends to many other types of diversity: cultural, gender, social and economic, to name just a few. While this value is not uniquely Jewish, it is certainly a central component of Judaism and the history of our institution. 

One of Cedars-Sinai’s greatest strengths is our shared values, guiding not only what we do, but how we do it. In a rapidly changing world, it is important to stay connected to these longstanding touchstones, the proud result of our institution’s Jewish heritage.