Recalling an Earlier Beth Israel Hospital in the Old Third Ward

by Nat Bodian


For nearly three quarters of a century, the 669 bed Beth Israel Hospital has towered as a stately landmark on the Newark skyline from its Lyons Avenue site.

But back in the 1920's, when I was growing up on Montgomery Street at Quitman Street in Newark's old Third Ward, the Beth Israel Hospital occupied a much tinier building, just a block over from my house on West Kinney Street at the corner of High Street.

The Beth Israel Hospital1 of my childhood neighborhood was an 84-bed brick hospital building, erected with funds contributed by 833 local citizens. Its opening in 1908 was celebrated with opening-day fireworks, brass bands, and parades, and evening festivities at the synagogue of Temple B'nai Abraham.

The Beth Israel Hospital charter stated it was a voluntary nonprofit hospital open to persons of every race, creed, and social class. However, unstated was its primary purpose: It also provided a base in the heavily-Jewish Third Ward for Jewish physicians who in that era found acceptance difficult in other medical institutions.

I don't recall anyone from my old Third Ward neighborhood being born at that Beth Israel Hospital. Most deliveries in the 1920s were done in the home by midwives.

But the Beth Israel had a clinic which was heavily used by residents of the neighborhood.

I recall being taken weekly by my mother in 1926 and 1927 -- my fifth and sixth years -- to the Beth Clinic for allergy treatments. The fee for each visit was 50 cents.

My treatments consisted of scratch tests through which it was found that I was allergic to trees, grass, and animals. The clinic doctors also diagnosed that I suffered from hay fever, which resulted in seasonal allergies from tree and grass pollens.

By 1928, the old Beth Israel facility in the Third Ward was virtually bursting at the seams, and the hospital was moved to a 12-story Spanish-style hospital building built on a parcel of farmland on Lions Avenue, after a successful 3½ million dollar fund-raising effort.

When the old Beth Israel building was vacated in 1928, it was taken over by the Daughters of Israel Home for the Aged. The home had for a neighbor, diagonally across High Street (renamed King Boulevard), the Newark YM-YWHA, which had opened in 1925.

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