Page 193 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Tribute toHarry Friedenwald
about recommendations to cure the disproportionately high rate of
disease among Russian Jews through “d ie t . . . apothecary . . . and
political means”. Yes, it was Friedenwald, and not a known politi­
cal radical, who reaffirmed that “many poor families would raise
themselves out ofmisery were they permitted to buy a bit of tillable
land or a few acres of meadow and follow the example of an Abra­
ham or a Jacob . . . and regain their health” (Vol. II, p. 525).
Harry Friedenwald wrote about the Italian physician Ramazzini
(1633-1714), as well, and quoted from the landmark text on occu­
pational and environmental disease,
in 1700. Friedenwald reminds us that Ramazzini had ascribed the
eighteenth century Jews’ poor health and bad eyesight to the fact
that “all the Jewish women engaged in seaming during the whole
day and often until late at night by the dim rays of a lamp or a light
pale as the sepulchral lanterns, [and that they] undergo not only
the inconveniences of a sedentary life but also with the passage of
time they work with such gradual weakening of the vision that
about when they reach their fortieth year they go forth nearsighted
or totally blind” (Volume II, p. 526).
Oddly enough, the travails of Jewish women garment workers
were destined to be written into medical history once again: two
centuries after Ramazzini wrote, the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist
Factory Fire claimed the lives of hundreds of young immigrants to
the Lower East Side. It was this, specifically, that alerted the world
to the horrid working conditions endured by factory workers the
Continuing to quote Ramazzini, Friedenwald also said that the
“Jewish race, especially in Italy, are engaged in repairing woolen
mattresses. . . . While the men are shaking and carding it, they
breathe in much of the filthy dust from which they receive serious
injuries, severe coughs, dyspnea [shortage of breath] and nausea . . .
I have known many of them injured by just such work, led into an
incurable decline. . . . ” (p. 526). Friedenwald compiled this data de­
cades before asbestosis became a household word, before the study
of ecology and environmentalism became respectable. He wrote de­
cades before “progressive”medical student organizations ofmy gen-