1884 – 1924
As Deborah Berenstein has written: “The nurses of the Second Aliyah (1904–1914) integrated among the workers to treat, care for and fill the urgent need of many young people for someone to look after them. … The nurses won “recognition and appreciation for their care of their fellow human beings.” One of these nurses was Sarah Lishansky.
The way Lishansky worked, by day and night, as a nurse and midwife, constituted a combination of public political activity and devotion to treating the Jewish members of the Old Yishuv, Arabs and pioneers.
Sarah Lishansky was born in 1884 to a hasidic family in the town of Malin in the district of Kiev. Her parents were Meir Yonah Lishansky (1862–Jerusalem, 1942) and Shoshanah Moroz (Malin, 1865–Jerusalem, 1944). She attended a girls’ heder and studied the Russian language and arithmetic with a private tutor. She read a great deal of Russian literature and was active in Mish’anah, an organization that provided discreet aid to the needy, in Po’alei Zion and in founding the Jewish school in her town.
When her parents forced her into marriage at the age of sixteen, she attempted suicide on her wedding night, but was rescued. Her brief, unhappy marriage and unrequited love for a poet in Zhitomir (Zhytomyr, Ukraine) awoke within her unbounded feelings of devotion and compassion toward people who suffered.
From 1904 to 1906 Lishansky attended a course for nurses and midwives at the government hospital in Kiev. In 1905, while she was there, she witnessed the three-day riots that resulted in much harm to the Jews. Wanted by the police after she joined Haganah Azmit, the self-defense organization, she traveled to Vilna and St. Petersburg. In 1906 she returned to Malin, working in her profession and also in public activity in support of workers, helping the needy and spreading culture among young people.
Lishansky emigrated to Palestine in 1912, settling in Jerusalem together with her parents and three sisters: Rahel Yanait Ben-Zvi, the sculptor Batia Lichansky, and the physician Dr. Tamar Lishansky-Shavi (1892–1983).
From 1912 to 1914, Lishansky worked as head nurse of Misgav Ladakh Hospital in Jerusalem’s Old City, while also continuing her activity in Po’alei Zion, among printing workers and in Ha-Shomer. When World War I broke out, she worked in the Turkish government hospital at the Russian church in Jerusalem. Lishansky was risking her life when she so devotedly treated the soldiers, since they had contagious diseases, mainly typhus.
In 1915 Lishansky joined the workers’ group at Karkur and was one of the first nurses to be accepted as a member of such a community. Her brother-in-law, Izhak Ben-Zvi (1884–1963), also maintained that she organized medical aid there and succeeded in “raising it to a level not found at that time.” She also set up an infirmary and pharmacy and cared for the workers, preventing those who were sick from going out to work. The diseases Lishansky had to cope with at the time were typhus and malaria. She worked without the help of a physician and without equipment, but “she devoted herself completely to her patients,” her sister Rahel wrote. Those who were critically ill were brought by wagon to the hospital of Dr. Hillel Joffe (1864–1936) in Zikhron Ya’akov, accompanied by Lishansky. She also treated groups of workers in the area, such as the Shuni (moshavah of Binyaminah) group at the foot of Mount Carmel, Bedouins and Yemenite immigrants. In addition to caring for the residents’ health, Lishansky also engaged in public activity. In the evenings and on the Sabbath her home was a meeting place for friends who would gather there to sing, talk, debate and amuse themselves.
When the Turks expelled the Jews from Tel Aviv-Jaffa in 1917, Lishansky’s parents moved to the moshav Tel Adashim in the Jezreel Valley. The residents of this community, who were members of Ha-Shomer, invited Lishansky to serve as their nurse. On Tel Adashim, Lishansky protected the residents from the cholera epidemic by introducing strict hygiene regulations. A strong proof of the discipline Lishansky imposed was the fact that while cholera was rampant in the adjacent Arab village, it did not reach Tel Adashim.
In 1919, Lishansky was the first to open a health fund clinic in Tel Aviv, which grew with the Third Aliyah (1919–1923). Its physician was Dr. Shabbetai Malkhin (1866–1925). At this time she was a member of the central committee of the General (Clalit) Health Fund, the Haganah and the Ahdut ha-Avodah political party. During the 1921 riots, Lishansky worked “tirelessly to care for the wounded day and night at the Hadassah hospital and, at the same time, at her own clinic.”
In 1923 she moved to Jerusalem as a health fund nurse, and was also active in Ahdut ha-Avodah. In 1923 she contracted cancer and traveled to Berlin for medical help, but died after a few months.
In appreciation of her devoted work, a cultural hall in her name, Ohel Sarah, was erected in Tel Adashim.
Ben-Zvi, Izhak. “With Sarah” (Hebrew). In Nurse Sarah Lishansky (no editor’s name supplied). Tel Aviv: 1957; Berenstein, Deborah. “Voices from the Tough Nucleus: Stories of the Young Women of the Second Aliyah” (Hebrew). In Will You Listen to My Voice?: Representations of Women in Israeli Culture. Edited by Yael Azmon, 116–133. Jerusalem: 2001; Shazar, Zalman. “Sarah Lishansky.” In Nurse Sarah Lishansky (no editor’s name supplied). Tel Aviv: 1957; Smilansky, Moshe. “Nurse Sarah” (Hebrew). In Nurse Sarah Lishansky (no editor’s name supplied). Tel Aviv: 1957; Tidhar, David. “Sarah Lishansky” (Hebrew). The Encyclopedia of Pioneers and Builders of the Yishuv. Tel Aviv: 1947–1971; Yanait Ben-Zvi, Rahel. “My Sister Sarah (Memoirs)” (Hebrew). In Nurse Sarah Lishansky (no editor’s name supplied). Tel Aviv: 1957.