Image for Re-visiting "The Ringworm Affair": X-rays and the Jewish Question in Early Israel

Re-visiting "The Ringworm Affair": X-rays and the Jewish Question in Early Israel

Professor Michael Berkowitz, University College London

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Bunche Hall, Room 6275
History Conference Room
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Professor Berkowitz will address the “Ringworm Affair,” which refers to an effort by the State of Israel in the 1950s to combat the scourge of ringworm especially among children  who arrived in the massive migration of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East.  When it was realized many years later that many of these children died from apparent excessive exposure to radiation, their treatment became a scandal and the subject of an award-wining documentary film, The Ringworm Children, directed by David Belhassen and Asher Hemias (2003).   Although the filmmakers have since revised their claims, it remains an emotional, contentious subject.  While by no means seeking to apologize for this episode, or re-evaluate it from a medical perspective, Professor Berkowitz wishes to examine it as a cultural-historical phenomenon in the larger context of Jewish history and the history of medicine.  He believes that the “Ringworm Affair” can be partly explained by the Jewish prevalence in radiology, and that fact that Jews were among the most enthusiastic proponents of radiation therapies.   In other words:  it is not surprising that radiology was such a large and central part of the medical scene in Israel.  Some of the sentiment against the "Askenazi" State and doctors is directed against what is seen as an insensitive, hyper-modernized approach to medicine, most blatantly revealed in the over-deployment of radiation.   

This presentation is part of a work-in-progress on the history of the Jewish engagement in radiography, roentgenology, and radiology, from 1895 to the present.  It is hoped that this will form the basis for a large-scale, collaborative project on ethnic networks in medical research, practice, and trends.  It builds on Professor Berkowitz’s ongoing research in which he found that Jews and Jewish networks played crucial roles in the development of radiography.  As opposed to detailing Jewish 'contributions' his objective is to foster a reinterpretation of a broad field through the integration of a previously under-valued element.

About the Speaker

Michael Berkowitz is Professor of Modern Jewish History at University College London. His scholarship has dealt broadly with modern Jewish identity formation and political self-representations, 1881-1948; relationships between art, politics, and culture; sport (especially boxing) and spectacle; the politics of religion in Mandate Palestine; perceptions of criminality and social deviance from early modern times to the present; Jews and German culture; ties between charity and nationalism; and modes of understanding and mis-understanding the Holocaust.  He is the author of numerous books and publications, including The Crime of My Very Existence: Nazism and the Myth of Jewish Criminality (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2007) and The Jewish Self-Image: American and British Perspectives, 1881-1939 (London: Reaktion Press and New York University Press, 2000)

Professor Berkowitz's current work is on the engagement of Jews and photography. He is preparing a book tentatively entitled Jews and Photography in Britain:  Connections and Developments, 1850-2007.  Presentations based on ongoing research focus on Jewish networks in the field of radiography, the invention of Kodachrome, the history of photojournalism, and a reconsideration of the career of Helmut Gernsheim.  Work in the pipeline include an essay, "Lost in the transnational:  Photographic initiatives of Walter and Helmut Gernsheim in Britain," for an anthology edited by Leslie Morris and Jay Howard Geller, and "The origins of Zionist tourism in Mandate Palestine:  Impressions (and pointed advice) from the West" for Public Archaeology.

Professor Berkowitz is a native of Rochester, New York, received his BA from Hobart College (Geneva, New York) and his MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin (Madison).



Pay-per-space parking is available in UCLA Structure 3, near the corner of Hilgard and Wyton (turn right onto Wyton and follow the street until you see signs for Lot 3 Pay-per-space). 

How to Park at UCLA

Cost: Free and open to the public


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Sponsor(s): , Department of History, UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies