Mitchell Cobrin has severe food allergies, and sesame is one of the triggers. But avoiding the seed in Israel, where “hummus is practically in the air,” is a real challenge.
So it was that the Montreal man suddenly went into anaphylactic shock in Jerusalem three years ago, when he was there for his son’s bar mitzvah.
He was rushed to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in the heart of the city, where he said he received care that was “second to none.”
In the few hours he was there, Cobrin learned why Shaare Zedek is called the “hospital with a heart.”
“I was treated with the utmost sensitivity. I would say it was a fascinating experience on so many levels.… They treated everybody based on their needs. There was an Arab man in the bed beside me and he was treated with benevolence, even though he kept complaining that he couldn’t get tea,” said Cobrin, a 49-year-old technology entrepreneur.
Cobrin was unexpectedly reunited with his attending doctor in Canada. The man he had only known as “Dr. Todd from Philadelphia” was in Toronto and Montreal at the invitation of the Canadian Shaare Zedek Foundation.
He found out that he is Dr. Todd Zalut, director of Shaare Zedek’s department of emergency medicine, which is rated as Israel’s top ER and is certainly one of the busiest.
Cobrin now considers the unassuming Zalut a friend. “There’s no pomp or arrogance about him, despite his world-class expertise,” said Cobrin.
Zalut, who made aliyah in 1998, joined the Shaare Zedek staff four years later. He oversaw the redesign of the ER in 2004 and has seen its patient load increase exponentially since then.
Shaare Zedek recently decided it must expand again. Zalut came to Canada to meet with the heads of hospital ERs, including the Jewish General Hospital and Montreal Children’s Hospital, and speak to potential donors.
Founded in 1902, the 1,000-bed Shaare Zedek Medical Center is located opposite Mount Herzl. Shaare Zedek is prepared to handle mass casualties, Zalut said. During the peak of terrorist attacks between 2001-2004, the hospital treated more victims than any other in Israel.
On top of that, Jerusalem is bracing for a major earthquake within five years, Zalut noted.
The course of Zalut’s life changed due a personal tragedy. Just a year after he joined Shaare Zedek, Zalut’s mentor, Dr. David Applebaum, was killed, along with his daughter, in a terrorist bombing. It was the night before she was to be married.
He went ahead, redesigning the ER in a ring configuration, with the most critical patients closest to the centre.
In 2018, the ER recorded 92,500 adult visits and 36,200 by children. With other referrals, the total came to 160,000.
Fifteen years ago, the ER’s 43 rooms were sufficient. Today, patients line the hallways, he said. The planned expansion will more than double the space.
Asked how he feels about possibly having to treat a terrorist, Zalut admitted it is a moral dilemma, even for health-care professionals who are trained not to judge.
It’s not a hypothetical question for him. In the early 2000s, when Shaare Zedek was seeing terrorism casualties almost weekly, one incident stands out in his memory.
Three victims of a shooting were brought to Shaare Zedek, as well as the gunman who had taken a bullet to the leg.
The four were treated in neighbouring stations – equally – but Zalut said that the staff’s emotions ran high.
“When you are faced with that, you naturally ask yourself questions,” he said. “There is not a good answer.”
But, in that case, the answer came in the form of three members of Israel’s security forces, who arrived at the ER and questioned the man. Zalut realized that the information they got from him could prevent future attacks.
“If we hadn’t saved him, they wouldn’t have had that,” he said.
Shaare Zedek’s patients mirror the population of the Jerusalem, which is about 22 per cent non-Jewish. The same is true of the staff.
“Jews, Muslims and Christians work as a team. It’s a friendly environment. We leave politics at the door,” Zalut said.
The Toronto-based Canadian Shaare Zedek Foundation, which was established in 1973, raises about $2.5 million a year, said its national executive director, Lisa Colt-Kotler. The foundation is trying to revive a Montreal chapter, and Dan Wise and Michael Eliesen, who visited Shaare Zedek during Federation CJA’s 2017 Mega Mission to Israel, are serving as its co-chairs.
In November, Cobrin is co-chairing a “peer-to-peer” online fundraising campaign, under which the Shaare Zedek foundations in Canada and the United Kingdom will match donations.
“Shaare Zedek is not an obscure, far off place for me; it’s very relatable,” Cobrin said.