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No Strike at Laniado

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum

The 127-day doctors' strike in Israel finally came to an end last week. The number of lives lost in the course of the strike is still to be tallied, and the long-term health consequences will never be known.

At Laniado Hospital in Netanya, however, the strike never began. Since its founding by the Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Halberstam, whose sixth yahrtzeit was also marked last week, there has never been a strike by any hospital employee or work stoppage of any kind. Just as soldiers cannot strike in the midst of battle, the Rebbe taught, so too those involved in healing may not strike -- no matter how legitimate their grievances.

During the Holocaust, the Rebbe traversed every level of Hell -- Auschwitz, ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, work camps, and death marches. In the course of that journey, which claimed his wife and their eleven children, he vowed that if he survived he would build a monument to chesed (kindness) that would stand in the starkest possible contrast to the inhumanity of German "men of culture and science."

Laniado is that monument. It took the Rebbe fifteen years to raise the money to build the hospital. His mission was to show the world a Jewish approach to healing and that the highest medical standards are fully consistent with the highest halachic standards.

When the Minister of Health scoffed at the Rebbe's dream, and told him that three permits had already been issued for new hospitals in the Netanya area, the Rebbe replied that none of them would be built. (He was right.) To the Minister's offer to let the Rebbe supervise religious affairs at the government hospitals in the region, the Rebbe countered that he would run his hospital and let the Minister affix the mezuzot.

In a speech to the entire staff of the hospital upon its opening, the Rebbe said, "Our Torah is a Torah of lovingkindness. Everyone can understand that a rabbi, and indeed every believing Jew, wishes to establish Torah institutions. Everyone should therefore understand why a rabbi established this hospital, which is, in fact, a magnificent Torah institution."

Building a hospital was another aspect of teaching Torah in the Rebbe's eyes. (He later founded Mifal HaShas, under whose auspicies thousands are tested on between 20 to 70 folios of Talmud every month.)

The Rebbe was careful that nothing should ever detract from his main goal of demonstrating to the world a hospital based on the Torah. When a female employee began distributing material on the laws of family purity in the hospital, the Rebbe stopped her immediately. "They will say I built this hospital to missionize -- to have kosher food or to pass out pamphlets," he explained.

The Rebbe succeeded in creating the unique Torah institution he had envisioned. The rabbi of the hospital, Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Schwartz, is involved in every aspect of medical care -- not just giving instructions on heating water on Shabbos. He meets frequently with every department head to discuss halachic questions, and is a constant presence on the wards. In the nearly quarter century of Laniado's existence, he has not taken a single day of vacation.

The average hospital Laniado's size has six respirators. Laniado has 25 so that no doctor ever has to set priorities in the allocation of respirators. Once a patient was unconscious and believed brain dead on a respirator for 55 days following a near drowning. Today he is alive and well.

Most important is the attitude to healing with which the Rebbe imbued the staff. In his opening speech he pronounced the most vital quality for the staff as "a warm Jewish heart." The protocols of the hospital, drafted by the Rebbe, specify that employees should be "full of love for their fellow Jews and every other human being."

The Rebbe told the staff that their goal must always be "to cure the patient not just cure the disease," and he insisted that concern with their pain was crucial to that task. Asked which of two types of syringe needles the hospital should purchase -- one that was slightly less painful or one that was half the price -- he immediately ordered the more expensive needles.

Dr. Andre deFreis, the former director-general of Beilenson Hospital, later served at Laniado. He described the difference in Laniado: "Here I feel I'm a healer. There is a feeling of being involved in holy work." He told a medical conference, "At Laniado, I learned that the patient is a person."

A man once came to the Rebbe in America to thank him for saving his life. He had been in critical condition in a hospital for several days, and two young nurses did not leave his side during that entire period. They explained their dedication, "we are graduates of Laniado nursing school. And we once heard the Rebbe speak on the merit of saving lives. We felt that with constant attention we could save you."

One Rosh Hashana, a woman began to hemmorhage badly during child birth. She needed a massive transfusion of a rare blood type immediately. An order went out that every student in the adjacent yeshiva should immediately rush to the hospital to have their blood type tested. Prayers were stopped in the middle of Mussaf of Rosh Hashannah. The women's sister, herself a nurse, told the staff later, "there is no other hospital where she would still be alive today."

The Rebbe told the nursing school students that if they ever heard of a woman contemplating an abortion, they should tell her that the Rebbe would raise the child as his own. One woman was thus convinced by a nurse to carry her baby to term, though she had been told the child would be deformed. She gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby.

The Rebbe once explained why there have never been any demonstrations in Kiryat Sanz. "When you come to a place of darkness, you do not chase out the darkness with a broom. You light a candle."

Few have lit so bright a candle.

Copyright (c) 2000 by Rabbi Yonasan Rosenblum and Project Genesis. We welcome your comments.

Check out Sanz Medical Center--Laniado Hospital online.

Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Israeli director of Am Echad.



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