Friday, June 26, 2015

A Truly Jewish Hospital

It happened during the Holocaust that Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam was shot in the arm by the Nazis. Afraid to go to the Nazi infirmary, which he felt meant certain death, Rabbi Halberstam used a tree leaf to staunch the bleeding and a branch to bind the wound. On that day, Rabbi Halberstam  decided that, were he to survive, he would build a hospital open to all people in the Promised Land.

It took years, decades really, but Rabbi Halberstam turned his dream into a reality. The Laniado* Hospital, located in Netanya, opened its doors in 1975. The hospital operates in strict adherence to Jewish law, which means far more than kosher food and Shabbat laws. Laniado is the only Israeli hospital that has never closed due to a strike; saving a life is of such importance to Jewish law that Rabbi Halberstam felt it important to include a non-strike clause in the hospital’s employment contracts.

The man behind the hospital was not a businessman or a medical pioneer. Rabbi Halberstam was, in fact, a Chassidic (Klausenberger) rebbe. Born in Romania in 1904, he was recognized early on as a  scholastic genius, and had a Chassidic following from a young age. Then came World War II. The Klausenberger Rebbe and his family were sent to Budapest. He was arrested several times. Living conditions were difficult, but Rabbi Halberstam refused to leave his followers. When the Nazis came, the Halberstam family was sent to Auschwitz. Only Rabbi Halberstam survived. His wife and 11 children were murdered.

After surviving multiple camps and work crews, Rabbi Halberstam finally made his way to New York. In Williamsburg (Brooklyn), he rebuilt his community (which became the Klausenberg-Sanz Chassidim). He also remarried and was the father of seven children after the war.  In 1960, Rabbi Halberstam moved to Kiryat Sanz, a Chassidic neighborhood that he established in 1958, in Netanya, in northern Israel.

Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam died on 9 Tammuz, 1994.

*Laniado Hospital was named after Alphonse and Yaakov Avraham Laniado, two Syrian Jewish brothers living in Switzerland who provided Rabbi Halberstam with the initial funds for the hospital.

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