The announcement late Wednesday night that Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef - who has been the Hadassah Medical Organization's director-general for nine years - will leave his post 12 months from now is tragic.
The HMO is not only losing an outstanding and much-respected medical administrator; his departure reflects the waning of HMO, its benefactor the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA) and many other ageing institutions in Israel and Jewish institutions abroad.
Mor-Yosef, who told a New York meeting of the HWZOA board of directors that he does not wish to extend his contact, in fact was told a month or two ago by Hadassah in New York that his contract would not be renewed.
The soft-spoken gynecologist by training is not the first capable and talented physician at the helm to be "let go" by HWZOA in recent decades. He will thus end 10 years of service as the head of HMO, which runs not only the two Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical Schools but also the Hebrew University Medical Faculty - comprising schools of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health and occupational therapy.
Mor-Yosef, who earned a master's degree in public administration at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, is best known to the public as Hadassah's official spokesman on the condition four years ago of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. But he has spent most of his professional life in Ein Kerem as a medical student, physician and medical administrator going up the rungs of leadership.
In recent years, he has had serious arguments with the HWZOA's leadership, who have tended to hand down directives with which Mor-Yosef often did not agree. In 2007, he tried to "escape" by running for mayor of Jerusalem, a city that holds his heart, but the well-financed and dynamic campaign of Nir Barkat made it difficult for a non-politician to compete.
Hadassah's medical centers have, sadly, lost some of their attractiveness. Numerous outstanding department heads and young researchers and physicians have departed to join its Jerusalem competitor, Shaare Zedek Medical Center - which is flourishing - and to hospitals in the Dan region and around the country. A few decades ago, being hired by Hadassah was regarded as the pinnacle of one's career from which one would only go on pension. Although it still has some outstanding personnel and performs high-level medicine, it is harder than ever to attract new medical stars to Hadassah from other hospitals and from abroad. HMO's official explanation for this - that a top institution is flattered by seeing its "children" snapped up by others because of their excellence - is no longer credible.
Fewer medical students want to do their clinical work at Hadassah hospitals, and HMO's status of producing much more published and often-cited medical and scientific journal articles has been overshadowed by Sheba and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centers and institutions of higher learning such as the Weizmann Institute of Science.
HWZOA itself is in decline, pounded by US intermarriage, assimilation and apathy of the younger generation of Jews and left with waning energy and funding (thanks, in part, to imprisoned con-man Bernard Madoff). The same goes for Hadassah's volunteer-woman power, because nearly all potential leaders are too busy earning a living and building a career. Thus Mor-Yosef, seeing the decline across the seas and worried about its organizational benefactor, has put great stress in promoting HMO as a mecca for medical tourists and for promoting biomedical research and development.
But due to the relative poverty and haredization of much of its population and the accumulated effects of the intifadas, Jerusalem has become less attractive in general - a condition that Barkat has pledged to repair through massive foreign tourism and biotech enterprises.
The decline of HWZOA is especially distressing for Jerusalemites and for all Israelis, as the organization was founded by Henrietta Szold 98 years ago as the Daughters of Zion, which in 1913 sent a pair of American nurses to the holy city to set up a small public-health and welfare station, distribute milk on a donkey-drawn wagon, provide maternity care and treat the eye disease trachoma.
As the Yishuv grew and the state was established, Hadassah was Israel, and Israel was Hadassah, which besides nurturing the hospitals established Youth Aliya and a modest Jerusalem community college that has become a highly regarded college of technology. A huge hospitalization tower to be dedicated about a year after Mor-Yosef leaves will provide a major boost in infrastructure and glamor, but not necessarily give HMO what it needs.
The fading glory of HMO despite Mor-Yosef's efforts echoes the diminution and atrophy of many long-powerful and prestigious Israeli institutions, from the Knesset, the Histadrut labor federation and the Israel Broadcasting Authority to the political parties, newspapers and the educational system, including some of the universities. It behooves the government and the State of Israel to take note.