The circuit court of Raleigh County in West Virginia will soon have to make an expensive decision in which the worldâ€™s largest womenâ€™s organization and Tel Avivâ€™s major medical center have a stake.
It will determine what the late Meir (Max) Lewin, a Holocaust survivor who died in the US three years ago, meant when he made â€œHadasa Hospital, Tel Aviv, Israelâ€ a $2.5 million benefactor of his will.
Both the Hadassah Womenâ€™s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA) and Tel Avivâ€™s Sourasky Medical Center (best known as Ichilov Hospital, for its main institution) are keenly following the proceedings.
Lewin, who lost his wife and child to the Nazis, probably never anticipated the controversy that his last testament would create. Two years after the end of World War II, he followed his older brother Harry to the US and became a small-time building contractor. In 1978, Max wrote a will bequeathing $125,000 to local charities, his Israeli cousins and a special education school here, with the $5 million remainder of his estate to be divided between â€œHadasa Hospital, Tel Avivâ€ and the â€œIsrael Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv.â€
Attorney Haggai Carmon, a relative of Lewin, was retained by United Bank in West Virginia to carry out his will. Nobody is disputing that the Israel Institute of Technology, better known as the Technion, is a clear benefactor even though it is in Haifa. And Carmon said he had â€œno doubtâ€ that Max had intended give his money to Sourasky Medical Center, the successor of Hadassah Hospital on Tel Avivâ€™s Balfour Street.
Carmon asked Sourasky director-general Gabi Barbash, a former Health Ministry director-general, to supply documents proving the link, and papers retrieved from the Tel Aviv municipal archive showed clear evidence that the cityâ€™s former Hadassah Hospital became Sourasky.
But there are complications.
In 1928, HWZOA established a small hospital on Balfour Street and named it Hadassah Hospital. But, two years later, the financial burden was too much for Hadassah to bear and the women told the municipality to take it over lest they be forced to shut it down. Under an agreement dated 1931, the hospital was transferred to the city of Tel Aviv in an agreement that specified the new name of the hospital as â€œThe Tel Aviv City Hospital, founded by Hadassah Zionist Women Organization of America.â€
In 1967, the municipality decided to merge its three city hospitals Ichilov Hospital, located on Weizmann Street, Hadassah Hospital and Hakirya Maternity Hospital in the eastern part of the city under a single management.
In 1992, the Balfour Street hospital was transferred, including all staff, patients and equipment, to the Ichilov campus on Weizmann and renamed the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. All of the assets and liabilities of the hospital on Balfour Street became the assets and liabilities of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. Then, in 1997, Hakirya Hospital was moved as well, and its site, as well as the one on Balfour, were demolished.
Sourasky officials were very surprised that the womenâ€™s organization based in New York demanded recognition as the beneficiary. The United Bank launched proceedings in the West Virginia court, asking it to decide who should get the money.
A few weeks ago, Barbash and former Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo traveled to Beckley to testify. Milo, who is also a former health minister, voiced his admiration for the work of both organizations, but said that as an Israeli who had lived in Tel Aviv his entire life he confirmed the common knowledge that â€œHadassah Hospital of Tel Avivâ€ has been merged into Sourasky.
Barabash testified that, though the hospitalâ€™s formal affiliation with Hadassah ended more than 70 years ago, the public continued to refer informally to the institution as â€œHadassah,â€ even though it was renamed â€œRokahâ€ in 1960 and became part of Tel Aviv Medical Center in 1967.
â€œThe Hadassah name became so common that Tel Aviv Medical Center added in parentheses the name Hadassah to the letterhead of the Rokah hospital to help the general public avoid confusion,â€ Barbash said. â€œVery few knew that the hospital was renamed. We are very frustrated that HWZOA found it appropriate to join this very expensive litigation. The language of the will is clear. When Mr. Lewin wrote â€˜Hadasa Hospital, Tel Aviv, Israel,â€™ he intended to benefit the citizens of Tel Aviv and not a womenâ€™s organization in the US to which he never had any known connection, and to which he didnâ€™t even qualify to be a member.â€
Barbash said he recognizes HWZOAâ€™s important work, including the fact that it owns two major university medical centers in Jerusalem, but HWZOA â€œis neither a hospital nor in Tel Aviv. The litigation is delaying the much-needed funds that would better the living conditions of the hospitalâ€™s patients.â€
Barbash said he tried to persuade the organization to withdraw its litigation, but was turned down. He added that Sourasky has plans to honor Lewinâ€™s memory by naming a ward for treating Holocaust survivors for him. â€œTel Aviv has the oldest population in Israel, with a significant number of Holocaust survivors who need medical help,â€ he said.
Asked to comment, HWZOA national president June Walker said, â€œThe case is currently being heard in... West Virginia, and it would be inappropriate for us to comment on pending litigation.â€