Arrivals: Drs. Joel, 69 and Tova Weinberg, 66

From Pittsburgh to Jerusalem, 2019.

Arrivals, Weinbergs (photo credit: Courtesy)
Arrivals, Weinbergs
(photo credit: Courtesy)
They met on New York’s Upper West Side in the mid-1970s. Joel Weinberg of Pittsburgh was doing a fellowship in pulmonary medicine at NYU (New York University). Tova Levi, a recent biology graduate, had come to New York from Detroit in 1976 to teach science at Central Manhattan High School.
Upon arrival Tova soon bonded with “an incredible woman” – Els Bendheim – philanthropist, community activist and distinguished member of the Shearith Israel Spanish-Portuguese synagogue on 70th St. and Central Park West. Then an energetic 55-year-old, Els and her husband Charles regularly hosted 50 singles for Friday night dinner in their home.
“I like your personality,” she told Tova, “Let’s make singles’ parties at my house.”
“At that period I made my first shidduch [match],” Tova explains. She convinced Debby, a new acquaintance, to go out with a friend of hers. “I thought she would be perfect for my friend Mark. At first she was unwilling, because those were scary times when Son of Sam was killing women, and planes were being hijacked. Amazingly, they called me from their first date to say they would get married!” This was only the first of many successful matches Tova was privileged to make.
She met Joel soon after when attending a birthday party. After surveying the room, Tova’s eye fell upon him. Laughingly, she admits some initial doubt, “He was shorter than me, but he was the only guy in the room I hadn’t dated. Suddenly my toes started tingling. I never had this sensation, but I think God was telling me something.” True to instinct, she promptly introduced herself to her future spouse. They married in 1979, after Tova completed the first year of a three-year dental program at NYU.
The Weinbergs lived happily in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community for many years, surrounded by family. Tova worked one day a week as a dentist while having five children in rapid succession, three girls and two boys. Joel rapidly advanced in his career as lung specialist at the UPMC’s (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) Presbyterian Shadyside campus until his final appointment as chief medical officer there. “I worked 14 hours a day during those years and was on call on Shabbat too,” he relates, but he loved his job as head of pulmonary and intensive care and adult CF (cystic fibrosis). Moreover, “It was an idyllic lifestyle,” and they were closely involved with the Jewish day school, the Jewish Federation and community matters.
Until then the couple never considered making a future home in Israel, although Joel had once spent a summer at the Weizmann Institute, and Tova was at Bar-Ilan University from 1972-73. However, in the winter of 1990, Joel insisted that they join a 10-day Federation trip from Pittsburgh to Israel. Tova was understandably reluctant as she had just given birth to their fifth child. Then, early in 1991, Iraq under Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, which prompted American intervention. During this fraught time of the Gulf War, Hussein fired salvos of missiles into Israel. The trip hit numerous snags and many cancellations. The Weinbergs and nine others decided nonetheless to go ahead, though they had to leave from New York.
“The streets in Israel were empty, but it hit our neshamas [souls] that God had given us this country. That trip made us both into unbelievable Zionists,” Tova affirmed. They returned for a summer stay that same year, when they purchased an apartment in Jerusalem. Tova and the children stayed there during vacation periods, while Joel promised to move to Israel after retirement.
Weinberg’s main mission since his arrival is to develop an adult cystic fibrosis outpatient clinic at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, specially designed for CF patients and people with bronchiectasis and primary ciliary dysplasia (PCD).
“We have a lot of meetings trying to set up the clinic and fortunately it has gone smoothly,” he says. “There are about 700 patients with cystic fibrosis in the country. CF is a rare genetic mutation with a median survival age of 47. I care for patients older than 18,” Joel explains. “Schneider Children’s Medical Center has a large cystic fibrosis clinic, and once a week I participate in their conferences. The hope is to transfer the adult patients to the Beilinson Clinic. Patients should have a multidisciplinary visit at the clinic, which includes time with a nurse, a respiratory therapist, a psychologist and dietician, besides a consultation with the adult cystic fibrosis physician. I see patients one day a week, which will probably increase to two. My expertise is also in the pre-lung transplant area.”
Besides his input as a consultant in Schneider and Beilinson, Weinberg’s tasks include consulting with some junior faculty lung specialists and mentoring a candidate who will take over as his successor and head the clinic someday.
Tova too has committed to a serious mission, to continue her ardent hobby of shidduchim or matchmaking, which has involved her for 41 years. She is currently matchmaker advisor for the SawYouAtSinai website, which she helped cofound on December 15, 2003. This long association keeps her very busy and involved and brings great satisfaction.
Their future plans are, “Just to live our lives by using the Torah as our template. We want to travel and be with our children and grandchildren. Our three daughters live in Israel, and at least one son hopes to make Aliyah soon. Joel wants to help the sick people in Israel. I love doing hesed – good deeds – and being part of the community. My hesed is focused mainly on singles now, as I feel there is a big need.”