Always on call

New York-born physician Dr. Henry Hashkes has received the Yakir Yerushalayim award for his years of service in public health.

henry hashkes 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
henry hashkes 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This year there were 12. Venerated by being shown the respect they are due, 12 eminent residents of Jerusalem were awarded the prestigious Yakir Yerushalayim, or Distinguished Citizen of Jerusalem, award. In a ceremony on Thursday night, within the context of Jerusalem Day, the honorees were wined and dined, granted their citations by Mayor Nir Barkat and entertained by singing star David De'Or. "It was very impressive," says Dr. Henry Hashkes, one of the esteemed recipients of the award. Among the numerous achievements listed on the citation for his many years of service in public health, the general practitioner was commended for his pioneering efforts in educating doctors and the general public; his dissemination of updated information on high blood pressure; and his encouragement of physicians from abroad to make aliya and practice medicine in Israel. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Hashkes was born on May 26, 1930. Fittingly enough, according to the Hebrew calendar that date corresponds with Jerusalem Day. Hashkes attended New York University and received his medical degree from the University of Louisville in Kentucky in 1956. He did a stint with the US army as Post Surgeon, went into general practice in New York and then made aliya in 1969 with his wife, Sally, setting up home in Jerusalem. "I barely had time to go to ulpan," recalls the 79-year-old practitioner of internal medicine. Snapped up by the Hebrew University, Hashkes spent two years as the physician for the students. He then went into private practice. "There was a need for private medicine at that time," says Hashkes. "I did not join any of the health funds at first," he says. "Americans heard that there was an American doctor," he says, which drew him a lot of patients. But with the establishment of the National Insurance Institute the public had to pay the state for medical services, the fees for which were being taken out of their salaries. "A group of several hundred university lecturers said they would only join Meuhedet if I joined," he recounts. For nine years he practiced family medicine under that umbrella. In 1971 Hashkes opened a clinic in the German Colony at Rehov Graetz 7. Never wanting to be unavailable to his patients, he set his phone on call forwarding whenever he left the house so that he could always be reached. In his many years of practicing medicine, Hashkes took on a myriad of tasks in a wide variety of places. For example, he served as a doctor with the IDF; he was a physician to Yeshivat Hakotel for over 10 years; and he took special training at the Roosevelt Hospital Cooke Institute of Allergy in New York so he could treat his patients for allergies. "I was always looking for ways to improve the medical care in Israel," he says. One of the most painful times in his career, says Hashkes, was in 1973 when he volunteered to help the IDF during the Yom Kippur War. "They asked me to accompany them to notify the families about those who had been wounded or killed. It was the most difficult task I have ever had to do. I would go home depressed every day; it was traumatic," he says. What struck him the most, he says, was "the ethnic tears" - the different ways that various types of families reflected their grief. Some cultures seemed to keep their emotions at bay, while others opened the floodgates of their anguish. "We would get calls every day. A person just can't take too much of it." However, the teaching doctor was also a good student and by the time the Gulf War broke out in 1990, he was educating physicians about poison gas. A Zionist to the core, Hashkes has encouraged many immigrant doctors to come to Israel over the years. "I never said to them, 'We have enough doctors,'" he says. "Today," he assesses, "the quality of medicine here is very good." AFTER LEAVING Meuhedet six years ago at age 73, Hashkes continues to tread the medical trail. He has taken a keen interest in hypertension and the havoc high blood pressure is wreaking on society. After passing the exam of the American Society of Hypertension, he was designated a specialist in the field. Bent on reducing the insidious effects of high blood pressure, he is dedicated to educating the medical profession and the general public about ways to treat it. "Reducing it could dramatically cut down on the number of cases of stroke, heart attack and congestive heart failure. We must educate people and doctors," he asserts. To that end, he spends a lot of time upgrading his medical knowledge on high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, as well as giving public lectures, free of charge, at schools, synagogues and organizations. He attends the weekly meetings of the Jerusalem Association for the Advancement of Family Practice, which he founded in 1975. To this day he chairs the sessions in which English-speaking doctors discuss topics of mutual interest. Twice a month he goes to the hypertension clinic in Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer on a volunteer basis, where he discusses the difficult cases with other experts. And he travels to international conferences a few times a year to obtain updates on high blood pressure and diabetes. And with all that, he also makes the time to learn Torah. While his achievements as a family doctor are worthy of public accolades, Dr. Hashkes's personal source of pride is his own family. He and Sally have been married for 51 years. An artist who specializes in Jewish art, Sally does oil paintings and watercolors, as well as larger projects such as mosaics, frescoes and vitrage. They have four married children and 13 grandchildren. Their eldest son, Pinchas, a renowned specialist in pediatric rheumatology in Cleveland, will soon be returning to Israel to work at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Their daughter, Batsheva Pomerantz, is a writer and bilingual editor who is about to publish her first book, a collection of articles and essays on themes connected to life in her neighborhood of Gilo. Their son Yoni, based in London, developed a data processing system called Magic and is the senior vice president of NDS. And Noam, who lives on Moshav Nehalim, is a hi-tech executive with the firm VeriFone. Looking back over his career, Hashkes says, "I had the privilege of treating some very fine and well-known people: the largest group of university teachers, Supreme Court justices and government ministers - and one prime minister's family," he adds discreetly. "It has been very interesting," he understates. Revered in the community for his tireless exemplary work, Hashkes came very highly recommended for the honor of Yakir Yerushalayim. Among the notable personages who nominated him were Yonatan Halevy, the director-general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center; and Robert Aumann, a Nobel laureate in economic sciences. But in keeping with the modesty that is inherent in many a great man, Hashkes says with sincere deference, "All of this would not have been possible without my wife. She answered the phone at all hours, she opened the door to all who came knocking and needed help. A doctor's life, a doctor's wife," he smiles.