Aliya Arrivals: On the cutting edge of robotic technology

A profile of Dr. Meyer David Gershbaum, MD, who made aliya with his family in 2014 from Woodmere, New York to Ra'anana.

Meyer David Gershbaum (photo credit: Courtesy)
Meyer David Gershbaum
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When the Gershbaum family arrived in Israel from New York in mid-August 2014, it was in the middle of a traumatic war against terrorism. However, Operation Protective Edge – with its dissonant booms of missiles and Iron Dome hardware shooting them down – was not a deterrent.
For them the time was ripe, because Prof. Gabi Barbash, CEO of Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center, had just chosen Dr. Meyer David Gershbaum – a high-ranking urologist and oncologist – for the new post of director of robotic surgery in the urology department.
After landing, the family proceeded to a rented house in Ra’anana.
Gershbaum’s professional appointment came after many years of visiting Israel and considering aliya.
“We were offered an opportunity to come, and we had to make an effort to see if it would work for us as a family; the summer war did not affect our decision,” he explains.
Since their arrival, the principal hurdle all of them must overcome is learning more Hebrew, to better understand what is happening around them –and their youngest seems to have caught on the quickest! With no time to attend ulpan (Hebrew language course), Gershbaum is improving his language skills on the job.
David; his wife, Michelle, a dentist; and the four of five children who accompanied them – three teenagers and one preteen – are pleased with their new environment and adjusting well. Michelle will take Israeli dental license exams later on when the children are more settled in school. Their 17-year-old stayed behind in New York to finish 12th grade, moving in with an aunt.
David praises life in Ra’anana.
“My wife is fantastic at adapting to new situations; socially, I am pleasantly surprised that the children have made friends in such a short time. People here are very warm. We go to a very American-style synagogue, with lectures and adult activities on weekends, and I feel very comfortable with that.”
David had a conventional Orthodox upbringing in the New York boroughs of Queens and Manhattan and always wanted to be a physician. After Jewish day school, he proceeded to Yeshiva University and Albert Einstein Medical School, the recipient of awards and scholarships. His father before him was a doctor and general surgeon; the senior Gershbaum, a man with unfulfilled but heartfelt Zionist aspirations, died of prostate cancer at age 60.
Having visited Israel after high school for a pre-army program, David spent 18 months at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh from 1988–1990.
Gershbaum met Michelle, who was born in the US to Cuban parents, on a joint skiing vacation for graduates of Yeshiva University and Stern College for Women.
“Once I got married and started working, plans to go to Israel took a backseat,” he remarks.
After a decade or so of distinguished medical service that included two residencies at Long Island Jewish Hospital, he completed his surgery fellowship in Florida in minimally invasive oncology techniques such as laparoscopy. There, Gershbaum “almost got sidetracked into staying in Boca Raton near West Palm Beach – a warm place with palm trees – where both of us had relatives.”
Yet career plans soon returned him to New York, private practice and an affiliation with Winthrop University Hospital and North Shore University Hospital.
Around 2003, a further challenge – robotic-assisted surgery – entered the operating room arena. Gershbaum immediately became involved with the applications of the da Vinci robot for urologic procedures.
“I’ve been doing this type of surgery since the first model came out some 12 years ago,” he recounts, adding jocularly, “I’ve got gray in my beard from those early days!” After extensive experience in treating prostate, bladder and kidney cancers, working in reconstructive kidney surgery and repairing renal stenosis, Gershbaum worked as chief of robotic surgery at Winthrop University Hospital for three years prior to his arrival here.
He also acquired a thorough background in medical research.
Working now in Ichilov Hospital’s department of urology with Dr. Haim Matzkin, he spends a portion of each day teaching his specialty to other surgeons.
While many Israeli hospitals offer robotic surgery, “the da Vinci Xi robot is the newest model in the country to date, and Sourasky Medical Center is embracing the technology as fast as they can. Of course, it is an expensive investment.”
Not only does the da Vinci surgical system manufactured by Intuitive of California carry a $2 million price tag, but “what really adds to the expense are the disposable devices for the robotic arms – an extra $3,000 per case.”
These miniaturized robotic arms are guided by the surgeon to perform whatever procedures are required, surpassing the human hand and wrist in their flexibility and accuracy of movement. A high-definition vision system provides clear 3D viewing and magnification for the surgeon seated at his console, while a large monitor displays the surgery to the operating team.
For prostate removals, the robot is considered superior to standard laparoscopy.
Among other advantages, Gershbaum cites “smaller incisions, less scarring and a convalescent period that is definitely shorter.”
He is convinced that some years ahead, it will probably become the standard for many types of surgery.
“Robotic and minimally invasive surgery is here to stay, and it is the future. Think of the iPhone seven years ago!” he enthuses.
David wryly notes complacent reactions to their aliya from some American friends, such as, “That’s great! We’re so happy for you, and wish we could do it ourselves, but…” Nonetheless, he admits that “there are a lot more options in New York professionally and personally, and Israel is not for everyone. Sometimes people want to come, but for various legitimate reasons it doesn’t work out. But our connection to Israel runs deep, and although we have visited many times – that was not enough.
“America is a wonderful country, and we are not running away from anything, but Israel should be more important than a vacation destination. There should be a deep connection to every Jew.”
Now that some months have passed since their arrival, Gershbaum has just opened a private practice in Herzliya Medical Center; he walks and bikes to get exercise. Most important of all for this busy professional is a new goal, “to spend more time with the family than I did five years ago.”