Mt. Zion doctors donate funds to Jewish agencies

The doctors of UCSF/Mount Zion Medical Center may have lost their inpatients, but not their desire to bring them nachas.

So the doctors have dispersed $100,000 in aid from a fund amassed over the years, according to Dr. Jeffrey Pearl, chief of staff.

"We won't be able to give back to the community through hospital services, so we are giving back through agencies that can help people," he said.

Among the recipients: the Season of Sharing Fund, the Jewish Home, the Goldman Institute on Aging, Jewish Family and Children's Services, and Glide Memorial Church, all in San Francisco.

The tradition of giving "goes way back" in the Jewish medical community, said Pearl, whose father also served as Mount Zion chief of staff.

"Jewish hospitals were the only place Jewish doctors could practice medicine around the turn of the century, but there is more to the concept of a Jewish hospital," he added. "We have a mission to serve the indigent, and to provide compassionate care."

Most Jewish hospitals "are in trouble or closed," he said. "And that is a loss to the Jewish community that won't be felt for 10 or 15 years from now."

Like the 113-year-old Mount Zion, most formerly Jewish hospitals are in the "wrong side of town," left behind by Jewish migration to suburbs and further devastated by urban renewal, he said.

The Season of Sharing Fund, the San Francisco Chronicle's holiday charity, got the largest share of the account. The fund received $25,000 "to get some immediate service to the community and because they take no money off the top whatever," Pearl said.

The rest was divided up equally.

"Glide Memorial, to give back to the black community we've been serving," Pearl said, "Goldman because it started at Mount Zion, and JFCS because they are right across the street and we have a good relationship."

The doctors also provide care for residents at the Jewish Home, another beneficiary.

The checks have been signed and will be mailed within a few days, he said.

The Mount Zion Medical Staff Fund was built on yearly membership dues from the doctors and fed additionally by cigarette-tax money and other occasional donations. In the past, it had been used for the hospital library, for thank-you gifts to employees and to plant trees in Israel when medical staffers or family members were hospitalized.

"Mount Zion has a longstanding history of not just helping the community, but of taking care of the well-being of seniors," said Sandra McIntosh, communications director for the Goldman Institute on Aging, one of the beneficiaries.

The donation will enter a general fund and be used wherever it's needed most, she said.

Goldman is perhaps best known for its day program for seniors and its services for Alzheimer's patients. But the Mount Zion dollars are most likely to be spent on programs that receive no government funding — such as Goldman's suicide prevention hotline, or a program that pairs emigre seniors with school children for music, art and theater projects.

While UCSF/Mount Zion eliminated its hospital beds and emergency room late last year, Pearl insists that its tradition of community service continues.

"We have hopes and aspirations for the new Mount Zion," Pearl said. "It's still here. There is the cancer center, the breast center. A lot of caring physicians have chosen to stay here. Our mission is an important entity for the community to understand."

Although there is no longer a rabbi on staff, there is a lively Jewish culture at the hospital, he said. "When Passover comes, we have matzahs instead of bread. We share a fellowship that centers around our heritage."

A loud heritage.

"We're vocal," he said, laughing. "We're a vocal people. But our arguments are always around bettering something, not hurting anyone or anything. We care deeply about this place."

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.