Its life and death daily, says S.F. Shaare Zedek booster

It's with an inflection of emotionality and enthusiasm in his voice that David Cohen describes the "mind-bending juxtaposition" between the ugly face of death and the miracle of new life confronted in Shaare Zedek Medical Center's tumultuous Middle East backdrop.

He's never actually been to the hospital. But he plans to visit soon, and his commitment to ensuring the vitality of Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek is so strong it amazes Cohen himself.

He can easily rattle off statistics: the hospital's birthrate of 8,377 a year — the highest in Israel; its 30 percent increase in the number of patients in 2001; its "most-demanded emergency admissions" with 56,000 cases last year alone, including Jews, Arabs and other ethnic groups.

Cohen also speaks resolutely of the hospital's other attributes, such as its highly regarded heart center, where diagnosis, treatment, surgery, rehabilitation and education are "state of the art." Or the orthopedics staff's expertise in treating injuries, such as those caused by the "nuts, bolts and nails packed into the bombs" of Palestinian terrorists.

Its renowned medical research, meanwhile, is "adopted throughout the medical world."

Most amazing, said Cohen, the new executive director of the Northwest region of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek: "It's all standing-out under one roof."

Now that he's familiar with the hospital's story, Cohen, who has done Jewish communal work for the past 15 years — most recently as associate director of development in the Anti-Defamation League's San Francisco office — is determined to spread the word to others.

"Many in the Jewish community," explained the husband and father of three, "are only marginally aware of the major groundbreaking contributions that Shaare Zedek makes to the well-being and progress of humanity."

One area of progress, which now hits close to home because of America's own war on terrorism, is biochemical warfare preparedness. According to Cohen, Shaare Zedek was the primary hospital in Israel on alert for chemical warfare during the Gulf War. And as of two years ago, he said, the hospital had established a protocol on effectively dealing with an outbreak on anthrax.

"There is a huge garage ready to be converted into a disinfectant place to treat people" who are victims of bioterror, he added.

He also touted the foresight of the hospital's founders in building three levels underground, including the emergency room, operating theater and pharmacy. That way, "in time of general military war, or in case of biochemical warfare, the viability of the hospital is not threatened and can continue to function and save lives."

Yet amid these countless accomplishments — and as the hospital celebrates its 100th anniversary this year — Cohen noted that its financial and other resources are being stretched to the limit by the intifada.

For instance, on top of the normal influx of patients, Shaare Zedek treated at least 85 victims following the Dec. 1 suicide bombing at the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall. And with the recent increase in the number of suicide bombings, these types of emergency cases have become a common occurrence for the hospital, located downtown on a 14-acre site opposite Mount Herzl.

"The stress level of employees there is magnificently high and their workload is increasing" exponentially, according to Cohen.

Even the number of births performed at the hospital is increasing, he said, "because more people are coming there" as a result of a 1995 Israeli law change that allowed emergency room patients to choose which hospital to patronize.

Cohen's work environment, on the other hand, is a lot less frantic. There are only two employees in his Financial District office, located directly across the street from his old haunt at the ADL.

In this new position, the San Francisco native is applying his extensive fund-raising and community-building experience. A member of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, he said he feels fortunate to be able to "make a living out of supporting a cause for which I feel very passionate." Cohen plans to visit the hospital within the next six months.

"I know too many people who go to jobs that are only that — jobs. I'm actually very proud to have a career that's reflective of my Jewish upbringing and values."