Witnesses to tragedy

Emergency care doctors who have experienced some of the greatest tragedies in American history, from 9/11 to the Sandy Hook shooting, gathered in Los Angeles on Oct. 28 for a symposium organized by the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem (ACSZ). 

The event also featured an Israeli emergency room doctor discussing what it’s like to work in a country where suicide bombers strike regularly and emergency rooms fill up quickly with victims.

The event, titled “Preparedness for Mass Casualty Events,”  took place at the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Boulevard and commemorated the 10th yahrzeit of Dr. David Applebaum, an American-born physician living in Israel who died in a suicide bomb attack on Sept. 9, 2003, in Jerusalem. Applebaum was the much-beloved former director of the emergency room at Shaare Zedek, and on the night of his death, he was out for a walk with his daughter, who also died in this attack, which took place on the eve of her wedding day. 

Applebaum himself often treated victims of terrorism and was often among first responders on the scene of bombings.

The event also featured Applebaum’s son, Yitzchak Applebaum.

Headquartered in New York, ACSZ supports the 1,000-bed Shaare Zedek Medical Center in central Jerusalem, and the L.A. event aimed to highlight the hospital’s achievements, which include operating Jerusalem’s leading maternity hospital and educating the uninformed about emergency medicine. And it also showed that even doctors, known for their cool-headedness in the face of death, aren’t removed from the human element when tragedy strikes. 

Emotions ran high when Dr. William Begg, EMS director of Danbury Hospital in Connecticut and one of the evening’s presenters, described in detail the horror he felt when responding to the scene of the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an incident that took the lives of 20 young schoolchildren and six adults. 

Also present was Dr. Ofer Merin, deputy director general of Shaare Zedek, who led an Israel Defense Forces field hospital immediately following the earthquake in Haiti and more recently has been helping to oversee a full field hospital on the Israel-Syrian border helping Syrians injured in their country’s war; Dr. Richard Wolfe, who works in the department of emergency medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, instrumental in caring for the wounded after the Boston Marathon bombing; and Dr. Joel Geiderman, professor of emergency medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. 

Dr. Peter Rosen, a senior lecturer in medicine at Harvard Medical School who is known as the “father of emergency medicine,” moderated a panel made up of the doctors, and Shlomo Melmed, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s dean of medical faculty, served as the master of ceremonies. Israeli consul general in Los Angeles David Siegel also spoke.

The event drew more than 200 attendees, including Applebaum’s widow, Debra, and actor Jon Voight, who opted at the last minute to deliver brief remarks expressing his longtime support for Israel. Voight’s decision met with the approval of Paul Jeser, regional director of ACSZ, who gladly obliged the Hollywood star’s request.