A Doctor Without Borders

Television

Listening to a Big heart: In Addis Ababa, children are invited to hear the good doctor’s heartbeat.
PHOTOGRAPH BY J. KYlE KEENER/HBO
Listening to a Big heart: In Addis Ababa, children are invited to hear the good doctor’s heartbeat.

By Dan Friedman

Published April 06, 2010, issue of April 16, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Rick Hodes cures sick African kids. With a reassuring manner and a brightly colored hat (bearing the Amharic words “peace” and “health”) the director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s medical programs in Ethiopia treats the crippled and cancerous, the diseased and debilitated, the invisibly infirm and the grotesquely malformed children of Addis Ababa.

His work is addressed by both Susan Cohn Rockefeller’s short documentary “Making the Crooked Straight” (airing on April 14, on HBO2) — for which, surely, the word “heartwarming” was coined — and Marilyn Berger’s new biography, “This Is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes” (William Morrow). Both give us a brief glimpse of Hodes’s “quiet heroism” (as best-selling medical author Abraham Verghese labels it on the book jacket).

Christopher Hitchens joked that “The Missionary Position” (Verso), his 1995 biography of Mother Teresa, should have been called “Holy Cow” because of her stance on birth control and dictatorial manner. Hodes is an attending physician at Mother Teresa’s Mission in Addis Ababa, but he’s no Mother Teresa. Apart from being joyously Jewish, he has the kind of practical ego that allows him to believe he can achieve something worthwhile while appearing to reserve all judgment of those around him.

His solution to providing health care to a number of the children without insurance was to adopt them, and his “family” Sabbaths include not only his 17 adopted children, but also medical workers and interested visitors. Rockefeller’s 30-minute documentary has an affecting but short sequence of a Kabbalat Shabbat where the candles are lit and the group links arms to sing “If I Had a Hammer.”

In documentary and biography Hodes comes across as one of those people whose presence and practical goodness show up those of us who under-donate our time and money to the truly needy. As well as Verghese, dustcover recommendations come from Christiane Amanpour, Alan Alda, Natalie Portman and, obscurely, Henry Kissinger.

Hodes, from Syosset, N.Y., trained at the University of Rochester Medical Center and arrived in Ethiopia during the famines of the mid-1980s. Since then, apart from lending his medical expertise to refugee missions around the world, he has been based there. He says, with no regret, that he has no personal life anymore, but you get the feeling that his children and all the children of Addis Ababa are his personal life. With more Ethiopian doctors in Washington, D.C., and Maryland than in the whole of Ethiopia, Hodes is redressing a cosmic balance.

When diagnosing a little girl with a heart murmur, Hodes gives the child the stethoscope and asks her to listen to his heart and her own. She notes the difference, and he congratulates her acuity before organizing the surgery necessary to cure her. He never listens to his own heart, perhaps because he’s too busy following it.

Dan Friedman is the arts and culture editor of the Forward.


Watch a trailer for “Making the Crooked Straight” below:


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.