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!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • 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.