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Fast Forward

Doctor who urged Trump to take untested drug leaving his Orthodox patients amid feud

Dr. Vladimir “Zev” Zelenko, the Hasidic doctor who came to national prominence for treating presumptive Covid-19 patients with an unproven drug regimen, announced that he is leaving the area where he treated mostly Hasidic clients, in a clinic in Monroe, N.Y., near the Hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel.

“It’s with a broken heart that I have to say this, but I have decided to leave Monroe after almost two decades of working as a doctor, taking care of the community, most recently with this terrible magefah,” he said, using the Hebrew word for plague, in a video addressed to his patients and Kiryas Joel residents, shared in Orthodox circles on WhatsApp.

“Things have happened, and after speaking to my family and my mashpi’im” — religious advisers — “and thinking about what I want for the future, I’ve decided that its time for me to move on,” Zelenko continued.

The announcement comes several days after President Donald Trump announced Monday that he was taking hydroxychloroquine, the drug that Zelenko gained fame for prescribing to his coronavirus patients in the hopes that it would prevent them from going to the hospital. In his comments, Trump connected his decision to start taking the drug to a New York doctor — a designation Zelenko claimed for himself in a text message to this reporter sent Monday evening.

It also comes after Zelenko released a video over the weekend, addressed to the Kiryas Joel residents, in which he accused town leaders of orchestrating multiple investigations against him. Zelenko accused three men — Gedalye Szegedin, the town administrator; Mayer Hirsch, a developer and Joel Mittelman, the chief executive of the main health care provider in Kiryas Joel, where Zelenko used to work — of being responsible for the deaths of 14 Jews who died of Covid-19. The three did not act quickly enough in closing the town’s synagogues and schools at the beginning of the pandemic, he said.

In an interview with the Forward Tuesday, Szegedin denied all the accusations, and said that he, Mittelman and Hirsch were considering legal proceedings for libel against Zelenko.

Zekenko declined to comment further on his video.

In the Wednesday video, Zelenko said that he wanted to dispel rumors that his decision to leave had anything to do with a disagreement with his current employer, CareStier Health, where he is the medical director.

In signing off, Zelenko wished Kiryas Joel residents long life, good health, financial success, and that they should all live to see the coming of the Messiah — a customary message among some members of the Chabad Hasidic community, of which Zelenko is a part.

“Good luck,” he said in Hebrew.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at feldman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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