Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), awarded the 2011 Dr. Bernard Heller Prize to Dr. Rick Hodes, Medical Director of Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The award was presented at the HUC-JIR/New York Graduation Ceremony on Thursday, May 5 at 4 pm at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, 10 East 66th Street, New York City.
Rabbi Ellenson said, “Dr. Rick Hodes is an American physician whose life and work embody the Talmudic teaching that ‘saving one life is like saving an entire world.’ Based for nearly thirty years in Ethiopia – a country where there are less than three doctors for every 45,000 people, insufficient medicine, a per capita income of $220, and one of the largest populations of orphans in the world – Hodes devotes himself to healing Ethopia’s poor and helping its most desperate children.”
A graduate of Middlebury College and the University of Rochester Medical School, Hodes trained in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University and is a specialist in cancer, heart disease, and spinal conditions. He first went to Ethiopia as a relief worker during the 1984 famine. He returned there on a Fulbright Fellowship to teach internal medicine, and in 1990 was hired by the JDC as the medical adviser for the country. His original role was to care for 25,000 potential immigrants to Israel, and in 1991 he was active in “Operation Solomon,” helping the Ethopian Jews airlifted to Israel.
Hodes provides care for all those suffering in his one-room clinic in Addis Ababa, which is attached to the Mother Theresa home for the destitute. An Orthodox Jew, he has adopted five Ethopian orphans and provides a kosher home, education, and hope for the future for at least a dozen more Muslim and Orthodox Christian children. Hodes’s humanitarian achievements have been recognized by the American College of Physician and are the subject of the HBO documentary “Making the Crooked Straight” and the book This is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes.
Ruth O. Freedlander, Co-Trustee of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, will present the prize. The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize in Arts, Letters, the Humanities, and Religion is an international award presented to an organization or individual whose work, writing, or research reflects significant contributions in these areas. Previous recipients include Dennis B. Ross, Special Middle East Coordinator in the U.S. Department of State; Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords; Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and advocate for Holocaust restitution; Count Folke Bernadotte, posthumously, for rescuing thousands in the concentration camps during the Holocaust; and Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel, for his exemplary leadership, wise statecraft, and moral leadership for over sixty years.
The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize was established by the Co-Trustees of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation to honor Dr. Bernard Heller's memory, life, and belief in the Jewish tradition. Dr. Bernard Heller was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1949, served on the faculty as Visiting Professor of Jewish Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion at HUC-JIR/New York, was the Director of Restitution of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc., the agency charged with the restitution of cultural property seized by the Nazis from European Jewry and Jewish institutions, and served the only liberal Jewish congregation in India, the Progressive Union of Bombay. Dr. Heller pursued his interests in business as one of the founders of the predecessor to the United Brands Corporation and the West Indies Investment Company in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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