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A Young Doctor Visits the Rebbe

A Young Doctor Visits the Rebbe

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Dr. Eliot Udell
Dr. Eliot Udell

In 1977, when I graduated from the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, after doing a residency at Maimonides Hospital, I opened an office in Crown Heights. Part of the reason I chose Crown Heights was that, although not being Chabad Lubavitch myself, I had a very nice feeling toward the Chabad community.

Of course, before I opened up my office in Crown Heights, I wrote to the Rebbe to ask for a blessing. He answered me that as long as my practice would not constitute an unfair competition, meaning that I would not be putting someone else out of business, I would have his blessings. The Rebbe was very strict about this issue – that one person wouldn’t harm another in this way.

I did what he asked, and then he gave me a blessing.

I started working in Crown Heights, and then one day a call came into my office that there was a woman who wanted me to make a house call. I did not usually make house calls, as the streets could be dangerous for a doctor carrying a medical bag, but I took the call to find out the woman’s problem and why she couldn’t come into the office.

“My name is Mrs. Schneerson, and I live on President Street.”

It turned out she was an elderly woman who had recently fractured her hip, so I asked her, “What is your name?” And she said, “My name is Mrs. Schneerson, and I live on President Street.”

So five minutes later, as I was leaving the office with my medical bag my secretary said to me, “I thought you didn’t make house calls?” I replied, “If I practiced in London and Queen Elizabeth called, I would also make a house call, even if she lived in a bad neighborhood.”

Now, I wasn’t a hundred percent certain that it was the Rebbetzin who asked for the house call – it could have been someone else with the same name, but as soon as I walked in the door, I knew she had to be the Rebbetzin. It was the only Lubavitch house that I had ever visited which didn’t have a single picture of the Rebbe.

After that, I used to go and see her every couple of months to take care of her feet. This went on for many years. And I remember her always very gracious, lively and friendly whenever I came there.

Once, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, called me and asked if I would make a house call to the Rebbe. By that time, I didn’t have an office in Crown Heights anymore, but of course I went.

The Rebbe's home on President St.
The Rebbe's home on President St.

The first time I treated the Rebbe, he wanted to pay me. To me it was a big honor, and I didn’t want to take any money. But he said to me, “That’s not the way this works. I’m giving you a check for your services and I expect you to cash this check.”

When I left, I said to Rabbi Groner, “I really don’t want to cash the Rebbe’s check; I feel it’s not proper.” But Rabbi Groner said, “If you don’t cash the Rebbe’s check, the Rebbe will never allow you to come here again. He is very insistent, whenever anyone does a professional service for him, that he pay the person. He doesn’t accept no for an answer.”

So I made a copy of the check, but I cashed it. On subsequent visits I told him that his insurance will pay for everything. And he accepted that.

The Rebbe was in his late 80s and early 90s during the years I would see him. He typically called me in before a Jewish holiday because that’s when he’d have to stand on his feet for hours on end.

I remember one particular instance just before Passover. A few days before the holiday, the secretary asked me to come and see the Rebbe. The Rebbe was very busy in the office for Passover, and they asked if I could come to his house late at night.

I came to his house. And when I got there, the person who opened the door said that the Rebbe was resting. I said, “Fine. Don’t worry about it, I’ll go home. I’ll come back tomorrow.”

"My time, he didn’t want to waste! But who was I? A young doctor. And he was the world’s greatest rabbi. And yet he was so humble..."

He said, “Wait one moment…” When he returned, he told me that the Rebbe wanted me to stay: “You made the trip here. He doesn’t want to waste your time.”

I said, “I don’t mind coming back tomorrow.”

“The Rebbe insists that you stay.”

Five minutes later, the Rebbe came down. I could see he was very, very tired. He had been up maybe for twenty-four hours or more, dealing with all kinds of issues. But he woke up and limped down.

I said to the Rebbe, “You know, I can come back tomorrow.” But he insisted. “No. You made a long trip here. I want you to take care of me now.”

I felt bad and, to this day when I remember it, I feel uncomfortable because I put him out of his way when he had been resting. I could’ve come back, but he didn’t want to waste my time.

My time, he didn’t want to waste! But who was I? A young doctor. And he was the world’s greatest rabbi. And yet he was so humble not to impact my schedule by making me come back. And that has impressed me to this very day.

I can sum it up this way:

My specialty is pain management of the lower extremity of the foot and wound care. I lecture all over on this subject, and I’ve published many papers on it, so I get VIPs coming to me from all over the country for care, for some very serious, painful problems. Some of my patients are quite famous. But not one of them is as famous as the Rebbe was – he was known throughout the world. And yet, he was the most humble person that I ever met – I have never met anyone as humble.

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Dedicated by Max and Leah Cohen, Manchester, UK

Dr. Elliot Udell is a doctor of podiatric medicine specializing in foot and ankle pain management as well as in wound management. He was interviewed in his home in January, 2009.
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Discussion (3)
August 18, 2013
thank you
Thank you for this touching article.
Anonymous
Kanata
August 14, 2013
The Doctor Visit the Rebbe
To be humble, I believe, is a gift from G-d. And is given to those who truly seek the Almighty G-d in truth. For He is the Giver of all good things.
Anonymous
USA
August 13, 2013
Thank you for sharing your experience with our Royalty. The unmeasurable self sacrifice of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin are to be cherished and to be reciprocated by following all that the Rebbe has asked us to do. Moshiach Now!

all the blessings on the New Year
Chasida
Crown Heights
Here's My Story is part of the My Encounter with the Rebbe oral history project dedicated to documenting the life of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
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