September 2023
Holiday Greetings, News & Events
Dear Friends!
As we enter the month of Elul, approaching the High Holidays, the Soroka family is humbled and proud of recent recognition received: Soroka Medical Center was declared its #1 hospital by Clalit Healthcare. Eli Cohen, Clalit CEO, declared "Soroka is one of the most solid and important foundations of the entire healthcare system. The hospital's excellence in national quality indicators and its leadership in infection prevention and other key indicators position it at the head of the country's tertiary medical centers and guarantee the residents of the Negev and the entire region uncompromisingly high-quality medical care. I thank the management of the hospital and all the teams for their excellent work and for mobilizing to save lives in routine times and emergencies."

Pease join us in celebrating this achievement, and all of the exciting advancements currently transforming our campus- and attend one of the extraordinary events on our fall calendar. The Nov. 1 Gala bestows well-deserved recognition on 2 extraordinary physicians (See story.) Hadassah Lieberman, the 2022 Humanitarian Award recipient, together with her husband Senator Joseph Lieberman will serve at Honorary Co-Chairs. Other events this fall feature a spotlight on genetics – read within for details on opportunities to meet Professor Ohad Birk, the internationally renowned head of Genetics at Soroka.

We need support from our friends. Only through Philanthopy will Soroka be able to reach new heights. With the creation of the new Saban Pediatric Hospital, and construction on the new Neonatal Intensive Care Center and other major projects, we still have a lot of work ahead. Supporting Soroka contributes to a healthier society in Israel – and provides a positive impact on Global health.

We thank you for your generosity and meaningful partnership, and wish you a joyous New Year, with the blessings of good health.
Caroline Franklin Freidfertig
Rachel Heisler Sheinfeld
Executive Director
Soroka Medical Center's Pillars of Progress Gala Unveiling the Future of Urologic Care
American Friends of Soroka Medical Center will host its 11th Annual “Pillars of Progress” Gala on Wednesday, November 1, spotlighting the remarkable strides made by Soroka Medical Center in advancing urologic care. Join us for an exciting and glamorous evening honoring two remarkable individuals, Dr. David Goldberg and Dr. Joel Sheinfeld. The evening will celebrate the new Dr. Joel Sheinfeld Urology Institute.

Renowned for its unwavering commitment to excellence, Soroka Medical Center stands as a beacon of hope, dedicated to improving the lives of its diverse population. Soroka’s unique model of medical care prioritizes empathy and human touch alongside clinical precision and scientific innovation. Guided by this commitment to progress and collaboration, the new Urology Institute is setting new standards of excellence in Israel that will serve as an example for institutions worldwide.
Dr. David Goldberg, a revered internist with Columbia Doctors and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, will receive the Healthcare Champion Medal of Honor. His extensive experience, specializing in travel medicine, community-acquired infections, and internal medicine, exemplifies the pursuit of medical knowledge and the unwavering dedication to providing exceptional care. For over three decades, Dr. Goldberg has been a steadfast pillar in the Scarsdale medical community, treating generations of families with compassion and expertise. During the Covid pandemic, he led a series of webinars for Soroka Friends that shared cutting edge medical care with sage expertise and information, helping thousands navigate the unprecedented pandemic years.
Dr. Joel Sheinfeld, a world-class urologic surgeon and trailblazer in the treatment of testicular cancer, will receive the Humanitarian Award. As the Deputy Chief of the Urology Service and the Florence and Theodore Baumritter/Enid Ancell Chair of Urologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Dr. Sheinfeld's leadership and commitment to clinical excellence, education, mentorship, and research has positively impacted the lives of countless individuals. In honor of his exceptional contributions, the Dr. Joel Sheinfeld Urology Institute has been established to amplify his impact, benefitting the Negev, Israel, and humanity.
The Dr. Joel Sheinfeld Urology Institute represents Soroka Medical Center's bold initiative to revolutionize the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of urologic diseases. Soroka’s strategic focus on constantly developing, expanding and improving its services, infrastructure and capabilities enables our life-saving mission. With a foundation built on pillars of research, innovation, education, and global collaboration, the Institute will propel Soroka to the forefront of medical innovation, driving the advancement of urologic care and shaping the future of healthcare.

The 11th Annual Gala invites guests to witness the transformative power of Soroka Medical Center and support its mission of providing life-saving care. To learn more, secure tickets, place tribute journal ads, review auction items and special donation opportunities, email or call the AFS office at 914-725-9070, or visit

Patrons attending the gala will contribute to the ongoing development of the Dr. Joel Sheinfeld Urology Institute at Soroka Medical Center and become catalysts for progress and change for the future of Israel.
Art & Healing: The Soroka Medical Center Passover Benefit Concert
Soroka Medical Center hosted an extraordinary musical evening this Passover at Heichal HaTarbut, Tel Aviv’s premier venue. On Monday, April 10th, world-renowned cantors Netanel Hershtik and Shai Abramson, conductor Ofir Sobol and the Ra’anana Symphonette performed a stunning program of cantoral, classical Israeli and contemporary pieces to a captivated audience. A special VIP reception was held prior to the concert. The evening, attended by over 300 guests, benefited Soroka Medical Center, Israel's leading healthcare institution and the sole medical center in the Negev, one of the country's most diverse and fastest-growing areas.

The palpable sense of energy and excitement in the air was a testament to the power of music to uplift and unite people from all over the world. Netanel Hershtik, a fourteenth-generation chazzan, felt deeply connected to Soroka given his service in the IDF as a medic in the Negev. He spoke of the deep connection he feels to Soroka and the important work they do in caring for over a million people, including over 400,000 children, in a region that comprises 60% of Israel's land. Together with Shai Abramson, the Representative Cantor for the State of Israel, they impressed the audience with their remarkable vocal range and ability to connect different communities to the world of Jewish tradition and music. Ofir Sobol, with a dynamic and engaging presence, led the Ra'anana Symphonette Orchestra, a premier 10-piece musical ensemble.
Dr. Orly Weinstein, Johanna Locket. Maestro Ofir Sobel, Rachel Heisler, Rabbi Marc Schneier, Cantor Netanel Hershtik, Soroka Director General Shlomo Codish, Cantor Shari Abramson, Orna Myara.
As the concert came to a close, the audience rose to their feet in a thunderous applause, moved by the power of the music and the message of hope and unity it conveyed. "We are honored to have hosted this extraordinary musical evening and grateful for the support of Netanel Hershtik, Shai Abramson, Ofir Sobol, and the Ra’anana Symphonette, as well as our community of supporters," said Orna Myara, Director of External Affairs at Soroka Medical Center. "This event not only raised much-needed funds for Soroka, but also showcased the immense talent and generosity of the artists involved." With two medical schools, a proven record of groundbreaking research, life-saving treatments, and an extraordinary staff, Soroka exemplifies a deep commitment to outstanding medical care, peaceful coexistence, clinical research, and innovation with global impact.

A Future of Health: Uncommon Genetic Medical Discoveries
In anticipation of his October presentations in NYC (October 2 at The Explorers Club on the Genetics of the Bedouin and October 4 at Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, on Sephardic Genetic Medical Discoveries), Soroka’s Prof. Ohad Birk met with Eliza de Sola Mendes, Special Projects Coordinator for American Friends of Soroka Medical Center.
This article was written by Ms. De Sola Mendes.

Dr. Ohad Birk is a leading world figure in the field of Genetics. He is the Head of the Genetics Institute at Soroka Medical Center, the Morris Kahn Laboratory of Human Genetics, and Israel’s National Research Center for Rare/Orphan Diseases, Dr. Birk will discuss his current Soroka team’s innovative work, and transformative discoveries.
Different segments of society face unique medical concerns. Genetic diseases are one of the most striking examples of this. The Genetics Institute at Soroka is tackling these often-life-threatening challenges head-on. Using best practice techniques in carrier testing, clinical and prenatal diagnosis, and genetic counseling, Soroka is making the Negev a healthier place to live for people from every walk of life, and making discoveries that lead to new treatments that improve health and prevent human suffering worldwide. It was an honor to speak with him about his groundbreaking discoveries in Genetics, his remarkable experiences in the field, and his great progress with innovative medical treatments for hereditary diseases.

Asked about his arrival at Soroka Medical Center, Dr. Birk noted: “I came to Soroka Medical Center more than twenty years ago for a few months, with an already signed contract at a top academic institution in central Israel. However, what I saw at Soroka was life-changing. The incomprehensible number and severity of different unknown genetic diseases was astounding. As a medical doctor trained in pediatrics and medical genetics on one hand, and a PhD with expertise in developmental genetics, it was immediately clear to me that this is the place where I could make a difference; as if I have trained all my life for precisely this setting.”

What do you think, in your educational and research training, prepared you the most for your work in the field? “My training was excellent for this type of work- combining thorough medical training with extensive research training and expertise. However, there are things that are the most crucial - that can hardly be taught: listen to your patients, deeply comprehend their culture and adjust your approach so that it fits their culture and enables earning their trust, and listen carefully to all they know about their disease.

What was the initial reason for your first work with the Sephardic Jewish community? Had work been going on in this area for a period of years? “While research of genetic diseases in Ashkenazi Jews has been the focus of much of Jewish genetic research, hereditary diseases in Sephardic Jews were less recognized. I encountered severe diseases in those communities that could not be prevented because the causative mutations were unknown. It is a joy to make a difference where there is a need rather than crowding existing fields where one is not needed.”

You have been able to discover two rare genetic diseases among the Sephardim. Do you think that you will discover more genetic disease among the Sephardim? “My work is ongoing, encompassing practically all Jewish cohorts. In fact, we have discovered over the past few years further diseases prevalent in Moroccan Jews, as well as in Iranian Jews, and have even unraveled some of the first severe hereditary diseases in Indian Jews and Ethiopian Jews. Enabling prevention of severe diseases in all Jewish communities is extremely fulfilling.”

Do you have a story of special significance for you about the patients of Sephardic genetic heritage that you have treated? “One of the first Jewish Moroccan families I studied had only two sons - both with a severe neurological disease. Both, ages 9 and 13 at the time, were already with no eye contact or evident comprehension. Until the age of one year they had been practically fine, but by two years of age they were already fully disconnected, fed by gastric tube and lost any ability to communicate or move. The parents told me that since the birth of the older child there was not one minute that one of the parents was not at home. And of course, they avoided having further children as there was no way of knowing whether the disease will recur. Our discoveries two years later enabled what was seemingly impossible - allowing such couples to give birth to healthy children.”

What do you hope for in the future in the field of Sephardic genetics studies? “I would like mostly openness - to recognize that hereditary diseases do exist in any community. And then, to implement effectively prevention programs that will allow eradication of those diseases and birth of healthy children.” We are very much looking forward to Dr. Ohad Birk’s visit to New York City and we look forward to having you join us for what will be an exciting and informative evening.

To sign up for the lecture:

Innovation at the Forefront - Decoding Statin-Related Muscle Weakness
Soroka is well known for groundbreaking Genetics research that transcends borders and impacts lives worldwide. Led by Professor Ohad Birk and his visionary team, a new study showcases Soroka's commitment to pushing the boundaries of medical knowledge and revolutionizing patient care.The unique story of how this important discovery at Soroka is an inspiration to medical investigators worldwide.

In their pursuit of understanding limb girdle muscle dystrophy, a rare genetic disease, the researchers at Soroka Medical Center stumbled upon an unexpected revelation: the perplexing connection between statins and muscle weakness. Exploring this enigma required collaboration and a global perspective, bringing together experts from the United States and Israel to achieve a remarkable breakthrough.

Professor Ohad Birk and his colleagues at Soroka identified mutations in the gene responsible for encoding the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme—an essential component of cholesterol production. Surprisingly, this enzyme is also the target of statins, commonly prescribed drugs renowned for their cholesterol-lowering properties. This groundbreaking discovery shed light on the shared underlying cause of both limb girdle muscular dystrophy and statin-related muscle weakness.
The research conducted at Soroka Medical Center, in tandem with studies conducted halfway across the world, elucidated the mechanism behind statin-induced muscle damage. With the HMG-CoA reductase pathway identified as the common link, experts including Professor Andrew Mammen from the National Institutes of Health confirmed the significance of this finding, providing invaluable validation and advancing our understanding of statin-related side effects.

The impact of this research reaches far beyond the realm of limb girdle muscular dystrophy. It offers renewed hope for patients suffering from severe statin-associated muscle weakness. In their quest for innovative solutions, Professor Ohad Birk and his team have explored the potential of mevalonolactone—a drug that restores normal muscle cell function even without the presence of the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme. Encouraging results from initial tests, including notable improvements in motor function for individuals with limb girdle muscular dystrophy, signify a potential breakthrough in the treatment of statin-related muscle weakness.

Bringing this research to fruition comes with new challenges. Professor Birk and his dedicated team at Soroka Medical Center, renowned for their expertise in genetic research and rare diseases, are actively seeking collaborations with pharmaceutical companies to facilitate the production of mevalonolactone on a larger scale. This collaborative effort aims to address the needs of patients affected by severe forms of statin-related muscle damage and bring transformative treatments to those who need them most.

Soroka Medical Center's unwavering commitment to advancing medical knowledge and enhancing patient care shines through their revolutionary research. It serves as a global epicenter of scientific discovery, attracting brilliant minds from around the world to unravel the intricacies of human health. With every breakthrough, Soroka reinforces its position as a leader in medical innovation, bringing hope and transformative solutions to patients worldwide

Upcoming Events
  • Monday, October 2 - Unraveling Genetics in the Negev with Prof. Ohad Birk, The Explorers Club, NYC
  • Wednesday, October 4 - A Future of Health: Sephardic Genetic Medical Discoveries with Prof. Ohad Birk, Congregation Shearith Israel, NYC
  • Thursday, October 5 - Innovations in Genetics with Prof. Ohad Birk, Coral Gables, Fl
  • Wednesday, Nov 1 - Pillars of Progress Gala Pierre Hotel, NYC
  • May 17, 2024 - Soroka Friends Mission to Israel
2024 Mission to Israel Announced!
Embark on an extraordinary journey with Soroka Friends in May 2024 with our Annual Mission to Israel. Discover the captivating history of Jerusalem and the vibrant energy of Tel Aviv, witness the innovation district in Be’er Sheva and peaceful coexistence in the Negev, experience the cutting-edge medical innovations at Soroka Medical Center, and more! Join an intimate group of Soroka Friends and forge lifelong connections, deepen your understanding, and create cherished memories. Don't miss out on this remarkable opportunity—to learn more about AFS Mission 2024 email!
American Friends of Soroka Medical Center
PO Box 184-H | Scarsdale, NY 10583 | (914) 725-9070