Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

The Life-Changing Chesed of Dr. Isaac Perle                       

 

A man of chesed, Dr. Isaac (Izy) Perle lives with a transcendent goal: How can I help Klal Yisroel? Throughout his prolific life, Dr. Perle has carved out a path of ahavas Yisroel, and he credits his life’s trajectory to his parents, Reb Bendet and Chaya Sarah Perle, who survived the Holocaust. When they emerged from the inferno, courageous and resilient, they determined to rebuild Klal Yisroel.

“They set an example of giving and caring,” Dr. Perle says, “and that informed my path.”

Since he was a small child, Dr. Perle was involved in Agudas Yisroel. He started a Pirchei branch in Belle Harbor, became a national vice president, and at the young age of nineteen, he was invited to speak about Pirchei at the Agudah Convention.

After mesivta, Dr. Perle went to college while learning during the day, first at Rav Feivel Cohen’s yeshiva and then at Rav Leib Rotkin’s yeshiva. In 1978, when Dr. Perle was in his senior year at the University of Pennsylvania Dental School, he began looking for a Daf Yomi chavrusa.

Reaching out to Rabbi Avraham Levine, rov of the Lower Merion Synagogue, Dr. Perle asked if he knew anyone who would learn with him at 6 a.m. Mornings were optimal for him because of his intense study schedule. A day or two later, Rabbi Levine called back and offered to be his chavrusa. Their chavrusashaft lasted from September 1978 to May 1979, and they finished most of Moed together.

Years later, when Rabbi Levine was niftar, Dr. Perle, who was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, drove to Philadelphia to be menachem avel. Although he had learned with Rabbi Levine for nine months, he had never met the family because they were always sleeping when he came. When Dr. Perle introduced himself, the family was overcome with emotion.

“Izy Perle?” one son exclaimed. “My father talked about you throughout his life! He started teaching Daf Yomi because of you! So many people came to his shiur and finished Shas because of you!”

Dr. Perle was stunned. He never realized that a person could have an impact without even knowing. This epiphany spurred him to continue living in a way that would make a difference for Klal Yisroel.

Shortly after his marriage, Dr. Perle’s parents took the young couple on a trip to Eretz Yisroel. Reb Bendet and Chaya Sarah had donated a classroom to the Gerrer talmud Torah, and they were excited to see it in person. They took the tour, and Dr. Perle immediately noticed that many of the little boys needed dental work.

“Their teeth were black,” he says.

Turning to the principal, Rav Shlomo Hirsch Weiss, Dr. Perle asked what the Gerrer children do when they need dental work. Rav Weiss’s answer shook him up. “Most families can’t afford routine dental visits for their children,” he explained.  In a flash, the young dentist who had recently graduated dental school, had an idea.

“I’ll set up a non-profit dental clinic for Ger!” he said.

His vision was that people who could afford the cost would pay, and that money would subsidize the treatment of those who could not afford treatment. But how to start? Dr. Perle set his eyes on Michael and Myer Cyker, two Holocaust survivors who had built Healthco International of Boston into the largest dental supply company in the United States at that time. If he could get them to buy into his dream, his clinic could be built. To impress them, he decided to set up a prestigious advisory committee, and then he would approach them. One of the brothers davened in his shul for the Yomim Nora’im, and Dr. Perle hoped he would get his support.

While teaching at Harvard. Dr. Perle gathered an advisory committee of the top aristocracy of dentists. When he met with Michael Cyker, he was suitably impressed with his plan and happy to contribute to the cause. At the same time, Rav Shlomo Hirsch Weiss met with the Lev Simcha who gave his wholehearted haskamah for the clinic. Encouraged by the rebbe’s endorsement, Dr. Perle contacted Mayor Teddy Kollek of Yerushalayim. Within a week, he had an appointment with the mayor and flew to Eretz Yisroel.

Upon his arrival, Dr. Perle researched to make sure his clinic would service a need. He met with the dean of Hebrew University Dental School, the chairman of Pediatric Dentistry, and the chairman of Community Dentistry. Once he was assured that the clinic was essential, he kept moving forward.

The day before he met with Mayor Kollek, Dr. Perle spoke with Rav Shlomo Hirsch Weiss. The initial plan was to house the clinic in the talmud Torah, but the logistics did not pan out, and the plan was discarded.

“If you’re meeting with the mayor, ask him for a building,” Rav Weiss suggested.

At the pivotal meeting, the mayor, and the chairman of the Public Health Department, among other dignitaries, were in attendance. With tefillah in his heart, Dr. Perle made a twenty-minute presentation, showing beautiful diagrams of the clinic he envisioned. Mayor Kollek was notoriously anti-Chareidi, and Dr. Perle knew he needed a neis to win the mayor’s approval.

When Dr. Perle finished his presentation, the mayor asked, “What do you want?”

“A building and a phone,” Dr. Perle requested.

During that time, Israeli telephones were not yet ubiquitous, and communication was inefficient and time-consuming.

Not knowing that Dr. Perle understood Ivrit, the mayor quipped, “THEY (the Chareidim) need clinics, too!”

Meanwhile, Hashem was maneuvering events behind the scenes. An initiative called Project Renewal raised money for social projects in Israel, and the Bukharian community wanted a dental clinic. To Dr. Perle’s delight, the mayor arranged for a rent-free building within the Bukharian community. But it came with a caveat.

“If you don’t open the clinic by July of 1985,” the mayor warned, “we will take over the assets of the Jerusalem Dental Center.”

In 1984, Dr. Perle had only raised $8,000, and the pressure was building. How would he be able to open in time? One day, in a stroke of hashgacha pratis, he got his answer through a call from someone named Benny Slome in South Africa. Benny’s mother, Luba Slome, had been the first Jewish dentist in Poland.

“I heard about you from Mendel Caplan,” Benny told Dr. Perle, “the world chairman of Keren Hayesod. I’d like to meet with you and work together.” (Keren Hayesod is an official fundraising organization for Israel with branches in forty-five countries.)

In three weeks, Dr. Perle’s family planned to spend Shavuos in Ottawa with his wife’s parents, and then they were going to Toronto for Shabbos. Providentially, their trip would coincide with Benny Slome’s visit to Toronto. After a two-hour meeting in Benny’s penthouse suite, Benny made his offer.

“I’ll give you $100,000.”

Dr. Perle was ecstatic, but he maintained a professional veneer.

“What do you want for the outlay?” he asked.

“To name the clinic for my mother,” Benny replied.

“Let me talk to my board,” Dr. Perle said blithely, thrilled that his dream was within reach.

But even as details fell into place, questions continued running through Dr. Perle’s mind. A hundred thousand dollars is an amazing start, he realized, but how would he pay his dentists, and would that be enough? And then Dr. Perle’s next idea was born. He would create a new residency program in Israel, the first of its kind, where dentists are not paid very much.

Penning a letter to the deans of every dental school in America and Canada, he explained that he was launching a new residency program and looking for applicants. Dr. Mark Wagner, an assistant dean at the University of Maryland, and his colleague, Dr Warren Morganstein, senior associate dean at Maryland, became the first academic directors of the program. Residents were interviewed, and they were on their way!

Finally, the stage was set, and Dr. Perle opened his clinic in 1985. The Bostoner Rebbe, Mayor Teddy Kollek, and other dignitaries came to celebrate the occasion.

“A few years ago,” the mayor said, “this dentist from Boston approached me about a clinic. A lot of Americans have ideas. Now, I see you have a clinic. Let’s see what’s happening in ten years.”

The mayor’s skepticism felt like an icy shower on what should have been a celebration. But then the Bostoner Rebbe gave a brocha that more than compensated for the mayor’s pessimism.

“What kind of brocha do you give a dental clinic?” the rebbe asked. In classic Bostoner style, he said, “My brocha is that no one should have a toothache. But if you do get a toothache, you should come here.”

The Luba Slome Dental Center started with two dentists treating eighty patients a month with a budget of $80,000 a year. Today, the clinic has a staff of thirty-five, including twelve dentists, a periodontist, an orthodontist, and an endodontist, and a budget of $1.3 million. At this point, the clinic sees 1,200 patients a month. Since they opened in 1985, they have treated between five and ten percent of the entire population of Yerushalayim.

Rabbi Shaya Brezak from Lakewood summed up the feelings of multitudes, touching Dr. Perle with his warmth and sincerity.

“I grew up as a patient of the Luba Slome Dental Clinic,” Rabbi Brezak remembers. “It’s a factory of chesed.”

For twenty-one years, the clinic operated from the same building. The next move was to Rechov Bar Ilan, which lasted for sixteen years. This year, after Sukkos, they moved to Sha’arei Ha’Ir, planning to celebrate with a chanukas habayis on October 24. However, due to the ravages of October 7, the event was postponed.

The chanukas habayis, was held this past Sunday. The clinic was renamed for Dr. Perle’s parents to commemorate his father’s eighteenth yahrzeit. Rav Zev Cohen and Minister Yitzchok Goldknopf adressed the reception.

The message of this story is clear: Every person can make a tremendous impact.

“Moses lived until 120, and we consider that a full life,” Dr. Perle tells his Penn dental students. “But after living a full life, no one will remember you for the BMW that you drove or for the house that you lived in. They’ll remember you for the people you touched throughout your life. That’s your legacy to the world.”

The Jerusalem Dental Center in memory of Rev Bendet and Chaya Sarah is a living testimony to that truth.

If you would like to get involved in the clinic, contact Dr. Perle at ivperle@aol.com or visit jerusalemdental.com.

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