Pain And The Jewish All-Stars

Pain And The Jewish All-Stars


Leonard Zwelling

I remember not so long ago when the word about the Houston Astros was that you could make an all-star team out of their ex-players, mostly erroneously traded away. This is obviously no longer the case. In fact, the players from other teams are now helping the Astros be the best team in baseball and the pride of all of Houston.

I think the same could be done now if one were planning on starting an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center by stocking the ranks of the senior faculty for the new center with ex-faculty from MD Anderson, many of whom are Jewish and some of whom are Chinese. They weren’t traded away. Most left because they had to from being demoted, persecuted, or frankly asked to leave. Most of them were very smart to have left in that their life at Anderson was miserable due to the persecution they were enduring at the hands of some really unseemly people, many of whom are still at Anderson. The technique of lies and innuendo and false accusations of misdeeds, not to mention fear, were perfected in the removal of the Jewish faculty. It is being used with rapier-like precision against those of Chinese extraction now. I wonder who’s next?

This really makes me sad, in fact it’s painful when the institution you love participates in unconscionable behavior that damages the reputation of good people, many of whom I care about—a lot.

Every time I speak with one of the disappeared, I relive the pain of the original incidents that led to their leaving MD Anderson. Anderson is worse for this. I surely am. The leadership cut off its nose despite its face. Why I am most sad is because while these people are all secure in jobs with big titles and even reasonable remuneration and great private lives, their professional lives will never be the same as they were in that past environment that was uniquely the MD Anderson of years gone by. It causes me great distress to see them not making the kinds of contributions they used to make and could still make if they had that special place that served them so well and to which they in turn devoted themselves and all of their professional energy.

Actually, I am not just in pain. I am angry. Why was this all necessary? Was it simply the fact that the ridding of the Jews was a demand of those donating the $150 million for the new genomics building? The same UAE family did the same thing at Harvard years before (see link). And why the Chinese now? Do you really believe that there were spies in the faculty? If so, why has no one been charged with espionage?

But surely the greatest pain is caused by the thought of what could have been if all of those people purged from the ranks of Anderson were still there.

MD Anderson would be a different place today. A better place and one more like that of the historical MD Anderson. I know. You have to go with the flow. The times are changing and Anderson needs that grant money. I guess that’s the excuse the current administration would give for the firing of the Chinese, the scanning of the emails by the FBI and the injection of fear into a sub-population of the faculty. I hope the leadership thinks it was worth it. I don’t.

My youngest son, working hard at developing his career, asks me frequently if I liked my job when I was still working. I really worked in only three places after my training—the NCI, MD Anderson and Legacy Community Health.

I can say to my son about all three places that there were times I loved my job. Coming to work was a joy. It was energizing and fulfilling. It gave me pleasure; I was engaged; and the work had meaning. In other words, work was fun.

Other times my job at all three places sucked. I was full of fear of losing the job (which I did at all three places). I was unhappy and depressed.

The Jews who left MD Anderson made major contributions to the mission before they left. I suspect they had fun at work, too—until they no longer did and chose to leave or were driven out.

Maybe it’s the nature of work. Sometimes it’s good, other times not so much. Maximizing the fun of work and minimizing the fear is an admirable goal for any career in medicine or any other field.

It pains me greatly to see those for whom I have such professional and personal respect have to not enjoy their work. In fairness, some have done great—maybe better than they would have had they been able to stay at Anderson. But it is surely Anderson’s loss.

As the new manager of the MD Anderson team strives to put his new line up in order, I hope he considers what came before him and focuses in on the task at hand. There were many who got away. Any time you persecute your faculty, the best of the best will leave. They did. They’re all fine. That doesn’t mean I hurt any less.

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