Wednesday, September 10, 2003

JERUSALEM — Whenever an explosion echoed across this Israeli city, David Applebaum was always the first to arrive in the emergency room of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital.

The emergency-ward director knew from years of treating victims at the scenes of terrorist bombings that a single minute could make the difference between life and death.

So when Dr. Applebaum, 51, failed to appear in the emergency room Tuesday night amid the chaos after the bombing of Jerusalem’s Hillel Cafe, the absence seemed strange, but his hospital colleagues didn’t have time to worry.

“I was surprised, but I didn’t think of the worst,” said hospital director Jonathan Halevy. “Fifteen minutes later, his family came in and said he was sitting with his daughter in Cafe Hillel. That’s when we started to panic.”

Within an hour, Dr. Applebaum’s family and the hospital staff confirmed what they had feared from the very first moments: The doctor who had dedicated his career to saving the lives of bombing victims had been killed along with his 20-year-old daughter, Nava, on the night before her wedding.

The two — both American citizens — were among seven persons killed at a strip of restaurants and boutiques in an upscale Jerusalem neighborhood. As the reality sank in, a hush settled over the emergency ward and the staff began to choke back tears.

“The world of medicine has lost one of its most devoted practitioners,” Shubert Spero, Dr. Applebaum’s father-in-law, said at the funeral yesterday.

Dr. Applebaum, who moved to Israel from Cleveland 22 years ago with his wife, Debbie, had dropped in at the cafe while giving his eldest daughter some final bits of advice before giving her away to her future husband.

Cafes were not a frequent haunt of the doctor, but Hillel Cafe was a favorite of his daughter. So he ignored the warnings he had received earlier in the day from police and the advice he had given his sons to stay out of crowded areas of the city.

Dr. Applebaum had just returned to Israel on Tuesday morning. The day before, just blocks away from ground zero, he was a guest speaker at a New York University Medical School symposium titled “Building a Safer Downtown Manhattan.”

His presentation on handling disasters with mass casualties was an overview of the procedures he had instituted at Shaare Zedek, which treated 40 percent of the bombing victims in Jerusalem.

It was a routine with which he was all too familiar. Just three weeks ago, his emergency room absorbed 44 terror victims in less than a half-hour when a suicide bomber on a city bus attacked, killing 22 persons.

An ordained Orthodox rabbi who taught courses on Jewish law and medical ethics, Dr. Applebaum was also a doctor who was obsessed with patient care amid Israel’s often impersonal system of socialized medicine. From New York, he linked into the emergency room’s online database to ensure patients weren’t languishing.

“He would always be reprimanding us for not saying hello enough or not smiling enough, and we’re not asking how patients are,” said Nechama Kaufman, a six-year nurse in the ward. “He was very cognizant of how we looked to other people.”

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