Dr. Donna Zfat-Zwas is the director of the Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Center for Women at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Detroit native Dr. Donna Zfat-Zwas, 56, still remembers that as a medical resident, if she saw a woman with chest pain in the emergency room, checking for a heart attack was one of the last things she did.
“Heart diseases are traditionally considered to be men’s diseases,” said Zfat-Zwas, now the director of the Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Center for Women at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
“In Israel, awareness of women’s heart problems is even lower than it is in the U.S.,” she added. “Women differ metabolically and may have different symptoms of heart disease than men, and it’s important they know that.”
The Pollin Center was established in 2013 with a donation by Irene Pollin, who died last July at age 96. The Center works on several levels to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease in women: Every patient with a disease or several risk factors sees a cardiologist, a nutritionist, a physical therapist and a psychologist who help her create a personal program to improve her fitness, reduce stress and/or lose weight.
The center also uses lectures and traditional and social media to increase awareness of women’s cardiovascular health, and trains HR managers and community leaders to create healthier environments.
The Pollin Center dedicates many of its resources toward populations at risk. Israeli studies say that the risk of heart disease-related mortality in Israeli Arab women is 60% higher than in Israeli Jewish women. The center operates a Facebook page in Arabic, and many students and teachers participate in its women’s health program in eastern Jerusalem schools each year. The center also has specific programs for haredi, disabled and disadvantaged women.
Like virtually any organization, the Pollin Center had to adjust in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic this year. “We are working on moving everything to Zoom, which is harder than it sounds,” Zfat-Zwas said, as the center normally conducts activities such as walking groups and group workshops.
Planning for Aliyah
Zfat-Zwas made aliyah in 2007 with her husband, Jonathan Huppert, a professor and the former head of department of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and their four children, who were between the ages of 1 and 7 at the time. Even before they met, both spouses knew they would want to make aliyah one day. “We both considered it to be a first-date question,” Huppert said.
The couple was aided by Nefesh B’Nefesh, a pro-aliyah organization supported by Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, KKL (Jewish National Fund) and JNF-USA.
“My husband and I had visited Israel and we both had jobs lined up, so Nefesh B’Nefesh mostly helped us with the paperwork,” Zfat-Zwas said. “They also connected us with another family of new olim so we could help each other out if we needed aid.”
As a Modern Orthodox, Zfat-Zwas has fond memories of the Jewish community in Detroit, where she often visits her parents and brother. “I miss the closeness and the cohesion of the community, which is like an extended family,” she said. “In the U.S., being Jewish and religious is special and feels more cherished.”
Her husband, who also visits his family and colleagues in Philadelphia and New Jersey, added, “I miss Sundays. Saturday is Shabbat, but Sunday is like a real day off.”
Zfat-Zwas said that she found parenting in Israel to be harder, as children are more independent and less supervised. Huppert said that for almost three years, discussions around the family table have been revolving around the IDF service of their two eldest daughters.
In separate interviews, both spouses said that they were proud to take part in building the Jewish State, and they were satisfied with the national influence they had gained by making aliyah, being able to work with national institutions such as Israel’s Ministry of Health.
Shortly after the aliyah, Huppert met a non-Jewish colleague at an international conference and told him that he had moved to Israel. “He asked me, ‘Why would you do that?’” Huppert said. “I told him that for a Jew, moving to Israel is like returning home.”