Accidental Surgeon

Dr. Herbert Judes left his wif and child in South Africa, and volunteered to suture the injured in the Six-Day War.

"Oy vey, what am I going to do with a dentist?"

These were the words that greeted 26-year-old Dr. Herbert Judes when he arrived in Israel to volunteer on the fourth day of the Six-Day War in June 1967.

South African-born Judes had left his wife, young son and dental practice in London to fly to Israel, which appeared in British media reports to be on the verge of annihilation. Judes found himself with a bag full of medical equipment (donated by Jewish dentists across London) facing Prof. Chaim Sheba, head of Tel Hashomer hospital, who was asking what Judes thought he could do to help. "Everything a dentist can do - minor surgery, suture," Judes replied.

Sheba made a call and Judes was sent to Poriya Hospital near Tiberias, then overrun with wounded soldiers. "I was put in a back room with a volunteer nurse," Judes recalled this week. "I became a seamstress. I did all the little things like wounds on the back. It gave other people the chance to treat the really badly wounded."

Before returning to London, Judes was offered a partnership with one of his former teachers from Johannesburg, Dr. Ian Froman, who by then was living and practicing dentistry here. "That clinched it for me," says Judes, today a professor at Tel Aviv University's School of Dental Medicine.

Back in London, Judes told his late wife Ruth they were moving to Israel without delay. "The original plan was to make some money in London then come to Israel like a mensch," says Judes. "The Six-Day War changed all that. I just felt I had to be here."

Judes was born in Springs, east of Johannesburg, the eldest of four siblings, all of whom live in Israel. He describes the home he grew up in as "deeply Zionist." This sentiment was reinforced by his involvement in the socialist Zionist youth movement, Habonim. He recalls the flack he took from some of his leaders in the movement in the early Sixties for joining an "aliyah [immigration]" group, rather than the "chalutz [pioneer]" track, which would have entailed training on a farm in South Africa to prepare for life on a kibbutz. Several of his peers who took the chalutz track are now living in Atlanta or Brisbane, Judes mentions with a smile, adding that the majority of his contemporaries who got a profession or went into business "remained in Israel and contributed a great deal."

Judes, whose wife died of cancer at 44, has two children and four grandchildren; all live in Israel. He now lives in Ra'anana with his Israeli-born partner of many years, Lili Oren.

During his 40 years in Israel, Judes helped bring many South African-trained dentists to the country. He was a prime mover behind the establishment of the Herzliya Medical Center, set up the medical facility at Beit Protea retirement home and served as dean of the School of Dental Medicine at Tel Aviv University.

Looking back on these four decades, Judes says: "With hindsight, the euphoria we felt then was a little misplaced. Obviously, it was the time to make a deal and we missed out on a golden opportunity to make peace."