Gone AWOL in Israel?

Professor Chuck Greenblatt "felt an overwhelming need to go and help Israel" during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Prof. Chuck Greenblatt admits he has always been impulsive. It was this that led him to leave his wife and four daughters in Maryland and travel to Israel the day the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967.

"I felt an overwhelming need to go and help, and I was enough of a real doctor that I could do something," Greenblatt said this week from his home in Motza, outside of Jerusalem.

He was forced to give up his place on the first flight out of New York to an Israeli army colonel (Shlomo Lahat, who later became mayor of Tel Aviv). But Greenblatt managed to get a seat - of sorts - on the next plane, atop cans of military supplies. On the flight, he met another American, Dr. Irun (Yaron) Cohen, whose father-in-law was then director of Afula Hospital. "It was useful because we didn't hang around waiting for them to find us something to do. We hitchhiked straight to Afula and got busy," recalls Greenblatt, who had slipped away from his post as a medical researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland.

Already at work by the third day of the war, Greenblatt treated mostly lightly injured troops on their way from the Sinai to continue fighting up north.

At the end of the war, Greenblatt, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, arrived in Jerusalem in time to join the first group of civilians at the Kotel. "It's what you call a peak experience," he says.

Back in Maryland, Greenblatt's wife Jo-Anne received a telephone call from her husband's superiors. The public health service fell under military jurisdiction at the time and his sudden departure was regarded as AWOL.

She tracked him down on the phone and joked: "You better look for a job over there; you're in real trouble here." As it happens, while in Jerusalem, Greenblatt was invited to join the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School's Department of Parasitology.

Returning to Maryland, Greenblatt found himself court-martialled and briefly suspended from his job without pay. He decided to "try Israel for a year as an adventure," and within months, the whole family had relocated. Someone suggested they look for a place in Motza. Close to 40 years later, Greenblatt is a grandfather of nine and professor emeritus at the Hebrew University, and he and Jo-Anne are still in Motza, enjoying the view of the Jerusalem hills they describe as "our soul." They consider themselves extremely fortunate.

Not that he is without complaints. "The corruption! We deserve better leadership! The religious/secular divide!" he says. But he has spent no small part of his time here trying to correct some of Israel's shortcomings. When he found his daughters' education to be lacking, he helped found the Jerusalem Experimental High School. His laboratory at the university has links with Palestinians and Egyptians. He was among the founders of the local Reform synagogue ("We're bringing Yiddishkeit to the goyim in Mevasseret who speak Hebrew"). And most recently, when his beloved view of the Jerusalem hills was at risk, Greenblatt campaigned vigorously against the Safdie Plan. "If you like adversity," he says, "Israel is a very exiting place."