Kesher Israel Members Lend Medical Help to Uninsured Patients


While retirement may mark the end of many professional careers, for a cadre of Kesher Israel Congregation members, retirement is just the beginning of a new chapter of work.

For the past two decades, a group of doctors and dentists from the West Chester synagogue have volunteered with Community Volunteers in Medicine, a Chester County nonprofit providing medical services to uninsured and low-income patients.

For the Jewish volunteers, providing medical care at CVIM is a way to continue practicing medicine while giving back to the community.

“I did not want to walk away from my 45-year career and not continue to provide what I could to the needy, to the community,” said Dr. Morrie Gold, a gynecologist and CVIM volunteer. “The word ‘tikkun olam’ is what we all talk about, but it’s something that I can do to better people’s lives.”

Gold became involved at CVIM nearly 20 years ago after a partner in his practice helped initiate the organization. Since then, about six or seven other doctors and dentists who belong to Kesher Israel have joined Gold. Most learned from the opportunity by word of mouth. Other volunteers provide support services, such as interpreting between Spanish and English and driving patients to the clinic.

CVIM is operated almost entirely by volunteers, save for a small core staff. The volunteer medical staff provides care in primary care, dentistry, endocrinology, gynecology and psychiatry, among other areas. The organization partners with nearby hospital systems to refer patients to specialists if needed.

A patient sits in a chair getting their blood pressure taken by a medical professional.
CVIM volunteers, many of whom are retired doctors, work with patients who are uninsured and live below the poverty line. | Courtesy of CVIM

In 2022, 329 volunteers worked with more than 4,200 patients at CVIM. Most volunteers, like the Kesher Israel congregants, are retired medical professionals.

“Chester County is one of the wealthiest counties in the state and, by public health standards, one of the healthiest counties in the state,” CVIM Vice President of Development Julie Rusenko said. “So one of the reasons this model that we have works here in Chester County is because we have both ends of the spectrum. We have people with time and money to donate, and we also have a population that needs the services.”

To be eligible to be treated at CVIM, patients must be uninsured and live below 300% the federal poverty level. About 70% of CVIM’s clientele speak Spanish as their first language, most of them immigrants.

Many who are new to the country don’t qualify for government assistance, such as Medicaid. Others may work jobs such as landscaping or bartending, which oftentimes don’t offer insurance to employees.

“They kind of fall through a gap in our health care system,” Rusenko said.

While CVIM works with underserved populations, the nature of the clinic — devoid of insurance policies and bureaucracies — means that doctors get to practice medicine in the idealized way they often imagined at the beginning of their careers.

“When you remove the money from the equation, the payment and all that stuff, it just removes a whole layer of stressful interactions that you have,” said Dr. Glenn Paskow, a CVIM volunteer from Kesher Israel who had a 40-year dental practice in Kennett Square. “You can just do your best to work and treat people the best.”

“It allows me to do what I’m good at,” he added.

Paskow believes that the highest level of mitzvot is helping an individual help themselves. Through his volunteer work at CVIM for the past years, he feels he’s been able to do that. 

“If they’re in pain … it’s hard for them to be self-sufficient, to function,” Paskow said of patients.

Kesher Israel is not the only faith-based group with members who volunteer at CVIM. But in the larger community, the synagogue tries to remain active in doing mitzvot, said Dr. Anna Schetman, a pediatrician of 33 years who recently started volunteering at CVIM.

Kesher Israel’s Tikkun Olam Committee helps organize opportunities to cook meals for those living in shelters and deliver challah, electric candles and grape juice to Jewish patients at Chester County Hospital on Shabbat, among other opportunities. Spending a day or so a week volunteering at CVIM is just another way for Kesher Israel congregants to complete a mitzvah.

“Volunteerism is a natural extension of Judaism in general,” Schetman said. “Many of us who become physicians are interested in helping the community, giving back to the community, so I think that and that’s a big part of Jewish values.”


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