From Darkness to Light: Annual MES Conference

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Many organizations and individuals are marking the first anniversary of COVID-19, so it was appropriate that the 14th annual Student Medical Ethics Society (MES) conference, held on Sunday, March 7, 2021, was titled “From Darkness to Light: A Panoramic View of the Pandemic.”

As in previous years, the conference is sponsored by the Community Synagogue of Monsey in honor of Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, who unfortunately was not able to participate in this year’s event.

The online meeting brought together medical and ethical experts to discuss both the science concerning the disease itself and the vaccines that have been engineered to fight it along with the moral and spiritual effects of the pandemic experience on Americans and their society.

The conference began with generous introductions by Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University; Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner Dean of the Center for the Jewish Future (who helped organize the conference); Rabbi Edward Reichman, MD, affiliated with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center (and the longtime mentor of the MES); and Tamara Hoffman and David Hanelin, MES co-presidents.

The first part of the conference covered the science and ethics of COVID-19 and the vaccines that are coming online to combat it, featuring  Dr. Jill Horowitz, PhD (Executive Director of Strategic Operations, Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, Rockefeller University) and Dr. Naor Bar-Zeev, MBBS, PhD (Deputy Director, International Vaccine Access Center, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health).

After their presentations, Dr. Alisa Minkin, MD (Pediatrician in Oceanside, NY, Chair of JOWMA Preventative Health and Host of JOWMA podcast) moderated a Q&A session with Dr. Horowitz and Dr. Bar-Zeev as they answered questions put into the chat by the audience.

The second part of the conference touched upon the personal experience of frontline workers.

Dr. Ellie Bennett, MD (Attending Physician New York Presbyterian Queens, Flushing Hospital, and Catskill Regional Medical Center) gave a heartrending account of the toll the pandemic took on him and his colleagues as they fought the best fight they could against an unseen, unknown and deadly infection.

At the other end of the spectrum, Dr. Alan Hoffman, MD (Attending Physician at Houston Methodist Hospital and Baylor St Lukes Hospital) told a story of grit, determination and success as he and his fellow health care workers created, in the midst of the frigid weather assaulting Houston in February, a pop-up vaccination center in a shul in just 2½ hours so that 360 doses that might have gone to waste did not. (Eventually, they were able to give another 220 doses on the following day.)

The final session of the conference featured Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD (Director, Medical Ethics Unit & Chairman, IRB, Shaare Zedek Medical Center & Head, Talmudic Encyclopedia) who outlined the halachic [Jewish legal] issues connected to what he called “the triage of vaccinating,” drawn from the subject matter of his book, The Coronavirus Pandemic.

Watch the video here:

Watch the video online and access the individual sessions:

From Darkness to Light: Annual MES Conference