Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek cancer center opens its doors

Science and Health

Six years ago, it was a giant, deep hole opposite Mount Herzl. Today, it is Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s Helmsley Cancer Center, unique in the country in its architecture. But even more important, it is distinctive thanks to its combination of world-class cancer care, research, and empathy for patients who are given high hopes of recovery. 

The new center, which officially opened last week some three months after it began to function, offers radiation treatments and diagnostics for oncology patients, using the most advanced technologies in the world implemented by, state-of-the-art equipment. The center, which covers an area of 12,000 square meters, consists of six stories through which natural light reaches down to the bottom. There, four medical linear accelerator rooms are used for external-beam radiation treatments, along with a new-generation computerized tomography room, a recovery area, a clinic floor, an area for complementary medicine, oncology day hospitalization and palliative medicine, an impressive entrance lobby and a restaurant. 

The imposing, swerving roof and façade are made from wood that will remain as good as new whatever the weather. Studies reveal that wood surroundings promote relaxation.

A pleasant and calm experience of cancer recovery in Jerusalem

The new center, directed by oncologist and lung specialist Prof. Nir Peled, was designed to be especially welcoming to give patients a pleasant and calm experience that can spur their recovery. The new radiotherapy institute, which was funded by New York’s Adar Foundation, is directed by Prof. Ben Corn, who chairs radiation oncology at the 121-year-old Shaare Zedek (SZMC). Radiation facilities are usually dark spaces because patients and staff have to be protected; but here, light penetrates from above, sending patients a bright message. 

Award-winning Canadian architect Tye Farrow (who worked with two local architects) has gained international recognition for designing places that enhance the capacity to thrive – culturally, economically, mentally and physically. Farrow, who was present at the opening, has initiated a global Cause Health movement aimed at raising expectations for design as the basis for total health that extends beyond environmental sustainability and physical health to include emotional health, connecting the dots between neuroscience and architecture. 

FETING THE opening (from L): Adar Foundation chairman Ze’ev Marinberg; SZMC director-general Prof. Ofer Merin; Michal Herzog and President Isaac Herzog; longtime SZMC director-general Prof. Jonathan Halevy; Mayor Moshe Lion; and SZMC chairman Benzion Hochstein. (credit: Efrat Farjoun)

A large donation that made the facility possible was made by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and its lead trustee in Israel, lawyer Sandor Frankel, a New York City lawyer who spoke to the audience at the opening via video. 

President Isaac Herzog, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Michal, said the event was “joyful and even moving because it proves one important thing – today we are no longer whispering about ‘the disease,’ and certainly not ashamed because cancer has been put front and center, with the most advanced ways to fight it. Shaare Zedek is not only one of the largest, leading and most prominent medical centers in Israel, but it is also a hospital that truly succeeds in combining the most advanced medicine in the world, in every measure and in a large variety of fields, and a humane, inclusive and empathetic approach that responds to the rich human mosaic of Jerusalem, of all faiths, lifestyles and world views. There is no doubt that the opening of the Helmsley Center, which is currently the largest and most advanced in the capital, has already proven itself in the variety of advanced treatment.” 

SZMC president Prof. Jonathan Halevy, who was its director-general for 31 years and pushed for the establishment of the center, added that “since the opening, our medical staff has devotedly received the patients who come to us and provided professional treatment in an inviting and pleasant space that can give them hope and faith in their recovery.” During his speech, one of his toddler granddaughters, who was in the first row, moved to the left and climbed onto President Herzog’s lap. 

SZMC Prof. Ofer Merin explained that “the patients are going through a difficult time, and after a long process of thinking, planning and building, we created a center that gives them an overall experience of healing and will be staffed by first-class senior doctors and other medical staffers.”

Mayor Moshe Lion urged that the government give more funding to both SZMC and the Hadassah-University Medical Center, which are voluntary institutions that are not owned by the government or health funds and do not receive the ongoing support they deserve for taking care of nearly one million patients in Jerusalem plus more from around the country. Health Minister Moshe Arbel also praised the healing of Israelis that the Helmsley Cancer Center will provide. ❖