Why this Upper East Side doctor is offering free plastic surgery to victims of antisemitism


(New York Jewish Week) — In the three months since he started offering free plastic surgery to victims of antisemitic hate crimes or anyone affected by Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Upper East Side plastic surgeon Ira Savetsky has performed one nose job, been asked to remove a tattoo and counseled the victim of an antisemitic assault in New York.

And while these aren’t quite the kinds of cases he anticipated after making the offer in November, the Jewish doctor, who boasts a significant social media following, said he hasn’t regretted his offer.

“It’s been very fulfilling and it helps give me purpose and meaning,” Savetsky, 40, told the New York Jewish Week. “That’s sort of why I became a doctor in the first place.”

“We’re in a time where we feel somewhat helpless, where the IDF is fighting a physical war and we’re sort of here, abroad, finding oftentimes a different version of the same war — whether it be on social media or whether it be confronting people that are ripping down hostage signs,” Savetsky explained. “Those are situations that sometimes could, unfortunately, turn into something violent.”

Savetsky and his wife Lizzy are both well-known Jewish influencers on social media; Ira has some 50,000 followers on Instagram while Lizzy has 350,000. The couple first made headlines in the summer of 2022 when Lizzy was cast in season 14 of “The Real Housewives of New York” and then abruptly backed out, citing a “torrent of antisemitism.”

Lizzy Savetsky, who once told us she was an “accidental activist,” first became prominent online for her fashion and lifestyle content. But in recent years, she and Ira have become increasingly known for their efforts to promote Zionism and fight antisemitism, something they have leaned into even further in the months following Oct. 7. In their content, the Savetskys often spotlight their children Stella, 11, Juliet, 9 and Ollie, 3, in their advocacy. In one video, posted Nov. 13, shows a forlorn-looking Stella and Juliet standing in Washington Square Park holding a sign that reads: “We are Jewish. We are all hurting. Can we give you a hug?”

Ira Savetsky, who has operated his uptown practice for two years, was inspired to offer free surgeries after meeting a 19-year-old New Yorker named Rafi who had been punched in the face multiple times one Sunday evening shortly after Oct. 7, after a passerby on the Lower East Side asked if he was Jewish and he responded affirmatively.

“He just immediately attacked me, punching me in the face four or five times and then he knocked me over,” Rafi told the New York Jewish Week. His nose was bruised and bloody and he was worried it was broken. Rafi reached out to a childhood friend, whose father is Jewish radio host Sidney Rosenberg, who put out a call for help on his social media. Savetsky saw the posts and offered to help Rafi free of charge.

Savetsky ultimately determined that Rafi didn’t need surgery. Nonetheless, the teen called Savetsky’s help “a blessing,” adding, “I just never thought that being Jewish would be enough reason to get attacked.”

But Rafi’s story sparked something in Savetsky, who decided to offer his expertise to others who may be hurting. “If you know someone who has experienced a hate crime and requires plastic or reconstructive surgery, please contact my office,” he posted on Instagram Nov. 3. “These services will be free of charge. Let’s stand together and stay safe and resilient, everyone. Am Yisroel Chai.”

So far, those who have taken Savetsky up on his offer haven’t been involved with the type of injuries that Savetsky imagined at the outset of this initiative. One woman, a junior in college, reached out about getting a Hebrew tattoo of the word chai, the Hebrew word for “life,” removed, fearing it might incite threats or violence. Another woman, 28-year-old Long Island native Natalie Sanandaji, is a survivor of the Nova Music Festival massacre on Oct. 7. Sanandaji fortunately wasn’t physically injured by Hamas’ attack, though Savetsky gave her botox and filler “just to lift her spirits up,” he said.

Most recently, on Jan. 17, Savetsky performed a rhinoplasty on Rebecca, a 30-year-old Israeli-American woman who preferred not to share her last name for safety reasons. Rebecca was in Jerusalem on Oct. 7, where most of her family lives. After several weeks of spending time with family, Rebecca was supposed to fly to Turkey on Oct. 8 for a rhinoplasty.

“When [Oct. 7] happened, I called the office and said ‘Listen, I’m not going to make it — I’m in Israel with no way to get out,” Rebecca recalled. To her surprise, the office responded, as she remembers, “It’s probably better that way, as we prefer not to do work on anybody who’s Jewish.”

Rebecca said she was “shocked” and “speechless.”

Of course, it by far wasn’t the worst thing in the world to happen — Hamas’ violence and her grandmother’s death a few days afterwards was “a month from hell, from start to finish,” Rebecca said. But still, the response from the Turkish doctor was upsetting and disappointing for her — she had just gotten engaged and was planning to do the surgery before her wedding.

“It’s an insecurity I’ve had my whole life and I wanted to look back at my wedding photos and love them,” Rebecca explained. “I didn’t have the money to do a full nose job — that’s why I was going to Turkey.” Turkey has emerged as a popular destination for cosmetic procedure tourism; there, a typical rhinoplasty typically costs a fraction of the approximately $20,000 it costs in New York.

Rebecca saw Savetsky’s post and, on a whim, decided to message him. “He responded immediately,” she told the New York Jewish Week. “I went in, we read some tehillim [psalms] before the surgery. I’m so happy. It’s amazing. The fact that he was able to do that for me was literally life changing.”

(For his part, Savetksy said he gladly participates in praying before a surgery if the patient suggests it, but doesn’t typically do it himself.)

While Savetsky said it’s possible that some might take advantage of his offer for free surgery, his office “tries to do some due diligence” and get records of what happened — like, for instance, of the canceled appointment in Turkey.

“There are some people that have misinterpreted the initiative,” he said, adding, “if someone’s going to go through extreme efforts to sort of do something like that, I’d rather just help them out and do it because they’re probably desperate to get something done.”

He added that the initiative “is not exclusive” to Jews or Israelis. “If somebody Muslim is a victim of a hate crime, and they got beat up, of course, I would see them and take care of them,” he said.

Soon, Savetksy will operate on a former IDF soldier who broke his nose in training in 2022. The 23-year-old soldier, who is now a first-year at an American university and asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, said he never properly got his nose fixed.

“I have been following Dr. Savetsky for a while and I just reached out to ask in general since I know he’s been helping people out,” he told the New York Jewish Week. “He responded very quickly and we spoke and he said you’re free of charge. It’s just really amazing.”

Savetksy said his anti-antisemitism advocacy stems from being the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor. “These are real conversations that people are having that I never thought that we would have — it’s just very surreal,” he said of the uptick in antisemitic violence in New York City and around the world since Israel’s war with Hamas began. “Having grown up hearing all of the stories of the Holocaust from my grandmother, it was obviously something that was ingrained in us. But growing up in New York, it felt like something like that could never happen.

“We see the numbers, we see the reports, and oftentimes it can feel more hypothetical than tangible,” he added. “But when you’re sitting with somebody in your office in the middle of the Upper East Side who was attacked for being Jewish, it definitely becomes much more real. It just sort of gives a lot more insight in the times that we’re living.”

Ira Savetsky, at right, and his anesthesiologist Noam Kurtis. (Courtesy)

For the patients and clients the New York Jewish Week spoke to for this story, each of them said the most meaningful part of Savetsky’s initiative is not his ability to provide surgery and to do so for free. Rather, they said they were moved that Savetsky listened to their stories and supported them as Jews.

“It wasn’t the easiest semester, this past semester, to say the least,” the former IDF soldier, who is a pro-Israel activist on his campus, said. “There were a lot of personal attacks and obviously it was very detrimental academically. So it’s really nice to know that there are people in the Jewish community who really have your back.”

“I think it’s given people strength and reassurance that we’re in it together no matter how bad things are. It’s really united us as a community,” Savetsky said. “Thankfully, these aren’t people that were needing emergency surgery or services; a lot of it is being someone to talk to about what they had gone through, and just the gesture of, ‘Hey, you’re not alone, and we’re here for whatever you need.’”