This blog has moved!

All new posts will now be found at


I look forward to seeing you there!


And speaking of Arizona and health care...

It's 3 am, I'm writing in the lobby of the Sheraton (grant applications FTW!), and I've struck up a conversation with the guy mopping the floors, who was born in Chihuhua, Mexico, and has two kids. He himself is not a citizen and has no insurance, but on hearing I'm a doctor he says his back hurts. So here I am Googling "free clinic phoenix" and feeling frustrated. Where's Phoenix's Bellevue? I gave him the phone number of Arizona's Medicaid, which I doubt he'd be eligible for - but maybe they can direct him somewhere.

Advocating for advocacy

I'm coming down off the high afforded by the Society for General Internal Medicine's 2011 annual meeting - collaborative and inspiring. I was surprised by my own reactions to two plenary addresses.

One was by Holly Atkinson, former head of Physicians for Human Rights, on the topic of advocacy and professionalism: "Should Medical Professionalism Include Advocacy?"

Not surprisingly, given Dr. Atkinson's history, her answer was Yes. The most interesting moment of her talk came with a question from the audience. The gist of the question was that requiring advocacy for professionalism implies that those of us who don't participate in advocacy aren't good doctors. In response, Atkinson proferred a definition of advocacy that was disappointingly weak. Everything is advocacy - an individual doctor who goes to bat for their patient is an advocate too! But if that's advocacy, the word loses useful meaning. I wanted Atkinson to bite the bullet and say - that's true! Doctors that don't advocate are lesser professionals. I wouldn't have agreed with her (I think every doctor has their own interests and talents, and politics - which is what Atkinson really meant - needn't always be among them), but I would have had more respect for her advocacy of "advocacy."

The second plenary was by Michael Marmot - Sir Michael Marmot to you. He was deliberately provocative, acid-tongued, and wholly self-possessed: an example of what an entertaining medical speaker should be. Again, though, I was not wholly satisfied. Marmot's research is unimpeachable - he is the giant whose Whitehall studies established the importance of the social gradient to health. His findings lead to some striking observations: the life expectancy in some neighborhoods of Glasgow is lower than in some poor countries, even though Scotland provides basic services that are often lacking in, say, Africa (drinking water, basic food and shelter, etc.). That's because the poor of Glasgow are sicker and dying sooner than the rich.

Marmot too is an advocate. But, like Atkinson's, his passionate call didn't echo with me - not because I'm cynical, but because (looking at the two speakers' biographies) they themselves, at the beginning of their careers (where I am now, more or less - not that I'm going to be an Atkinson or a Marmot) did not work as advocates. Marmot did research. Atkinson trained in global health and health juournalism, founding and editing what eventually became Journal Watch.

I agree wih their call to justice in health, but I think advocacy comes with knowledge. Rather than marching out to demosntrate, I need to gather facts first - in my own way. Then with time, perhaps, I will be able to advocate from my own heart what I have established in my own little corner of research.

Pass the book!

I'm very excited at the goodreads reception my new book is getting! And at how many people are lining up for a free copy.

I'd like to get more people the chance to see the book, of course. So I will release 5 more copies from their gilded cage to anyone who's willing to pass the book (http://pass-the-book.blogspot.com/).

If you've clicked on the link, understand the system, and would like to participate, send me an email (zackarysholemberger at gmail) or contact me through my web page.

Also, I am available to speak about matters Jewish, medical, Yiddishy, or poetical. Contact me if you're interested.


The Book is Out!: Not in the Same Breath: A Yiddish & English Book of Poetry

Become a Snake or a Lover
"[This] beautiful, sophisticated, deep and playful book just might turn you into a snake or a lover: The power is there. The sorrow and wry humor of Yiddish, leavened with Torah learning, resonate limitlessly, explosively. You're sure to fall for Not in the Same Breath." 

That's what Elinor Nauen had to say about Zackary Sholem Berger's new book of English and Yiddish poetry from Yiddish House LLC. Whether you like English, Yiddish, or fascinating illustrations, you won't want to miss this book. See below or click here for more details. 

"I read this book with great eagerness, much enjoyment and a real sense of satisfaction. ... May your readers multiply!" -- Dov-Ber Kerler, poet and chair in Yiddish Studies at Indiana University

Stay tuned for information about our launch party, tentatively scheduled for Sunday, July 17th, in Baltimore - featuring live music, poetry readings, special guests, books for sale, and video streaming to an on-line audience of millions!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

About the Book
and how to buy it
Not in the Same Breath is the first original book by the poet and translator Zackary Sholem Berger. The Yiddish and English chapbook, with surprising illustrations and graphic design by Jeremy Kargon, isn't a customary bilingual edition of facing-page translations, but a collection of independent poems in the two languages. Whether you know English, Yiddish, or a little bit of both, there is much here to reward your perusal. Springing nimbly over centuries, the work connects English and Yiddish in unexpected and world-broadening ways.

The book features "rabbinic approval" (in almost-but-not-quite a parody of the style) by the well-known dissident Chassidic blogger Katle Kanye.

After you buy the book (click the buttons above), discuss it on Goodreads and join the discussion on Facebook.

Retailers! Contact the publisher or order the book through Baker & Taylor (ISBN 0972693947).

Find us on Facebook



Thoughts and experiences from Passover peregrinations:

1. There needs to be a slow klezmer version of the Doctor Who theme song.

2. Whenever I tell people I am researching doctor-patient communication, the listener always says, "Oh, yeah, that's a big problem" - which is intenresting in itself, that answer. What are people's experiences, and how does this affect their impression of doctors in general? I'm sure that's been looked into, but there's certainly some rich opinion-making going on there.

3. I still can't get Goethe.

4. Today is the anniversary of Hart Crane's death. His last words were not "Goodbye, everyone." He did not speak before jumping.

5. I need the haggadah done by this Israeli comics artist.


I Am Forbidden

In this morning's Publishers Lunch, the following "new deal" is included as a tidbit:
[...] Anouk Markovits's I AM FORBIDDEN, an English-language debut which takes the reader inside the world of the Satmar, the most insular and fundamentalist of Hasidic sects.
Assiduous (just now!) Googling reveals that Markovits is a novelist. No other information is available as we go to press quickly hit the Publish button.


A poem published in the first issue of Happiness Pony

Tell you what
I’ll divulge:
off the edge of this paper
there’s a huge
orchard. Apples.
If you don’t eat
them, they’ll
still grow.
If you do,
your belly’s full.
All the same

Yiddish companion poem here.


Shaken up

I was at my local mincha minyan (afternoon prayer group) today. Someone said, "Did you hear there was another earthquake in Japan today?" Said one of the rabbis, "Well, until they let those boys out..."

"Those boys," of course, being some mules in black coats who are currently in jail in Japan. (Other rabbis have spoken in public as obscenely as our local one did.)

Then another coreligionist of mine said, "Well, the Ran says that evil will be done in the place of those that did it."

"For that, thousands of  Japanese had to die?" I said.

I don't understand how people can say these things.