On Call // A new organization named JOWMA is exactly what the doctor ordered

By Racheli Sofer

When Dr. Mimi Knoll and I enter Eliana Fine Feld’s house in West Hempstead on an ordinary Tuesday night, I immediately do a double-take. That’s because after Eliana greets us warmly and leads us in the direction of her dining room I notice that her Shabbos table is already set—complete with perfectly folded napkins—ready and waiting for the Friday-night meal.

Did I mention that it’s only Tuesday?

I couldn’t be more surprised when she then motions for us to sit down in her spotless living room and offers us some gooey, freshly baked brownies, hot out of the oven, on (real) plates.

Why am I surprised? Because I know for a fact that Eliana has been up since 4:30 in the morning. Can you say “busy”?

In addition to being a wife and mother, Eliana is a first-year medical student—her eventual goal is to specialize in reproductive endocrinology and open a clinic for women—so you can imagine how intense her schedule is.

Which is also why she started JOWMA, the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association—to help frum women who are physicians or who are still in medical school. I have come to her house tonight to hear all about it.

I ask Eliana to start from the beginning. First, why did she decide to become a doctor?
“I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio,” she says. “I’ve always loved to help people and try to better their lives. In high school I volunteered for organizations like HASC and the Friendship Circle. Then, during the summer after high school I took an EMT course. It was my first real exposure to medicine, and I absolutely loved it! I spent the next year at Bnos Chava Seminary in Israel, where I also made time to volunteer at Shaarei Zedek Hospital. I met my husband shortly after coming home. We got married, and then I started college.”
Eliana knew she was in for the long haul. Medical training usually requires four years of college, four intense years of medical school, and then four to seven years of hard-core residency. She knew that she would need support.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t know any frum women in medical school or any frum women who were doctors,” she says. “I wanted to meet other women like me who were either still in medical school or already working. I’d also met a lot of women who were interested in pursuing a career in medicine but were hesitant about making the commitment. But I believe that if I can do it, others can too.”

And so, on a quiet night several months ago, Eliana had a burst of inspiration and JOWMA was born. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, encouraging and advancing the careers of frum female physicians, residents, medical students, and pre-med students who are interested in pursuing a career in medicine. “I had just taken my mid-semester exams. My husband was out working late,” she recalls, thinking back to that evening.

“I’m guessing your table was already set for Shabbos and you’d already baked brownies. Maybe you were actually bored,” I say teasingly.

Eliana laughs.

Next I ask Mimi Knoll about her background and involvement in JOWMA as its president.
“I grew up in Brooklyn. My mother is Dr. Chana Gelbfish, a well-known pediatrician in Flabush. My father is Dr. Chaim Gelbfish, a vascular surgeon and one of the medical directors of Hatzalah. My parents both have their offices in the house where I grew up. They always loved being doctors, taking care of patients and giving back to the community.

“I got married during my first year at the NYU School of Medicine. My husband joined me the following year. I gave birth to my oldest son after completing my second year, at which point I took a year off while my husband caught up to me. My second child was born during my third year of medical school. My husband and I finished our third and fourth years as our family grew, and we graduated together. Looking back, it wasn’t easy.

To read more, subscribe to Ami