Taking service to heart: Two Jewish doctors receive award from S.F. General Hospital

Dr. Ilana Strubel is motivated by the Jewish concept of tikkun olam. Dr. Dolph Shapiro helps others simply because it makes him happier.

Both doctors were honored for their volunteerism by the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation (SFGHF) at the fourth annual Heroes and Hearts Luncheon in mid-February, which was attended by a sellout crowd of 800 in San Francisco’s Union Square.

“Strubel and Shapiro are the cream of the crop,” says SFGHF Executive Director Katherine Ripley-Williams, whose organization also honored four other Bay Area heroes.

The Heroes and Hearts Award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated exceptional and inspirational behavior toward others and in the community. Strubel’s and Shapiro’s devotion to serving others made their selection a slam dunk.

“The community is honored to honor Dr. Ilana Strubel for the work she’s done,” says Pam Baer, SFGHF Board member and co-founder of the luncheon. “She exemplifies what it means to give back.”

Strubel, 40, lives in San Francisco with her partner, Michelle McAnanama, three dogs and one cat. She first came to the Bay Area as a veterinary intern at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito in 1996.

“I knew then that the Bay Area was my home. San Francisco was the only city I’d ever imagined living in,” says Strubel, who has also lived in Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Boston and New York, and has been volunteering since high school.

She immediately hooked up with the animal welfare community once she moved here, and soon noticed deep need among the homeless for routine medical care — not just for themselves, but also for their pet companions.

Strubel started Veterinary Street Outreach Services (VetSOS), a volunteer-based project that provides free veterinary care for the companion animals of homeless San Franciscans. She initiated the San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium to coordinate outreach services for the homeless and their pets, and has been involved with Pets Are Wonderful Supports, Rocket Dog Rescue and the San Francisco SPCA.

“I don’t know what I’d do without my pets,” Strubel says. “Helping people care for their anchors to the world motivates me to do as much as I can.”

Judaism prominently and proudly influences her volunteerism and social action, she says. “I feel compelled by my Jewish worldview to take action and to create answers to problems, one step at a time.

“I also believe that it is a mitzvah, a commandment, to give aid to those in need,” she adds. “So I feel motivated by my Jewish roots to perform community service. I know when I’m providing care I’m not just providing veterinary care, but emotional support to a person who loves that pet.”

Heroes and Hearts committee member Lisa Hauswirth (left) with Dr. Dolph Shapiro, Dr. Ilana Strubel and Midge Wilson at an awards ceremony in San Francisco. photo/thomas j. gibbons

Dr. Dolph Shapiro provided critical surgical care to

patients for nearly 25 years before he was forced to retire in 1999. Two back surgeries made it impossible for him to function as an orthopedic surgeon in the operating room.

“At 55, I had to get a new life,” says Shapiro, who moved the Bay Area with his wife in the mid-’70s. “I always liked teaching, so my oldest daughter, who is a teacher, invited me one day to her class as a teacher’s aide.

“I stayed six years.”

Shapiro started out at Sandpiper Elementary in Redwood City before volunteering at the Kipp School in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. He worked for a few hours each morning, tutoring children in math and reading comprehension.

After Shapiro and his wife moved from the Peninsula to San Francisco, near Delancey Street, a friend suggested he get involved with the Delancey Street Foundation, which helps former substance abusers, ex-convicts and the homeless reclaim their lives.

He now teaches ethics and life skills to the Delancey Street participants and also works at a foundation-sponsored charter high school on Treasure Island for at-risk teenagers.

“I help them with their homework and show them that there is love in this world, and people feel for them,” says Shapiro, who has three children — two daughters and a son.

Shapiro’s commitment to others shines through in all he does, says Baer of SFGHF. “Over 800 people were brought to tears by his amazing acceptance speech,” Baer says. “Through his volunteerism and compassion he shows us all there is so much to give back.”

Shapiro is blunt about his commitment to serving others. “I get so much self-satisfaction from helping. It’s a great feeling to walk into a place and have the kids hug you.

“This is one way we can help society — get retired people in the school system and really help these kids,” he adds. “Then we can break the cycle of family dysfunction.”

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.