Special Issues
July 2013
Volume , Issue

A Tradition of Supporting Dental Education in the Middle East

D. Walter Cohen, DDS

One might say supporting dental education in the Middle East is a family tradition.

In 1937, my father, Dr. Abram Cohen, became the national president of Alpha Omega, a Jewish dental fraternity, which, with the Hadassah Medical Organization, was responsible for establishing the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine. He had been active in the fraternity since his dental school days at the University of Pennsylvania from 1919 to 1923, and had in fact presented his support for the need to establish a dental school in Palestine to a New York chapter of Hadassah during World War II.

While this idea didn’t gain traction until after the war ended in 1945, discussions at Alpha Omega conventions and among outstanding leaders in Israel—especially Samuel Lewin-Epstein, DDS—ultimately led to the founding in 1953 of Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine by Ino Sciaky, DDS, who became the first dean of the dental school.

There, at the dental school located at the Strauss Center in Jerusalem, Dr. Sciaky assembled a diverse faculty, including Dr. Jacob Lewin-Epstein as well as Julius Michman, DDS, and Edith Kaye, DDS, to design the 6-year, European-modeled program.

Visitors from all over the world clamored to aid the new enterprise. They included Harry Sicher, MD, ScD, a brilliant anatomist from Vienna, who left his position at Loyola University in Chicago to join the new faculty, as did eminent biologist Isaac Schour, PhD, Dean of the dental school of University of Illinois, who was enormously helpful to Dr. Sciaky in his efforts to construct a curriculum and otherwise establish the dental program. Dr. Sciaky also persuaded one of his own favorite professors, Maury Massler, DDS, DSc, to spend a sabbatical year at the new dental school in the late 1950s. Dr. Massler, a pedodontist by training, was also very much involved with Dr. Schour in clinical research and also teaching methodology. He spent a lot of time with the faculty in Jerusalem going over teaching methods. This proved to be extremely helpful for the new school.

I myself entered this exciting arena in the 1950s through Dr. Schour, who had sought the support of Alpha Omega to create a program to provide post-doctoral training in different specialties to the new faculty, which they would then teach at the school. He chaired a faculty and fellowship exchange committee and asked me to serve with him as co-chair.

I had been teaching at the University of Pennsylvania since 1951 and was eager to be helpful in this regard. I voiced my belief that the ultimate would be for the dental school in what is now Israel to have a faculty that would eventually receive post-doctoral training. Dr. Schour suggested starting by training faculty in different masters-level programs, then enabling them to proceed to PhD programs.

So, Irwin Ship, DMD, and I decided to organize a program at Penn to bring over some of the Hebrew University’s junior faculty for 1 to 3 years of training before their return to Israel. We went out on a limb and borrowed almost $500,000 to do this, with an enormous amount of support from the American Friends of Hebrew University. All and all, over about 20 years, we trained about 18 faculty members at Penn, although other dental schools were also involved. The program was considered to be a great success. Many who returned to the Hebrew University dental school after their Penn training rose to become chairs of their departments and deans succeeding Dr. Sciaky. Among them were Jacob Lewin-Epstein, Isaac Ginsburg, Adi Garfunkel, Jonathan Mann, and current dean Adam Stabholz. Some had trained in the US and some in Europe. Visiting professors included two from Denmark: Harold Loe, DDS, and Jens Jorgan Pindborg, DDS.

The school began to develop a very fine reputation for training excellent dentists and conducting important research, and its meetings brought together professional individuals and groups from all over the world. This included the 1997 scientific world conference that attracted about 1,000 dentists and included a symposium on dental care and education in the Middle East with representatives from major dental organization, including the World Health Organization, FDI World Dental Federation, the National Institutes of Health, and, of course, Alpha Omega.

As a direct result of that meeting, on June 1, 1997, the D. Walter Cohen Middle East Center of Dental Education at Hebrew University was born. Our great hope was that dentists from all over the Middle East would come to Jerusalem for dental training with the overarching goal of promoting understanding and cooperation between the various countries in the Middle East. We wanted to help dentists in the region develop their own local oral health programs staffed by dentists with additional skills, who could participate in dental education in their own counties but also in collaborative research with practitioners from other countries.

The first course was extremely successful; it was a 6-week continuing education program with 10 trainees, from Cyprus, Turkey, Jordan, and the Palestinian authority. The participants enjoyed what they learned and bonded in a way that was extremely encouraging. The courses continued until the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2005 Intifada put a damper on the enthusiasm.

However, in recent years, an exciting new effort to promote peace through co-education has been forged by the deans of Hebrew University and the first Palestinian dental school, Al-Quds in the West Bank. In this joint effort, Deans Adam Stabholz, DMD, and Musa Bajali, DDS, have received a great deal of encouragement from groups outside the country, including Hadassah and the Henry Schein Company in NY, with Stanley Bergman as the chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

Although those original 6-week programs were discontinued during the Intifada, what has occurred, thanks especially to the courage and enthusiasm of Dean Bajali, is that faculty members from Al-Quds are coming to Jerusalem for post-doctoral training for several years in their specialties in a way that is similar to what we did in the 1960s and 1970s, when faculty in Jerusalem came to the to the US for graduate training.

The training of oral surgeons, periodontists, endodontists, and the different specialists of their faculty who are now studying in Jerusalem and returning to Al-Quds is certain to establish a much stronger faculty and much stronger dental school at Al-Quds University.

While the Middle East Center is now focused most of all on these training programs, the Center continues to host symposiums, including one in 2011 on Expanding Social and Clinical Dimensions in Oral Health Care, where students from Hebrew University and Al-Quds had scientific luncheons at which they had a chance to connect, which was very gratifying to see.

The upcoming one this July is in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the dental school, and this should be a very rewarding and fruitful experience for all. The 3-day program, which will be held July 9-11, will be led by a faculty full of superstars from all over the world and it will involve both Al Quds and Hebrew University.

In the future, I would like to see what happened between Hebrew University and Al-Quds happen between the two Israeli dental schools—the other is in Tel Aviv—and other Middle East dental schools, such as those in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. I would love to see more collaboration and more joint activities, research, and innovations in teaching. I think it could help eliminate some of the obstacles to our ability to live and work in harmony. I believe when people have the opportunity to interact in this way, it frequently leads to better understanding, mutual admiration and support, and possibly could be a real bridge to peace.

I am grateful that these meetings have enabled so many of us to gather to share knowledge and bring the best in dental medicine to Jerusalem. It has shown that our commonalities—the desire to collaborate and continue to work together—can truly supersede our political differences.


D. Walter Cohen, DDS, is a world-renowned expert in the field of periodontics. He has authored and contributed to 22 textbooks and more than 125 articles, and he has received numerous awards and honors, including eight honorary doctorates from universities around the world and membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science. Dr. Cohen currently serves as dean emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, and chancellor emeritus of Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, where he also maintains the private practice started by his father in 1938. During his 35-year career at the University of Pennsylvania’s Dental School, he established the school’s department of periodontics and served as its first chairman. Dr. Cohen is also the author of Educating the Dentist of the Future: The Pennsylvania Experiment.

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