The Mount Zion Health Fund: Fulfilling a Legacy of Care

Tikkun olam is a term that you are likely to know well if you live or work in the Jewish community. And whether you define it as “social justice “or “repairing the world” it is a profound sentiment. However, it sometimes feels a bit abstract, like words on paper that hint toward doing good but not in a way that impacts people directly.

But there is nothing theoretical about the work being done at the Mount Zion Health Fund. It’s observable, it’s measurable and it saves lives by the thousands.

And it’s remarkable that it even exists.

Over a century ago, there were very few opportunities for Jewish doctors to practice in the Bay Area. So, through the generosity of its donors, Mount Zion opened its doors in 1897 with a foundational mission to offer “aid to the indigent sick without regard to race or creed, to be supported by the Jewish community.” Mount Zion Hospital has lived up to its mission decade after decade because while the population it served was predominantly not Jewish, its values were.

In 1990, Mount Zion Hospital merged with the UCSF Medical Center. With that merger and the communal will to maintain the culture of care that had already been established, the Mount Zion Health Fund (MZHF) was born.

Today, the nearly $50 million MZHF, which became a supporting foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund in 2005, manages approximately 40 trusts that tend to the healthcare needs of thousands in the Bay Area and beyond, funding patient care, research, education, community health projects, innovative health-related studies and initiatives.

One of those current initiatives impacts the health of millions of Jewish women and men. It is a pilot screening of the Bay Area’s Jewish population, targeting the BRCA gene mutation that, according to data provided by the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been linked to a lifetime increase in breast cancer risk to between 60% and 85%, and ovarian cancer risk to between 20% and 40%. The BRCA gene mutation has been disproportionately prevalent in people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Genetic screenings will be offered at participating Bay Area synagogues and community events with no charge to the qualifying participants.

The confidential tests are painless and non-invasive and involve collecting a saliva sample. Prior to the screenings, participants will be counseled on the risks and implications of the testing and the potential impact of a positive finding. Additionally, all participants that test positive as carriers of the BRCA gene mutation (and related genes) will be offered counseling for cancer prevention strategies at the UCSF Center for BRCA Research.

Lonnie Zwerin, a lay leader who is involved with education regarding the BRCA gene explained that these screenings have the potential not only to educate but to also save the lives of healthy women and men that may be predisposed to cancers related to the BRCA gene mutation. In fact, a similar genetic test quite likely saved the life of her own daughter-in-law, Raleigh Zwerin, who will be one of the featured speakers at the Sherith Israel screening and panel discussion on September 27.

Raleigh and Lonnie Zwerin

The BRCA gene study is one of so many lifesaving undertakings that the Mount Zion Health Fund supports and advances and it would not be nearly as effective as it has been had it not been for the efforts of its outgoing chair, Dana Corvin.

“Dana is amazing,” said Sue Reinhold, who serves as Federation’s Managing Director of Philanthropy as well as treasurer of the Mount Zion Health Fund. “She’s my role model and a mentor and she’s a fantastic communal leader. She took us through a strategic planning process that codified a set of values that are now guiding the selection of the recipients of the grants of the Fund. She’s just done a wonderful job of leading our board.”

Those values do not only include tikkun olam. They also now officially include service (avodah), community building (kehillah), education and leadership (limud u’manhigut), innovation (hidush), and compassion (rahamim). And like tikkun olam, they are not empty words but rather, they are the core values that will guide the MZHF’s future grantmaking.

“It really is a privilege to serve,” said Dana Corvin. “Because at every meeting you are reminded of the incredible dedication of the staff there: the physicians, the lay leaders… it’s really quite remarkable and great to be a part of it.”

“This is such a nice story of a virtuous circle, said Reinhold. “Where an unknowing person might say, ‘Oh, Mount Zion’s gone. We can say, ‘Well, not exactly. It’s very much alive.’ And this health fund is a fantastic example of its legacy. You can draw a thread all the way from the founding of the hospital to the lives these grants are saving in the 21st century.”

Sign up for a free community screening at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco on September 27, from 6:30 to 8:45 pm.

Categories: Community, Endowment


August 13, 2018


Jon Moskin