Norman Wall, Tel HaShomer, friends and sources


Sometimes you can get a little too close to a source and be compromised. Sometimes you can keep too much of a distance and the source will turn on you.

And sometimes you can’t resist being drawn into a friendship.

Mark Pinsky, the veteran south Florida journalist, launched his relationship with Norman Wall three years ago, when Wall was 93 (!!).

It’s not exactly clear from this account, in Orlando Magazine, whether he approached Wall as a journalist or prospective friend, but Wall became both source and friend, and you can see why:

More than anything, he wants to talk about books, ideas, history, public policy and philosophy. We recommend and lend books to each other, often upper-middlebrow fiction. Norm read and critiqued an early draft of my latest book, suggesting, naturally, that I focus more on a crusty, older character, a crusading, small-town lawyer with whom he obviously identifies. Recently, I asked Norm why he thought our relationship has become what it is. “That’s easy,” he said with a chuckle. “You learn from me and I learn from you.”

Wall was the source for the story Pinsky co-wrote with Lyn Davidson in the the Heritage Florida Jewish News, about the seeds of the founding of the Sheba hospital at Tel Hashomer, in 1943. (The story marked a Dec. 3 event at Hospital Orlando honoring Wall for his role in founding Sheba.)

He was a natural enough source: As a young Army phsyician, he played a critical role in making sure the equipment from the Allied field hospital ended up in Jewish and not Arab or British hands:

The unofficial version is that a Jewish U.S. Army doctor serving with the evacuating unit, Captain Norman Wall, was concerned that if the supplies were turned over to the British they would in turn be handed over to their Arab allies. So—on his own and without authorization—Wall collected the materiel and personally loaded his jeep at least a dozen times with hard-to-find medicines, operating room instruments, supplies and X-ray film, and delivered it all to skeptical Haganah soldiers, who concealed it in the hollow base of a kibbutz water tower (right next to arms and ammunition smuggled from other sources, Wall said).

The Israelis were skeptical for good reason: Wall was wearing an Allied uniform, didn’t look Jewish, and he had an English-sounding name. But the young physician from Pennsylvania’s coal country, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school, persisted in donating the supplies. In the process he formed a lifelong relationship with the legendary Dr. Chaim Sheba, founder of Israel’s Medical Corps who became the army’s first chief medical officer, and for whom the hospital was later named.

It’s a moving story about an American Jew in the right place and the right time who saw a way to help bring about Jewish sovereignty — and a hospital that today continues a great American field tradition of saving lives regardless of national origin.

Read it all, with thanks to friends who become sources — or the other way around.

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