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Torah Umadda Is at Heart of Alumnus’ Success

Dr. Mark Apfelbaum ’74YUHS ’77YC was part of a team involved in caring for President Bill Clinton earlier this year.

For Apfelbaum, an interventional cardiologist, the opportunity to treat any patient is a dream fulfilled. “For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a doctor,” he said. “When anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, that was my answer.”

Apfelbaum came to YU because it was one of the few places where he could follow both his dreams and his faith. “I knew that medical school and life as a doctor were going to be pretty rigorous and wouldn’t leave me a lot of free time to continue with my Judaic studies,” he said. “I saw YU as my last chance for intensive Judaic studies for a while—at least until I was established professionally.”

The dual curriculum prepared him for the strenuous demands of medical school by inculcating in him a habit of rigorous study, said Apfelbaum. “I spent the first part of the day studying Talmud, the Bible and Jewish history, philosophy and literature, and then I had a full course load of secular studies including science and labs beginning at 4 or 5:30,” he recalled.

"I think more thank anything, YU helped shape my analytical abilities."

“So I was going to school five days a week and getting home late in the night, every night. It taught me early on that I had to structure my time and get things done efficiently or I’d get flooded with work. When I got to medical school [at Columbia University], I remember other students complaining that we had to be in class until 3:30. There were several other YU graduates at Columbia, and we thought it was great—we had all this time we hadn’t had before.”

Among the many YU professors who influenced him was Dr. Moshe Sokolow, who taught a Tanakh class that stayed with him over the years as particularly outstanding. “I’ve often told my wife and children what a great professor I had in Dr. Sokolow,” he said, “and then recently, he was a scholar-in-residence at my synagogue. After hearing him give a talk, my wife turned to me and said, ‘I finally understand what you’ve been talking about all these years. He’s absolutely fascinating.”

President Clinton and Dr. Apfelbaum’s other patients may not realize it, but the intricacies of the Talmud and those of the heart have more in common than they think. “More than anything [else], YU helped shape my analytical abilities,” Apfelbaum said. “Learning Talmud is one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done in any academic segment of my life. It takes sharp critical thinking and analysis, both of which are also an [essential] part of being a doctor. I learned those skills during my years at Yeshiva.”