By LIBBY CUDMORE : COOPERSTOWN
For 25 years, the Trudi Birger Dental Clinic in Jerusalem, Israel, has provided free dental care to the city’s poor and underprivileged children. In March, Cooperstown dentist Leonard Bers joined the Trudi Birger team for a week-long residency of volunteer dentistry.
“I wanted to give something back,” Dr. Bers, of Northern Catskill Dental PC, explained. “I hit that point in my life when I wanted to make a difference.”
The clinic is open to all children, regardless of race or religious affiliation. Bers was proud to explain that sitting together in the waiting room at any given time would be an Orthodox Jew, a Muslim and a Christian child, all there for the same reason—to get a lesson in good dental hygiene, a full check-up and a full range of dental treatments. “This is not battlefield dentistry,” said Bers. “It is like any clinic you see here in the United States.”
A residency at the Birger clinic is available to four dentists at a time, and during Bers residency he worked with dentists from Minnesota, Germany and Sweden. He was provided with an apartment and saw between six and eight patients a day.
Despite hearing a bomb blast while waiting for a bus, Bers adopted the same cheerful attitude as the people of Jerusalem, who live with violence on an almost daily basis. “It doesn’t stop people from doing what they have to do,” he says.
Bers has plans to go back to the Birger clinic next May, but in the meantime he continues working at his cousin’s practice. When Gerald Bers, a longtime Cooperstown dentist, died unexpected six and half years ago, Leonard came up from his practice in Washington D.C. to help out.
“I didn’t know if I could do it,” he said. He allowed the staff and his patients to call him Dr. Lenny, not wanting to take the Bers name from a man who meant so much to the community. What he thought would be a three or four month gig turned into a bi-weekly excursion for those six and a half years.
Every other week, Dr. Bers flies from D.C. to Albany and drives to Cooperstown, staying with Ed and Marge Landers at the White House Inn. “They treat me like family,” he said. “And I help them out. Sometimes on Saturday you can find me down in the kitchen cooking bacon for the other guests.”
“I feel like a local,” he adds. “Coming up here is a lifesaver.”
Whether in Cooperstown or in Israel, Dr. Bers stresses the important of making a difference no matter what the occupation is. “I was really moved,” he said. “In your line of work, you wonder if you’re making a difference – and then sometimes, you see that you do.”