Donald Liss

Dr. Liss lives in Riverdale with his wife Yocheved. They are the proud parents of Yoni, Yaakov, Hillel, Sarah and Moshe. While a student at Queens College, Moshe attended Chabad.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Manhattan in a hospital which no longer exists — Jewish Memorial Hospital, in Inwood, near Washington Heights. I grew up in the Bronx.

How did you meet your wife Yocheved?
Oh, that’s a good story. I was in my third year of medical school in Detroit, and there was somebody who’s family invited me a few times to their home for Shabbos meals. A girl named Leah Herman said to me, “Hey, I’ve got a friend named Yocheved Klein who just came back from Israel, and I think you should give her number to your roommate Danny.” So she gave me the number, and I said to Danny, “Hey Danny, I got a phone number for you. Leah Herman thought you might want to go out with her.” He asked what she does and what her family is like, and I said I don’t know. He wasn’t interested. I told him to take the number anyway. About a half a year later, or maybe a bit more, Yocheved and I were both invited to the same wedding. The groom was my roommate my first year of medical school, and Yocheved was friends with the bride. I kept in touch with him — Alan — and he invited me to his wedding. Yocheved and I sat at the same table, and hit it off. This was in the days before cell phones, don’t forget, so the next day I said to Danny, “Hey, do you still have Yocheved Klein’s number?” And he said, “probably.” Anyway, he had the number, and the rest is history.

I know that you and Yocheved love going to National Parks. Which is your favorite?
I’ll tell you the most spiritual experience for me, which is when we were in South Dakota. When you’re in Rapid City, you’re near a bunch of National Parks and National Monuments. The difference, by the way, is that the President declares a National Monument, whereas Congress must vote in a National Park. In the Northeastern corner of Wyoming is a beautiful National Monument known as Devil’s Tower. You can look it up. Devil’s Tower is one large outcropping of stone as a result of the volcanic age. If you can picture it, it’s one mile circumference around the base, it looks like a large tree trunk, but it’s a solid slab of volcanic rock, and it rises up about 1000 feet, about the same height as the Empire State Building. This is about a three hour drive from Rapid City, where we were staying. We were playing some Shlomo Carlebach music as we were driving, and I remember coming around the bend and catching our first glimpse of this thing rising up into the sky. It is probably my most memorable moment of visiting National Parks. The other amazing National Park experience was going to Isle Royale, which is the largest island and the largest lake in the world. It’s in Lake Superior. You need to drive to the Upper Peninsula of Lake Michigan, and then you need to drive to the Copper Harbor. You then take a 2.5 hour ferry ride, and you get to this island. It’s 45 miles long and about six miles wide… and I think the harbor is called Rocky Harbor. There are no cars on the island, there is no cell phone service… we were there five or six years ago in the summer. You can camp there, or book a small cabin in a lodge. The amazing part was that we came there with no realization — we went there with our two youngest, Moshe and Sarah — that we would have zero connection with the outside world when we got there. At first, I was worried, since I’m a doctor… Once we got past that idea, it was like five days of Shabbos! We did some hiking, one day we did a lot of hiking… you see almost nobody. It was really amazing. It was our truest escape from life as we know it. When woke up on Shabbos morning, and spider had woven an enormous web, like 3′ x 5′, and you can see the incredible intricacies of G-d’s creations.

Why did you send your son Moshe to Queens College?
Well, Moshe picked it.

Can you tell me a little about what kind of medicine you practice?
The field is called Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, which goes by the term Physiatry. The rehab part is where a doctor serves as the chief of a team. The other half of the field is like non-operative orthopedics. The field only came around after the Korean War, with the advent of antibiotics. All the people who used to die from terrible wounds, survived. They all came to America, and were alive, but with devastating injuries. So we help people maximize their lives, despite devastating injuries, or other things like chronic back pain, a tennis elbow, or other things like that. We tune people in to the role of exercise, posture and so forth.

What’s your favorite Jewish food?
We have this discussion a lot. I’m not a big believer that there is such a thing. The only true Jewish food — there are things we think are Jewish, like stuffed cabbage, blintzes, salami, pastrami — they’re not really Jewish foods. I think the only true Jewish food are things that originate from actual Jewish law or tradition, like chulent. Or gefilte fish. If I had to pick an answer, I guess it would be chulent. I also love artichokes, they’re an amazing creation. I think that people who have never contemplated being a doctor can feel like a successful surgeon after eating an artichoke.

What is your proudest moment as a dad?
That’s a good one. You’re a good interviewer. Maybe standing under the chuppah with each of our two married children (so far). I’m a pretty proud father, I can think of many moments. Being at Queens College a few months ago, when our son — who didn’t even tell us — received a special award from the Middle Eastern Language Department.

Do you have a particularly memorable Israel experience?
I’ll give you a fairly recent one. The daughter of a family friend is married and lives in Israel. I flew in over Memorial Day weekend for their wedding, at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. The sun was like a bright orange geode over Jerusalem, and it was so beautiful.