Saturday, November 27, 2021

A tale of two correction requests, Part I: If you can't trust a rabbi, who can you trust?

What do a blogging rabbi in Boca Raton, FL, and New Zealand Herald columnist Ana Samways have in common?

In articles published in the same week, they made the identical factual error. 

And when I sent them polite requests for published corrections, rather than correct the record and inform their readers that they'd goofed, they gave me material for this pair of blog items.

According to his website, Ephrem Goldberg is "the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 800 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. BRS is the largest Orthodox Synagogue in the Southeast United States."

From Rabbi Goldberg's November 9 blog item, Are You An Earth Angel?:
Prior to 1974, the standard practice for dealing with someone who was choking was to whack the afflicted person on the back. Dr. Henry Heimlich argued hitting them that way can force the obstruction further into the gullet, rather than dislodge it. He worked on various theories attempting a better way before ultimately coming up with the technique of putting one’s arms around the person choking and exerting upward abdominal thrusts, just above the navel and below the ribs, with the linked hands in a fist, until the obstruction is dislodged.

...Despite introducing the technique, Heimlich had never actually used it the 42 years of its existence. In 2016, Dr. Heimlich was in the dining room of his retirement home in Cincinnati. A fellow resident at the next table began to choke. Without hesitation, Heimlich spun her around in her chair so he could get behind her and administered several upward thrusts with a fist below the chest until the piece of meat she was choking on popped out of her throat and she could breathe again.
Click on the link in his first paragraph and you'll be taken to a May 27, 2016 Guardian article by reporter Joanna Walters, Dr Henry Heimlich uses Heimlich manoeuvre to save a life at 96, which includes this at the end:
Readers’ editor’s note, added 28 June 2016: This article has been amended to reflect the uncertainty about whether Ms Ris is the first choking diner Dr Heimlich personally saved by using his manoeuvre.
That's because immediately after the first version of the article appeared, I contacted the Guardian (and other news outlets that got punk'd) and shared this information that appeared in the June 28 revision:
After initial reports emerged of Heimlich and his son Philip declaring this was the first time the retired surgeon had used his technique to treat someone who was choking, an account emerged of an earlier incident.

A 2003 BBC Online report quoted Heimlich talking about using the manoeuvre on a choking diner in a restaurant in 2000. Reports also appeared in the New Yorker and the Chicago Sun-Times. Interviewed again on Friday afternoon by the Guardian, the 96-year-old Heimlich said he did not recall such an incident. His son Philip also stated that he had no knowledge of his father using the technique in any prior emergency..

Since we're on the subject, take a look at this clip from Remembering Dr. Heimlich, Decades TV Network, December 20, 2016 featuring an interview with dad and alleged choking victim Patty Ris:

In the bottom right corner in the last scene, you'll see the walker dad relied on to get around. He was so frail, in the clip he can barely get his arms around Ms. Ris.

Did he really have the strength to compress her diaphragm by administering, as Rabbi Goldberg claimed, "several upward thrusts with a fist below the chest"?

As suggested by this wry June 1, 2016 column by James M. Berklan in McKnights Long-Term Care News, This lifesaving coincidence definitely makes you swallow deeply, was it all a media stunt cooked up by Deupree House's PR team as a tie-in to National Heimlich Maneuver Week?

Of course, unless someone coughs up more information we won't know for certain. 

But we do know that Rabbi Goldberg got it wrong about Mr. Ris being dad's first claimed rescue. 

Also apparently the rabbi failed to read the Guardian article he linked to in his item.

In a polite November 11 text, I introduced myself and wrote: 
My Google alert sent me your article today about my dad. You made a somewhat serious factual error. If you'd like to learn more so you decide whether or not you wish to publish a correction, please email me at

A short while later I received this encouraging reply:

I then sent him a friendly email with information that I thought might interest a religious scholar. 

In addition to explaining the error in his "Earth Angel" item, I wrote:
One unexpected privilege and pleasure of the research/whistleblowing efforts by my wife Karen Shulman and me (which helped expose my dad as a dangerous charlatan) is the opportunities I've had to connect with interesting, thoughtful people with whom we otherwise would never have had the opportunity to interact. As it happens, you are my second rabbi! Some years ago I had a lively correspondence with a Southern California rabbi who appreciated the ethical and moral ambiguities in what Karen and I call (for lack of a better term) the Heimlich Saga.

Along those lines, I would much welcome your thoughts as a scholar and presumably a mensch. (smile) Seriously, I have minimal religious training, but I'm confident the Talmud must speak to some of the issues raised by this thorny and perhaps singular story. Heck, maybe one or both of us can even get a blog item out of it.

His reply?

Thank you for being in touch, sounds like a very painful issue. Wishing you only strength and comfort.

During the course of the next week I sent Rabbi Goldberg two more polite emails and a text in which I explained New Zealand columnist Ana Samways had made the same error (see Part II) and that her unusual response to my corrections request had given me enough to blog an item I intended to call "A tale of two corrections requests."

I bent over backwards to give him every opportunity and explained that if he didn't reply, all I had to run with was the above email.

He didn't reply.