A Commitment to Compassion
Reflections from a Life of Service
By AVRAM R. KRAFT, MD, FACS
with RACHEL E. KRAFT and SUSAN J. WHITE
“Marching to a different drummer is not a failing, but more developing a keen sense of hearing.”
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“Avram Kraft’s book deserves to be read and studied, not only by all those who care for the sick, but by all those who will someday be sick, and who will someday be in the hospital. It is the testament of a good human being who has healed many people physically—and probably even more people spiritually.”
— Rabbi Jack Riemer
Columnist, The Jewish Advocate
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ABOUT THE BOOK
In A Commitment to Compassion, Avram R. Kraft, MD, reminds us that each of us can make a difference. Avram makes that difference against a medical landscape, but in sharing his wisdom, insights, doubt, and vulnerabilities, he invites all of us to consider what compassion means and how it can be part of our daily living. As he states in a chapter called Repairing the World, “Every day, we have an opportunity to make an impact on one another. You are only as good as what you bring to the table and not what you remove from it.”
In a very accessible interview format, Avram reveals the kind of small and large daily choices he’s made over a lifetime as he’s looked for meaning and used his faith in service to others. These conversations underscore the value of storytelling and real listening in a world increasingly full of distractions. Dignity, Acceptance of Self and Finding Balance are among the powerful chapters and pervasive themes that invite the reader to consider their own personal journeys and how they, too, can be of service.
A perennial student of medicine, ethics and ancient texts, Avram, a retired surgeon, was an early advocate of hospice and palliative care and a passionate teacher of compassion in medicine. As one early reviewer said of the book, “It is the testament of a good human being who has healed many people physically—and probably even more people spiritually.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A native son of New England, AVRAM R. KRAFT was born, raised and schooled in Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts; Wells, Maine; New York City, New York; and Burlington, Vermont. Avram served in the United States Navy in Bethesda, Maryland, before entering academic medicine at the University of Illinois and providing care in Chicago at Cook County Hospital. In the 1980s, he went into private practice in Highland Park, Illinois. Avram taught Compassion in Medical Care at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Evanston.
Upon retiring from surgery in 2000, founded and chaired the Center for Compassion in Medical Care at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare. He is a perennial student of medicine, ethics and ancient texts. Avram was an early advocate of hospice and palliative care. He chaired both the Ethics and Hospice Committees at Highland Park Hospital where he also served as Secretary of the Medical Staff. After 40 years living on Chicago’s North Shore, Avram and his wife, Kerana, currently reside in Boca Raton, Florida.
Surgeons are a unique brand of physicians. Designations such as Captain of the Ship, and Alpha male come to mind. For the most part, they are impatient, intransigent and non-compromising. Rare is the surgeon that holds a patient’s hand bedside postoperatively; as Avram often did.
It is in this capacity of a surgeon that I first met Avram. However, this general portrait was soon to be shattered. For one thing, Dr. Kraft was polite, and asked to be called Avram.. He was patient. And he was kind, to patients, to nursing staff and colleagues. It was his modus operandi. His overriding preference in the distinction and importance of holding a patient hand vs. data entry in a mobile computer terminal defined him. And we were all enriched. That was to be the beginning of a fabulous relationship that went far beyond the operating room theater.
He was Chairman of the Medical Ethics Committee and I was a brand-new member. It was his thoughtfulness, his caring, his passion that came through. It was his ability to hold on to complex clinical case presentations, while juggling sometimes conflicting ethical principles; and then surmising in a cogent, reasoned and principled manner of what would and would not be ethically permissible. Throughout his tenure as chairperson, his overriding guiding principle was that of the importance of compassion, patience, and willingness to listen to the other side. And we were all enriched.
Avram, it has been an honor and privilege to have known and worked with you during my entire professional life. I am blessed and enriched by the experience, thank you. Bless you and God’s speed.
—Dr. Philippe Cochrane
July 6, 2020
It has been gratifying for me, Rachel and Susan to learn that the book has sparked conversations on themes ranging from compassion to compassion fatigue, from tolerance to self-acceptance. In response to requests for a more formal guide for discussion, please find the following study questions. We welcome your thoughts as we continue to fine-tune this resource. I am eager to discover if the book can also be a more formal teaching tool. Please also let us know if you have thoughts around including this as reading material in any class setting and what the primary topic of study is (whether it’s medicine, divinity, or others).
You can write any comments in the “Get in Touch” section of the website and our Publisher will share them with us.
With appreciation and gratitude for who you are,
June 8, 2020
Thank you for taking the time to check in.
I know I have been given an opportunity for recovery that many do not receive. I’m also human and not afraid to admit that on a daily basis I struggle to keep that gratitude in the forefront of my mind. Over the past two plus years I have had two strokes and most recently a 6-week hospitalization. I catch myself giving into the natural impulse to throw my hands up and say “this is too hard, too frustrating! Can I do it?”
Every day I try and count my blessings for my community that looks out for me, even during a pandemic. I know that my possession of speech, post-stroke, is a blessing, but I can also fully acknowledge that when ordinary words for my favorite food or drink are elusive, I can shut down. I can get very hard on myself.
How to stay on a path of gratitude? All I know is to cultivate a state of balance.
Recently I heard former president’s daughter, Jenna Bush, say “You can’t be good to your neighbor if you’re not good to yourself.” Ah, I thought, a variation of the golden rule, ”Do unto others as you would have others do onto you.” Or in the Hebrew bible, V’ahavta L’reacha Kamocha – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
My path to equilibrium is found meditating on what it means to honor G-d. I am fortunate to have family and friends that I can discuss this with, even during the time of the virus, on zoom or face time. When I can share my love, it elevates me as a person. It gives me the opportunity to love the next person and that is practice for loving myself. It is not just about honoring my neighbor but also honoring myself. With the same patience and gentleness, I would show a neighbor or a stranger, I must practice that action. An invitation to greet myself with open arms.
There is a certain wonder in those moments and I am at peace. I am grateful. I am open to learning.
May 22, 2020
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but luckily not related to the virus, Avram was hospitalized over a six-week period in March and April. He is home now recovering and making steady progress. He recently dictated this message and we’re sharing it here on his website so he can communicate with his readers:
We each can consider allowing ourselves access to an open door with our Creator.
We can choose to access that relationship from the moment we awake.
I try and do that through the prayer Modeh Ani L’fanecha, offering thanks to our Creator.
There is a line that reads “She-he-che-zarta Bee Nishamti,” which speaks to G-d having returned within me and recharged me with my breath of life for another day.
At its most stripped down, it’s honoring the act of waking up for another day and the gift that is. This is all the more personal and profound for me having reemerged from a health crisis that had me away from home for 6 weeks (3 of which were in the ICU, and most of that time I was on a ventilator).
In thanking G-d for the gift of waking up I see I am involved in a love relationship that flows in both directions. To my way of thinking, I feel G-d’s love in the gift of waking and my prayer in song lifts my love back to G-d.
Each of us can establish something beautiful which sets the tone for the day.
And lest you think this is easy, I can assure you for me it is not. There are days when I go through the motions. Right now, I struggle with how weak I feel. It can make me withdrawn, irritable and impatient. This message is dictated to one of my children because I have yet to sit again in front of a computer.. But I feel an urgency to share with you that when I let myself tap into a loving relationship with myself, my G-d and those around me I can be lifted and it charts a new course for the day.
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