Yehuda Ben-Yishay, Pioneer in Treating Brain Injuries, Dies at 88

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Yehuda Ben-Yishay was born on Feb. 11, 1933, in Cluj, a city in the Transylvania region of western Romania. His father, Chaim Ben-Yishay, was a businessman; his mother, Leah (Finkelstein) Ben-Yishay, was a seamstress.

His family went through World War II largely unscathed. Though hundreds of thousands of fellow Romanian Jews died during the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands survived, especially those in the southern reaches of Transylvania, where the family had moved shortly before the war.

The Ben-Yishays were eager Zionists, and in 1946 they boarded a converted cattle ship with about 2,000 other Jews bound for Palestine. The British authorities had banned such mass migration, and on arrival Yehuda he and his two brothers and sister were separated from their parents as they were placed in refugee camps.

After Israel’s independence in 1948, Dr. Ben-Yishay served in the Nahal, a part of the Israel Defense Force that built agricultural settlements. He later attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem, hoping to study psychology, but there was no one to teach it: Arab guerrillas had murdered the head of the department and several colleagues in 1948.

Dr. Ben-Yishay studied sociology instead, graduating in 1957. He won a scholarship to the New School for Social Research in Manhattan and arrived at the end of that year.

To cover his living expenses, he taught Hebrew and worked with retirees, including at a summer camp in Brewster, N.Y. There he met Myrna Pitterman; they married in 1960 and had three sons, Ari, Ron and Seth. All survive him along with his brothers, Yisrael and Meir; his sister, Pnina; and eight grandchildren.

At the New School, Dr. Ben-Yishay fell under the guidance of a German émigré psychologist named Kurt Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein insisted that patients with traumatic injuries could recover only in a “holistic” environment, which would take into account not only their physical well-being but also their emotional and spiritual health.