HOLY AND HOLISTIC: Chicago physician Jerry Gore fuses Judaism and medicine to treat his patients both physically and spiritually

By George Castle, Special to Chicago Jewish News

At 70, Dr. Jerry Gore is blessed with longevity in his field of holistic medicine. But when he started out, he had to exercise the patience of Job to believe he was doing the right thing.

Like so many other aspects of society, what was an outlier in the mid-20th century is now mainstream. When Gore began advocating non-traditional treatments via holistic practices nearly 35 years ago, the majority of society viewed them as straight out of hippie or radical culture.

Now traditional medicine is moving toward holistic practices, relying on the body and mind to do some of the work of pills and the surgeon’s scalpel. Gore increasingly is able to integrate the two in his Center for Holistic Medicine on Saunders Road in Riverwoods just north of Lake-Cook Road. As he becomes a senior citizen via his birth certificate, he almost feels younger and a sense of vindication as he is less of an out-of-left-field advocate and more of an established operator.

“It seems to me traditional medicine is slowly incorporating aspects of holistic medicine,” said the modest Northbrook resident, an observant Jew adorned with a yarmulke, but otherwise eschewing a lab coat and other traditional trappings of medical authority at his office.

“Now diet is being incorporated, mindfulness is being incorporated, exercise is being incorporated, meditation is being incorporated. I feel over time these things are probably going to blend. Younger people are used to this kind of thinking. As younger people want more holistic in their lives, as they become physicians and healers, the whole thing is becoming a more homogeneous blend of integrated medicine like we’re doing (here) now.

“I feel blessed, I feel fulfilled, I feel my wife (Carol, co-founder of the clinic) and I have given something back to the community that was needed.”

But even as the often bureaucratic or hide-bound process of medicine catches up with its holistic cousin, Jewish practices and sensibilities always had more in synch with Gore’s specialty. And while educating himself on the holistic side has been a decades-long practice for Gore, who had a psychiatric residency at Northwestern, so has his process of “working on” his insight into Judaism. Growing up as an original Baby Boomer in Chicago’s South Side, around 81st and Paxton (South Shore High School Class of 1964), he got more religion in several concurrent threads as he progressed in his career.

“I see holistic medicine as seeing a person with a physical, energetic, mental and spiritual aspect to them,” Gore said. “It gives me a lot of possibilities to work with them. That’s how I was trained. You use these different modalities to bring about the healing and growth of an individual. You try to heal the symptoms they come in with in such a way the person learns about himself, grows and feels self-empowered.

“The idea a person can actually use a symptom of their illness to grow is very Jewish. One of the things (advocated in) Torah is to learn, grow and be a better person. This medicine, if practiced this way, helps the person grow and become healthy. It’s like a ladder. You become healthy, think properly and make (good) choices in your profession and personal life. You fulfill your destiny.

“We feel a person who comes into holistic medicine can actually graduate in the sense they come in with some things wrong with them. They end up feeling physical health, peace of mind and clarity of consciousness, making choices that basically fulfill their destiny.”

Gore used to call the Torah “medicine,” but he has evolved like many of his patients.

“Now I know a little bit more about Torah, so I now see Torah as much bigger,” he said. “So maybe it’s not Torah medicine, but it’s certainly consistent with Torah.

“It’s designation and revelation. Someone comes in and has eczema or a child has ear infections. It used to be they’d get a skin cream or an anti-biotic. But now we can start to work with their diet. Take them off dairy, produce less mucous in their body and now the person has a tool in their toolbox. I call that revelation.

“It can be the ability to breathe. If you teach a person with asthma how to use belly breathing, then they feel more comfortable with their condition. They may need less medication. They may be able to abort an attack.”

Author of the book “Holistic Medicine: Physical Health, Peace of Mind & Clarity of Consciousness,” Gore will share his insight on a holistic centerpiece topic, “Choosing the Right Sugars and Fats,” at 7 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Northbrook Public Library, 1201 Cedar Lane. Gore will be joined by Katie Bogaard, a naturopathic practitioner at his medical center.

The timing of the nutrition talk will be just right, with the High Holidays and their traditional calorie-heavy feasts looming. The movement against sugar has reached white-hot intensity with the controversial Cook County beverage tax. Traditional Jewish cooking and baking is loaded with sugar and carbohydrates – cakes, mandel bread, challah, matzoh balls, kreplach and everything else that is delicious, with a price.

Gore does believe eating Jewish and eating healthy are not mutually exclusive.

“Sugar is not bad,” he said. “It’s how we use sugar. In the old days, people consumed eight pounds of sugar a year. Now it’s up to 150 pounds per person a year. Now sugar is added to everything. I should give you my chocolate recipe. I asked how can I make chocolate without sugar in it? I put in dates and cacao and vanilla.

“When you go on Shabbat to a Kiddush where there’s a big jar of Coke and cakes, all those carbs head down the road to insulin resistance. And that insulin resistance heads down the road to metabolic syndrome. Part of metabolic syndrome is where we gain weight. And in turn, these things lead to inflammation, heart and the pre-cancers. It’s important to figure out how to avoid putting so much simple sugars (in a daily diet).

“The trick here is to add good fats. The way to lose weight is to eat good fats – coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. Go to the deli and order lox and bagels and cheese, and say hold the bread. So you’re eating your lox and cheese and onions and salad and eggs. That’s what we call paleo and you lose weight, your blood sugar goes down.”

The holistic holy man also has old-fashioned Jewish humor.

“You know why the bagel is a problem?” he asked. “Because there’s a hole in it. You’re not getting value.”

Once the main course of Gore’s talk at the Northbrook library is completed, he no doubt will talk about the general holistic concept of integrating an individual’s body, mind, and spirit into a custom treatment plan specific to that patient’s needs.

He has become the face of the Center of Holistic Medicine, founded by Dr. Rudolph Ballentine in Glenview on the grounds of the Himalayan Institute. In 1983, six years after the center became a fully-functioning clinic and after his psychiatric residency, Gore teamed up with Ballentine for an apprenticeship in holistic medicine. Over the years, he further built up the practice as the holistic center in tandem with his wife, whom he describes as his rock in running the clinic. In 1997, Gore moved the center to the present freestanding building designed and built for the purpose of practicing holistic medicine.

“I came into holistic medicine through yoga,” Gore said. “They were very interested in elevating people’s spirits and were interested in using medicine as a vehicle to do that. I was looking for something where I could fuse physicality and spirituality all at the same time. I felt there was a way of practicing medicine and including the spirt of a person.

“In those days, we’d be doing medicine at the Himalayan Institute during the day and going to (religious) classes in the evening. Slowly but surely over the years, my wife and I became more observant. I think becoming more educated about Judaism, praying, wearing tefillin and a yarmulke, bringing godliness to daily activities, has made me a better doctor. I do physical medicine, but also do psychotherapy. I’m also a boss here, so I have staff (of 20). It allows me to be a better person in all these roles Hashem (G-d) wants me to play.”

Gore engaged in self-education, realizing a good general practitioner had to expand his score from the coldly clinical.

“It meant to treat the physical, the energy, the mental and spiritual,” he said. “You need it all when you’re treating a patient. Someone comes in (with a physical affliction), it doesn’t mean they’re not having other things in his or her life. They’re all related. I started to use all the tools. Let’s hear the physical (symptoms), but then we go into a stress history, we go into the life. We have a big picture. I can choose to make a nutritional recommendation or what I call an energy recommendation, which is either homeopathy or acupuncture. Or I can make a psychological recommendation, which is either stress reduction technique or counseling.”

Gore used to do it all. “I’d call myself a ‘GP’ (general practitioner),” he said “One day I’d be giving a homeopathic remedy for an ear infection and the next day we’re talking to a couple in marital counseling. In the old days of holistic medicine, everyone was a psychiatrist.”

The practice branched off into so many different areas that more help was needed. Gore and his wife took on internists, chiropractors, behavior specialists, and acupuncture and naturopath practitioners, among others.

All adhere to a “wheel” of successful health displayed on a large poster board for all visitors. Seven categories are shown. No. 1, Physical Health: Dietary and Nutritional Therapy and Vitamins and Supplements. No. 2, Physical Health: Ayurvedic Medicine, Cleansing Techniques, Herbal Therapy. No. 3, Physical Health: Yoga and Exercise. No. 4, Energy Level: Breathing Exercises, Therapeutic Touch, Relaxation Techniques. No. 5, Energy Level: Acupuncture, Acupressure, Homeopathy, Flower Essences. No. 6, Mental Level: Journaling, Psychotherapy, Counseling. No. 7, Spiritual Level: Meditation, Contemplation, Prayer.

“Holistic medicine starts with a good, organized intake which takes in physical history, energetic history, mental history and practical spiritual history,” Gore said. “Practical spiritual history is whether the person feels fulfilled in their work life and in their personal life. A lot of people come in and say they’re depressed or have pains. I have been taught that (life issues) can be one of the underlying causes of physical pain. It can go back and forth: Is the physical causing the mental or is the mental causing the physical? Mind over matter or matter over mind – it works both ways.

“I had a patient who came in with chronic urinary tract infections. So we would do different things and the infections would come and go. So finally I asked her if she was pissed off. She said she was pissed off at her husband. That patient never got better until she finally divorced her husband. And then she was done (with infections). That was mind over matter.”

Classic medicine did not put credence in the mind-over-matter concept. But there is an awakening in keeping with the blending of practices Gore has witnessed.

“I think pretty much everyone acknowledges the mind and body work together,” he said. “Thirty years ago, nobody had ever heard of vegetarianism. Thirty years ago, nobody had ever heard of homeopathy, and now you can find it at Walgreens. Thirty years ago, psychotherapy was bad. Now everyone is in counseling.”

Still another outstanding example is the mainstreaming of yoga, formerly considered radical, into such conservative institutions like baseball. In the mid-1970s, Cubs pitchers Bill Bonham and Bob Locker were ordered to move their on-field yoga exercises from out of the view of the fans back into the cramped Wrigley Field clubhouse down the left-field line. But in 2016, yoga was one of the key workout regimes that enabled key Cubs to be physically and mentally fit to win a World Series.

A tenet of classic Judaism seemed to move the ball toward acceptance.

“Truth comes out,” said Gore. “We were taught in class truth is continuity. Truth is permanence. When I saw holistic medicine being practiced, I felt this is truth. There is an abiding integrity about it that’s not going away. I don’t think there’s any time limit on this. I think this is something that’s going to continue to come out, be revealed and be developed further.”

Gore does not look back in satisfaction to lecture doubters with the angle “I told you so.”

“We had to have a certain pioneering spirit at the beginning because there was a lot of resistance,” he said. “You had to take yourself by the collar sometimes and make yourself do the right things sometimes, even though it’s not popular or is (perceived as) threatening. As the thing moved along, it’s become more mainstream. The people want it. The movement seems to come from people, and the medical community is following.”

Gore again points to classic teachings in how the medical practitioners’ minds have been steadily opened in a spiritual way over the decades.

“The Torah helps in realizing that we just create a vessel for a blessing to come down. A good physician really has to create a vessel with his skills, with his practice. And then Hashem decides the results. I really believe that with all my years of experience. My job is to create the vessel for the blessing. It’s telling you how to move, creating some exercises, work with your diet.”

So where did the ability to create the vessel, via improved medical knowledge, originate if this diagnostic acumen did not exist when holistic medicine was on the outside looking in?

“I think it’s evolution, like a tikkun,” concluded Gore. “We’re all going to end up exactly where we’re supposed to be.”

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