In 1953, Halpern became the first recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize in Medicine for the discovery and elucidation of the “sensorimotor induction syndrome,” which came to be known as “Halpern’s syndrome.” This syndrome was described in detail by Halpern in a book that was published in Paris two years earlier.9 The book contained a multitude of observations and experiments Halpern conducted, beginning in the 1930s, and carried out amidst the struggle to build the Department of Neurology, his clinical work, and the upheavals of WWII and the War of Independence. Halpern’s syndrome defined the previously unrecognized influence of various sensory modalities on equilibrium, perception of the vertical and motor performance, as well as subjective sensations induced by colors in the presence of frontal lobe, vestibular, and cerebellar affections. Halpern’s observations were met at first with skepticism but were verified abroad and are even cited in our times.10–14
True to the teachings of his mentor, Kurt Goldstein, Halpern regarded neurology and psychiatry as one inseparable entity. In this spirit, in 1949, he became the medical director of the Ezrat Nashim psychiatric hospital in Jerusalem. There he introduced contemporary treatments such as electroshock therapy and lobotomy; the latter he abandoned out of dissatisfaction with the relatively lax indications that prevailed in the US at that time. He was deeply disturbed by the eventual separation of the neurological and psychiatric associations.15
Under his leadership, the Department of Neurology at Hadassah University Hospital flourished, and new avenues of research were opened. An EEG and electrophysiology institute was established, as well as a laboratory of experimental neuroendocrinology and a center for neuroepidemiological research. The first major project of this last-mentioned center was a cross-country survey of multiple sclerosis. Halpern (Figure 2) reasoned that Israel, a country into which immigrants arrived from all over the world, could serve as a “laboratory” to study the influence of latitude and climate on the occurrence of MS on patients of diverse origins.16,17
Halpern was a cherished physician and teacher. He treated every patient, whether a top politician or the humblest individual, with the same warmth and diagnostic insight. He was a master of clinical teaching and was adored by his students as well as his staff. Halpern’s intimate acquaintance with Jewish Law and tradition, together with the wisdom of his forefathers and his excellent clinical standing, made him one of the best mediators between the Orthodox Jewish establishment and modern medicine. His contribution was crucial during the early years of the State of Israel.
Halpern’s achievements earned him recognition in the international neurology community; in 1953 he was elected to the Presidential Board of the International Congress of Clinical Neurology and, in 1957, to the Presidential Board of the First International Congress of the Neurological Sciences.
In 1963, Halpern published an international collection of essays, with contributions by the leading neurologists and neuropsychologists of that time, dealing with the localization and dynamics of the neurological “high functions.” The book continues to serve as a reference for issues such as referred pain, phantom pain, anosognosia, prosopagnosia, and sensorimotor induction syndrome.18 The Soviet Union forbade its scientists to contribute to this volume because of Halpern’s insistence that the book be published in Jerusalem.
As Dean, Halpern strove to strengthen the Faculty of Medicine, protect its position as the leading basic and applied research center, obtain financial support, and strengthen the contacts with its university hospital. His attitude, integrity, and warm personality were a source of confidence for faculty members, who elected him unanimously for a second term. Even as Dean, he continued his research on the higher cerebral functions.19 Halpern died of repeated heart attacks while in office, in 1968.
Halpern was succeeded as head of the Department of Neurology by his pupil, Professor Shaul Feldman, who later served as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine as well. This tradition of clinical and scientific excellence combined with public service was carried on by Feldman’s pupil, Professor Oded Abramsky, who also filled these two positions.
Halpern is survived by his daughter Rachel Halpern-Feinsod, MD.