Dr. Judy Melinek is a forensic pathologist.
Together with her husband, TJ Mitchell, she wrote a book about her first two years entitled: Working Stiff: 2 years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.
Judy was born in Jerusalem and emigrated to New York City at the age of 5, when her father was selected for a residency in psychiatry at the Albert Einstein Medical Center; she attended high school at an Orthodox yeshiva, where her mother headed the Hebrew language and literature department. After graduating from Harvard and UCLA medical school, she switched from a residency in surgery to forensic pathology when the former proved so exhausting that she once fainted at the end of a 36-hour shift. Her new field quickly fascinated Melinek, and the journals she kept during her training are what she and Mitchell eventually rewrote into what would become “Working Stiff.”
The book documents in detail how, just two months into her residency in New York, Melinek became one of 30 doctors charged with trying to identify remains of victims of the worst terrorist attack on American soil. Over the course of many months, bodies arrived by ambulance, sometimes by the truckloads, in about 20,000 fragments, some only as small as a tooth.
Jewish values always have informed Melinek’s work. “Because of Judaism’s incredible respect for the dead, I realize how important it is that what I do has meaning, and that we’re not just doing autopsies to defile the body, even though some people accuse us of that,” she said. “We do our work with an incredible purpose — and an incredible amount of