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Jerusalem Netletter: Independence Day

By Barbara Sofer

Honoring Our Soldier Physicians

I have heard the term, "the yoms" used in the Diaspora to describe the commemorative season that begins immediately after Passover.

In Israel, we don't think of these as isolated days, but of a somber week of introspection and mourning that ends with celebration. We move from Holocaust Day to Memorial Day to Independence Day.. Our TV and radio programming reflects this mood, with many programs on history and personal stories that remind us of the struggles of our people and enormous efforts to establish the State of Israel. Hadassah has been a partner in every stage of Israel's development.

I'd like to take this opportunity to honor our physician soldiers. One aspect of life in Israel is that in addition to putting in long days treating patients and doing creative research, a large percentage of our physicians are officers in the IDF. They continue to serve in Reserve Units until their fifties.

Here's the story of one: Dr. Eitan Gross, a brilliant pediatric surgeon. For six years after High School, Dr. Gross served in one of the army's toughest and most prestigious Special Forces units: the Naval Commandos, called Shayetet 13. He was the first religiously observant young man to serve in the unit. After giving six years of his life to this tough unit, he spent another six years at Hadassah's medical school. In those years and for many years later, he continued to change from his green surgeon's scrubs to his frogman's wetsuit, taking part in many daring (still classified) underwater operations. Later, he switched to be the commandos' physician, first continuing on the sea with secret operations and until today serving as their personal doctor.

I caught up with Dr. Gross today, as he was on his way to a Memorial Ceremony for three of his comrades. Where did the fighting spirit come from in this gentle physician?

"My parents were both in the Shoah," he said. "My father was sent to Russia, and later to work camps in Siberia. My mother was sent to Auschwitz. She thought my father was dead. When she returned to her town in Slovakia, she asked who of her family had survived. 'Only your husband,' she was told. She fainted. For two and a half years, she'd thought she was a widow.

"They reunited and made their way to pre-state Israel. I was born in Tel Aviv in 1954. They didn't talk much about the Shoah, but I knew that I wanted to be a combat soldier. I lived near the sea, and in high school got the idea that I wanted to be a Naval Commando. I managed to pass the rather difficult qualifying course. My mother told me later that she'd never slept through the entire night through while I was in the Navy. On the other hand, my parents had pride that having been helpless once, they had a son who was a serving as a defender of the Jewish people. "

Dr. Gross and his wife Shalvit Landau have three children, all of whom have also served in the IDF. To our 330,000 members of Hadassah he says on the cusp of Independence Day, "We have had many challenges as a Nation, and face still more," he says. "But I couldn't imagine myself or my children living anywhere else."

Hag Atzmaut Sameach. Happy 64th.

Barbara Sofer

Date: 4/25/2012
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