By Burt Krull, Executive VP, Hadassah Associates
During the final days of the Hadassah Convention in Las Vegas, a five person solidarity delegation was formed. Included were Marcie Natan (National Hadassah President), Marlene Post (Past National President), Burton Krull (Executive VP, National Committee Hadassah Associates), Louis Numkin (Associates Board of Directors) and Josh Davidson (an Associate who has never missed a solidarity mission). We left Sunday 7/27, arriving in the heat of the Gaza War in Israel.
Our solidarity delegation arrived on July 28nd and headed north to Hadassah's Meir Shfeyah Youth Village, where tens of Israeli families, who reside in the direct path of the heaviest incoming rockets from Gaza, are being fed and housed. One rocket did land in an open area a few miles from Meir Shfeyah, and there have been numerous alarm sirens as in most of Israel, but it does not compare with the daily rocket and terrorist attacks of the villages and cities that share a border with Gaza.
Rocket removed by soldiers
Teacher and liaison to HWZOA, Lauren Kedem, spoke about her own life, the service of her sons, and what it means to both educate challenged students and to welcome traumatized visitors. Happy families stopped by to be with us—an unthinkable time off from the tension in the South. They showered praise on HWZOA for the opportunity to enjoy fresh air and to be able to relax at our facility, including a splash in the pool. "You have given our children back their summer vacation," they said.
The delegation's hotel was booked in Tel Aviv, the target of many attacks. Both nights, we were awakened by sirens announcing night rocket attacks on the city. You could hear the "BOOM" from the Iron Dome's interception.
Tuesday morning began with a visit to the Be'er Sheva Municipality where some 150 rockets have fallen. In the underground control center, Ishay Avital, the international relations chair of the city, described the rapid development of the desert capital, where the university, theaters for the arts, and parks are all expanding despite the increased threat. "The mood of the citizenry is optimistic and determined," he said. "We want the IDF to do its job so we can live securely." Director of Crisis services Amit Reingold showed us the city camera system which reinforces citizen reports of falling rockets, and debris from rockets eliminated by the Iron Dome. More than 3000 Be'er Sheva residents have sought psychological help for increased stress during Operation Protective Edge. "Our message is that civilians must keep their regular routine as much as possible in order to keep a strong home front."
Deputy Mayor Heftzi Zohar remembered Hadassah from many different visits, through war and peace. "You are true friends who never miss an opportunity to strengthen us," she said. Zohar described the large volunteer effort by citizens to run children's activities in the underground shelters. Deputy Mayor of Religious Affairs Ofer Kahane blessed the delegation with success in all they do.
Hadassah's KKL/JNF River Parks project is located in Be'er Sheva, and we adjourned to the Park to inaugurate a grove of olive trees in memory of the soldiers who have given their lives in Protective Edge. Louis Numkin of Silver Springs remarked, "It was so meaningful for me to put my hands in the ancient soil of Israel and to plant a tree that will provide beauty and fruit for future generations."
At lunch, Shira Goldstein Mushkin and Audrey Alhadeff Shimron described their feelings regarding having sons presently serving in Gaza. Emotions were at a peak. We then traveled to the Nachal Beka neighborhood where a rocket destroyed a home and injured the elderly woman resident. "Seeing this leveled lot made me realize what the missiles that do get through could & would destroy," said Burt Krull,.
Rocket that missed its intended target
While in Be'er Sheva, Josh Davidson of Tarrytown, NY, spoke to one of his two U.S. cousins serving in the IDF. One was in Gaza. The other was actually in Be'er Sheva, working as a military liaison for the IDF wounded soldiers at Soroka Hospital, (the Negev's main hospital, formerly Hadassah-Yassky Memorial Hospital opened in April 1949, named in memory of Dr.Chaim Yassky, Hadassah's Director General murdered in the convoy to Mount Scopus on April 13, 1948.)
In the early evening, our delegation traveled to hard-hit Sderot, to boost morale and take part in a program together with JNF. Much has been done to help the economy for the people of Sderot.
On Wednesday, the Delegation traveled to the outskirts of Ashdod to have a close-up view of the Iron Dome, called the "Iron Kippah" in Hebrew. This mobile air-defense system developed in Israel to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells headed to populated areas. Former Air Force Pilot and Air Base commander Talik Shafrir explained the three elements of the system: Detection & Tracking Radar; Battle Management & Weapon Control, and a missile firing unit which launches Tamir interceptor missiles with electro-optic sensors and steering fins. All are Israeli built, with the support of the American government. Within three seconds of a rocket being shot, the Iron Dome identifies the trajectory and determines whether or not it needs to down it. Iron Dome removes rockets from populated areas and ignores those that are shot out to sea or open areas. There are nine Iron Dome batteries in operation. As other groups came to see the Iron Dome, our delegates recognized Hadassah's Young Judaeans in the Friends of the IDF group.
At Hadassah's Ein Kerem campus, award-winning journalist Khaled Abu Toameh met the group for an in-depth briefing on the current situation. Abu Toameh, born in the West Bank city of Tulkaram to an Arab-Israeli father and a Palestinian mother, is an Arab Israeli journalist, lecturer and documentary filmmaker. Abu Toameh writes for the Jerusalem Post and for the New York-based Gatestone Institute where he is a Senior Distinguished Fellow. He revealed that because of his objection to anti-Israel coverage of the crisis, he was dismissed from his role as a consultant to NBC. "To be a journalist for the foreign press, you need to file a pro-Palestinian story," said Abu Toameh." The writing was on the wall," he insisted, tracing back the failures of wishful thinking in peace plans while ignoring the grim reality in the Palestinian sector where no one is capable of making peace with Israel because of prevailing attitudes. The current fighting is a response to pressure from Egypt, which no longer has sympathy for Hamas. Instead of fighting Egypt, Hamas opted to attack Israel to improve its deteriorating situation. Abu Toameh suggested that Israel weaken Hamas but not destroy it completely. The next group to take over Gaza would be even worse.
The group met with Brig. General Yitzhak Kreiss, Surgeon General of the IDF, and began a visit to the wounded soldiers in Hadassah's Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower. Soldiers and families thanked us for the wonderful treatment and modern facilities. Among the soldiers we met was Ori, who went on fighting with a bullet in his shoulder. Time was spent with Gal, the son of a Hadassah CT technician. We experienced the reunion of Netanel and the doctor who saved him in the field, our own David Rekhtman, head of the pediatric emergency room at Hadassah Mount Scopus. The group then toured the almost-completed underground operating rooms, which will provide both safety and advanced technology when they are opened.
Burt Krull, Louis Numkin & Marcie Natan with IDF injured soldier recovering at HMO.
From Ein Kerem, the delegation went to the Knesset, where we first met Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. We were then treated to a private briefing by MK Gila Gamliel (Likud) who focused on the importance of activism for Israel within the United States. We promised to keep her updated on Hadassah's efforts to protect and promote Israel's good name.
From the Knesset to the President...but not without an important stop in between.
Hadassah's delegation visited the graves of the soldiers killed in Operation Protective Edge at Mount Herzl Cemetery, chanting together the prayers for our soldiers and the State of Israel. Several of the soldiers had just been buried.
Reuven "Ruby" Rivlin is Israel's 10th President. "As a Jerusalemite and as an Israeli, it is a pleasure to host you," President Rivlin told the Hadassah Solidarity Delegation. He and his wife Nechama received the delegation in the late afternoon. "I grew up in Jerusalem and have always respected the Hadassah organization, recognizing your contributions since the beginning of your history, back to Henrietta Szold. Your hospital and the university medical school is the University for All of the medical schools in Israel."
President Rivlin shared a letter of appreciation to the American people that he was sending to President Obama. "Our friendship isn't just between governments, it's between peoples," he said. "I know you have cities called Bethlehem and Hebron in the United States, too. He spoke of Hamas military head Muhammed Deif's declaration that "that his fighters were eager for death" while Israelis wanted life as defining the differences between our societies. He praised and thanked the delegation for forgoing their safe homes to travel to an Israel under rocket attack. Both the President and his wife Nechama had aunts in the United States who were active members of Hadassah." I even have a Hadassah medallion from my late aunt," said Nechama Rivlin.
The visit ended with the singing of Hatikva, the anthem of the Jewish people, with its hope and determination that we shall continue to be a free people in our precious land.