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The Jerusalem Netletter: Passover

Pesach Edition 5770, March 2010




According to Jewish tradition, the liberation of our ancestors from Egypt was accomplished by the merit of righteous Jewish women. Pharaoh, we all know, ordered all the Jewish boys killed, but decided to save the girls for his own licentious reasons. But who started the rebellion? Two midwives named Shifra and Puah. Just look at how they talked back to the mighty Pharaoh! Who were they? One tradition is that they were Moses's mother Yocheved and his sister the prophetess Miriam, using their Egyptian names. The same duo carried out the sending of Moses down the Nile, and when Pharaoh's daughter rescued him, Miriam stepped forward and conducted a brilliant negotiation to bring him back to his mother. When the Israelite men lost heart because of the dire conditions in Egypt, the women used their mirrors to flirt with their husbands and bring forth the next generation. They were always optimists, even when times were tough. Why else would they pack their tambourines (see Song of the Sea- Shirat Hayam) when they were hurrying from Egypt? They knew there would be cause to celebrate!

Hadassah began with the rebellion of two nurses who wouldn't accept the dire health conditions in Jerusalem in 1913. They, too, became involved in delivery and saving babies. And when voices in the Zionist movement objected to their "practical Zionism" they kept their optimism and built a health system that would change the world. As we approach Pesach with all its work, interpersonal complexities, let's remember that we are the latest generation to keep the optimism and Zionist fervor of our foremothers. Hag Sameach.

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At a celebration for FZY, the British Zionist Youth Movement that takes part in the Young Judaea Year Course, former Refusenik, now Chair of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharanksy said that his interrogators used to mock him about the "housewives and students" taking part in demonstrations. "Will they save you from the might Soviet Union?" How many of us used to set a seat at the Seder for a Prisoner of Zion and lift the Matza of Hope? Housewives and students did indeed defeat the Russian bear, and we celebrate Pesach with our former Soviet brethren in freedom. Halleluiah.

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Why are Israelis among the first to cross the world to help others? This is an expression of our values, the need to help the oppressed and not to stand idle while others are in trouble. They are cardinal rules of the Seder.

Let's look behind the scenes of a few of the Hadassah staff who participated in this proud Israeli mission.

Reuven Gelfond was the first to get his tent up. Every doctor I interviewed spoke with awe of our Hadassah nurse. Born in the former Soviet Union. Gelfond, 38, serves as the chief operating room nurse in the Day Hospital at Hadassah Mount Scopus. He's a graduate of the Henrietta-Szold Hadassah School of Medicine. In military reserve duty he's part of the team that runs the moveable military medical unit.

"In Jerusalem, we are unhappily experienced in the mass trauma of terrorism," said Gelfond. ." On one terrible Saturday night a terrorist attacked the Bar Mitzvah party near Mount Scopus. The patients were brought straight into the operating theater from the road. Such experiences prepared me to deal with the difficult emotions and physical challenges of Haiti." Gelfond's operating room tent, about 6 by 6 meters, was up six hours after he started working on it. "We had such a wave of patients that it was immediately clear to me that we had to change our plans and set up a second operating room," said Gelfond, who was in charge of logistics. "Operating quickly is a matter of life and death. We were doing so much surgery, more than 320 operations in 2 weeks, that sterilization was a real challenge. We created a system of gathering all the equipment, cleaning it and sterilizing it. Not a single patient was operated on without sterilized equipment."

"Because so many of the patients had injuries to their lower limbs, we started to run out of the medical screws that are essential for external fixations. We had only 26 left. Each patient needs six and we had fifteen patients waiting outside the tent. I had medical nails, but they're not adequate replacements for screws. I decided to look for equipment to turn nails into screws. I'd never been to Haiti before, but sure enough, I found a metalworking factory in ruins. I figured out what might have been a store room and began opening boxes. I found exactly the right tool in the right size-- a cylindrical steel metal-cutter exactly to the millimeter. God must have helped me. There is no other explanation."

The first patient to benefit from those self-made screws was a nine-year old girl with a crushed hip. "The screws held. It was a wonderful feeling. We made 30 screws, which were enough until a new supply arrived from Israel."

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From the moment the Israel flag was hoisted at the in Haiti, Dr. Shir Dar felt his heart swell with pride. "It felt emotional to be representing the people of Israel," said the Hadassah Hospital obstetrician/gynecologist who delivered the first baby in the IDF Field Hospital in Port-au-Prince. The child's mother named him Israel in gratitude. "The delivery of new life represented our optimism in arriving to help in Haiti. Infant mortality is one hundred times higher in Haiti than in Israel, where only a quarter of women have medical supervision at birth. The vast majority of births we saw were high risk and complications."

Dr. Dar quickly learned the Creole vocabulary for key words needed by an obstetrician. "'Pose'" for instance, means 'push.'"

Before coming to work at Hadassah Hospital in September, he delivered babies at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. "Not infrequently, a husband would call us out to the parking lot where his wife was giving birth in a pick-up truck," said Dr. Dar. "In comparison, the conditions in the field hospital in Haiti were superb."

Dr. Dar will be touring on the East Coast for UJC immediately after YomHa'atzmaut. Stay tuned.

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When you meet Dr. Revital Hivert at home in Jerusalem, it's difficult to imagine the chic and striking brunette engaged in identifying the victims pulled from under collapsed buildings after the earthquake.

Dr. Hivert a Hadassah Hospital dental instructor, not only undertook to return their identity to nameless victims, but teamed up with a surgeon to carry out life-saving operations on patients with potentially fatal facial injuries.

"We had young girls with severely fractured jaws whose teeth had been knocked out. Without surgery, they would never be able to eat again," said Dr. Hivert. The Israeli medical team didn't include a maxiofacial surgeon. The closest we had was IDF Ear, Nose and Throat and Neck surgeon Hayim Lavon, whose usual work doesn't include jaw and tooth replacement. "I'd been brought to Haiti to identify dead bodies, but here was a matter of life and death I could also contribute to. We figured out how to worktogether and became a surgical team," she said.

"Being in Haiti was about Zionism, being part of an Israeli team withultimate support for each other and dedication to the task,"

she said. "On a personal level, there's also a satisfaction that I was able to land on a grass field in a foreign country, and to function at a high professional level. And, for me, there was also that feeling that as a woman I was able to cope with the toughest and be a living representative of our Hadassah values."

A special moment took place Friday night, while they were waiting for the equipment to arrive via Florida. "We sat on our sleeping bags in the field as the sun set. The El Al crew had given us all the little on-flight wine bottles, so the Rabbi made Kiddush. And we all sang. Itwas a supreme spiritual moment."

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"The children didn't cry," said Dr.Taras Shirov, a Hadassah physician in the IDF who recently returned from Haiti. "Children three years old with broken limbs had been lying still for four days, and no one came to help them. They were so quiet. One five year old slept through the treatment even before she had anesthesia."

Dr. Shirov, 39, who is both an anesthesiologist and a resident in orthopedic surgery, was among the first doctors called to serve on the IDF's medical mission to Haiti.

"In Jerusalem, we've had mass traumas when we have many patients arriving from a terror attack, or in one case, from the collapsed wedding hall," said Dr. Shirov. "Here there was a mental pressure, thinking about how to maximize the care we could provide."

Dr. Shirov grew up in freezing Siberia and studied medicine in the former Soviet Union where medical students were required to work as cleaners and practical nurses to accustom them to all sides of hospital life. "I've seen lots of suffering, but never before had I faced such large scale disaster without any satisfactory answers. But there's no time for philosophy when you're in such a situation. You have to get busy and work. Our organization was beautiful."

His own background which includes twelve years as a Boy Scout as well as service in the Soviet army. In Israel, he's a captain in the IDF's famed 669 Rescue Team.

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Ruth Har-Nir, who heads Hadassah's sperm bank, says that requests have increased sharply from non-married women who want to have babies with the help of Hadassah's sperm bank. Donors are mostly college students who pass the rigorous health, including their history and current state of health, to qualify them as donors. They are paid a fee for providing sperm once a week for half a year, and must agree not to follow-up on offspring that result. "The entire process is quiet and discreet," says Har-Nir. Hundreds of women, including the very religious, turn each year to the sperm bank to have babies. Some of them require IVF, fertilization in a test tube before implantation. "I still hope to get married, but I'm turning 40 and know that having a baby won't be an option for much longer," said LL, a Jerusalemite who underwent the process last year and who is now the mother of a baby girl. MB came to Hadassah from California last summer, having checked out options in the US. She's expecting, too.

Har-Nir helps women choose their matches from a description of the looks, personality and talents of sperm donors. "It's very special work," says Har-Nir, herself a mother of four. "I thank God everyday that I come to work and can help people realize their greatest dreams."

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As Hadassah College's reputation grows, more students seek it out from all over the country. Let's meet two who hail from Israel's North.

Shaked Ashkenazi, 25, grew up on veteran Jordan Valley Kibbutz Beit Zera where her founding family has lived for four generations. Like many communal settlements, the kibbutz has gone through a period of privatization. Higher education, once the responsibility of the collective, has now become the responsibility of the individual farmers. When Shaked finished her army service in the IDF's prestigious Intelligence Corps, her parents weren't able to support her.

"I wanted to study medical laboratory science," said Shaked, now a third year student. "I applied to several schools and was accepted. But the other places seemed distant and cold compared to Hadassah College. I wanted a superb professional program-and Hadassah College has one-but for me-someone who grew up in the intimacy of the kibbutz and then went on to a challenging position in the army, I knew I needed an environment with more personal attention. I want to matter, too, and at Hadassah College, the department head and teachers know everyone's name." As an undergraduate, she has achieved high grades and won kudos from the staff of the Hebrew University Genetics lab where she interned as part of her training. Shaked, whose name means "almond" works in a book store to help make the rent. Tuition is made possible by a generous scholarship from Hadassah.

Raed Kazmoz grew up in Bina, an Arab village in the North, near Carmiel. His parents are divorced, and his mother, a hairdresser, supported her three sons. To help out, Raed worked as a teacher and counselor in a boarding school for children from dysfunctional families in a nearby village. He knew he wanted to be in a medically-related profession working with people. His cousin, a year older, was studying Optometry at Hadassah College and suggested that he investigate it, in the hope that one day they could open a clinic together in the village. "I didn't know much about Optometry. There is no optometrist in our village of 5000 residents." The studies of the eye, sight and correction turned outto be fascinating for him.

"Looking back," says Raed, now a second year student, "I don't think I would have made it without the understanding f Hadassah College. In High School, we studied in Arabic, and I had to learn Hebrew and English." Leaving the village and studying in a predominantly Jewish student body was new to him. "It was a transition to come from the village to Jerusalem, but I've made so many friends and the staff has been have been supportive. I am already dreaming of helping so many of the villagers who have vision problems and earning a living with dignity The villagers are proud of me and eager for us to open up a clinic. I can't thank Hadassah enough."

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On the second day of Pesach, we begin counting the Omer, the days between leaving Egypt and the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. But for Ethiopian Jews, that tradition takes place earlier in the year, 50 days after Yom Kippur in a holiday called

Sigd. The word itself is Amharic for prostration. About half of the students at our Hadassah-Neurim Youth Village come from Ethiopian backgrounds, and Sigd has become a major celebration with Ethiopian food, (like the sourbread injara, made from tef) and lively music and dancing. An astounding display of talent turned out from inside the village, according to youth director Manu Har Sinai who organized the festival. Students Moshe, Tal, Oshra,Tomas, Yarden wrote music, sang and played drums-and had the entire Village on their feet experiencing Ethiopian Jewish culture.

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PBS WorldFocus correspondent Muhammed Al Kassim visited Hadassah-Neurim and reported for national TV about the extraordinary program to produce master car mechanics. The story focuses on three star students, Russian-born Dema, Netanya-born Leron and Acre-born Muhammed, all of whom were problem students whose lives were turned around through their love of cars. Their head teacher Kobi Avital, graduated from the program more than 20 years ago, and is a role model that shows just how Hadassah-Neurim can save lives. Watch it at http://worldfocus.org/blog/2010/02/26/providing-hope-for-troubled-youth -in-israel/9822/

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The 300 Year Course participants have started their third trimester. That means that all of them have experienced the three loci of the Year Course: Bat Yam, Arad and Jerusalem. Nearly all of them are spending their first ever Passover in Israel. Here are some of their thoughts:

Tal Shtulsaft from East Setauket, NY:

"Our Jerusalem Supermarket is filled for Kosher for Passover-chocolate, cheese, cookies-everything but the bread. In my supermarket in New York, there is one aisle reserved for the holiday, and it's mostly filled with Matzo. That's like Pesach here-it takes over everything, not just a single aisle. I feel like one of the Hebrew who has finally made it out of Egypt. Suddenly, everything is for me! It's refreshing to hear "Chag Sameach" instead of "Happy Easter." There's a sense of renewal-buds on the trees and Passover sales on clothes in the mall. I love overhearing conversations on the bus about cleaning before Passover. But the best part about Passover is the way it marks time here. Every conversation includes "Before Passover" and "After Passover." Everyone-religious, so-called secular and in-between observes Passover. What a sense of community-almost as satisfying as anticipating Kosher for Passover Pizza at the local Pizzeria.

Mike Sanieoff, from Chestnut Hill, MA:

" The way we spend our Jewish holidays in Israel is like no where else. Constantly surrounded by your Judaism, you feel as if you're always with your family. At first I was upset that I wasn't home -but then I realized I was home-in Israel."

Maya Kosover from Evanston, Illinois :"Imagine all ten of my roommates and me with brooms in out hands, soapy water beneath our feet. The grocery shopping had to be done, buying Costco size boxes of matzo and stocking up on creams or jams to enhance the flavor. The little things-overhearing kids singing Avodim Hayinu outside my window and signs that say "Open for Pesach" on restaurants. The best part is that being in Israel for seven months, I've grown accustomed to having everyone celebrate the same holidayswhich are also my holidays, and I love it."

Masha Gollub of Long Beach,CA : My sister sent me a facebook messagetoday and as I read her post feelings of strong nostalgia hit me:

"Mash this is the first Pesach I'm going to spend without you! Come home right now and surprise me!" This Pesach, as opposed to the 18 ones I have experienced will not be forgotten. It is a milestone of a memory, my first Pesach in Israel. I look forward to the way in which my host family will conduct their Seder. At home, our Seders concentrate more on the fun and lighthearted side of the spectrum.

My two older brothers and cousins make rap songs of the traditional Passover songs, while my younger siblings fight over the prince of Egypt Haggadah, the one with tons of beautiful painted pictures. Our maggid section is read in a variety of accents and speeds as we go around the table and each one has his turn, while our Afikomen search is a wild race amongst the kids that ends in tears from many. This year, I wonder which sentiment my host family will concentrate on. I wonder what Pesach will mean to them. The holiday did not even begin yet, but already I have been affected by what Pesach means to others. In class one day I opened Natan Sharanksy's book Fear No Evil. He wrote that his cell mate, appreciating his Zionism and beliefs so much that he sewed a kippah for him from the hem of the cloth that protected his feet from freezing. Sharansky, today the Chair of the Jewish Agency wears that kippah every year at his Pesach Seder to appreciate his freedom and to remember the importance of his Jewish identity."

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Surreal, was how it felt. After so much discussion of the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower, the members of the National Board were walking the long corridors on their meeting in Israel this winter.

The famous hole in the ground-dug deep in the stubborn Jerusalem soil-was now filled with steel piers and actual floors. Ton after ton of soil had been lifted away to make way for the future we are building. Led by National President Nancy Falchuk and National Board Member Joyce Rabin, Board members climbed up, floor after floor, on roughly hued stairs. The pungent scent of wet concrete was a sweet scent indeed, as the phase of building called "framing"

was completed. Suddenly, it was easy to imagine the gurneys racing down the long corridors, doctors and nurses hurrying to operating theaters, concerned families gathering in the garden terraces. As we begin the season of renewal, a time for reflection on our past, we must gather strength for the future. The ultimate message of Pesach is to pass on our traditions from generation to generation, and to build the future. May we all be counted among the builders!

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Wherever you are in the Hadassah world, we wish you a wonderful holiday!

Hag Sameach from Hadassah's Offices in Israel, Director Audrey Shimron and Deputy Directory Barbara Goldstein, and from me

Barbara Sofer
Israel Director of Public Relations


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