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Netletter: Rocket Terror, Flying Lifesavers and Underground Psychiatrists

Barbara Sofer

As you know, we are living with constant rocket terror with no clear end in sight to the current crisis. At the same time, as we hold back using our full military strength, we face constant censure in world media.

We in Jerusalem have had a handful of rocket attacks, but we cannot compare our suffering to our brethren in the South. Watching TV last night, I heard the grim description of the situation from the head of security on Gaza-border kibbutz Nachal Oz. I met him last week when he came to visit his family, taking refuge at Hadassah-Neurim, like most of the kibbutzniks and all of their children. They are guests of HWZOA, and they thank you for the days away from the rocket fire.

Remember: we set up Hadassah-Neurim when children were being evacuated from the bombings of the War of Independence. Sometimes I feel that this has been one long struggle for our right to exist. But then I remember: look what we have accomplished over this time! What a State to be proud of! Building this magnificent state has been the result of our unique partnership, between Jews in Israel and Zionists abroad. From generation to generation. I marked my mother’s yahrzeit this week—five years—and in addition to saying kaddish and visiting her grave—I visited her recognitions at Hadassah Hospital.

What better tribute to life going on could there be?

Flying Lifesaver

I had a chance this week to interview Dr. Yuval Meroz, an anesthesiologist who works on the Ein Kerem campus. We met at one of the hospital coffee bars. He was just coming out of the operating room after handling the anesthesia for a gynecological surgery. A hospital doctor in scrubs.

But in his other life, Dr. Meroz is a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Air Force. Throughout the ground invasion of Operation Protective Edge, he served as an emergency physician at the front. He readied for action at an air force base near Gaza. As soon as an IDF soldier was injured and needed evacuation, Dr. Meroz was flown to the border.

As mortars were aimed at his craft, he helped lift the patients into the chopper. "It's very crowded and very noisy," he said, shrugging off the danger. “It’s too noisy to consult with anyone else.” No photos, he warns. His team never appears in public. The hardest of the hardest part? "Making the decisions.. making quick decisions in the air, when a soldier has no pulse and stops breathing, and you have to act fast and with all the experience you bring to it. You need plasma, you need to intubate, you need a transfusion, and you need to get to a medical center fast.”

Dr. Meroz, (whose photo I can’t send you—but you can meet next time you are in Jerusalem) is Jerusalem-born and served not in the Air Force but in the tank corps before he became a doctor. He chose anesthesia as a specialty because he finds the variety of procedures he performs and the research both challenging and interesting.

When he lands with his patients, he hands them off to the waiting emergency staff. Often he knows the doctors on the ground. Sometimes they are his colleagues at Hadassah.

Then he goes back to pick up the next soldier, and the one after that.

The doctors at the hospitals call him afterwards to let him know how his patients are doing. "I remember them all," he says. "I remember every flight. It's still with me here and it will be with me forever."

Below Ground: Hadassah Psychiatrist

In the meantime, on the ground and below ground is our Dr. Fortunato (Fortu) Ben-Harosh, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry. Last week he was in an underground shelter in a moshav, a rural farming community in the South.

The moshav isn't exactly on the border, so it doesn't have new re- enforced safe rooms and play rooms. Still, 10, fifteen, twenty times a day the farmers and their families have to run to one of the public shelters scattered around the grounds.

“I got a call,” said Dr. Ben-Harosh, “The attacks were bad. The families were refusing to leave—grandparents, parents, children. And inside the shelter hysteria was contagious. Crying, laughing, screaming. The village social worker wanted to help but she felt powerless to cope.”

Dr. Ben-Harosh drove down from Jerusalem. He had to stop several times to lie down next to his car when he heard the rocket alarms.

Dr. Ben-Harosh heads Hadassah's Orion Post-Trauma Center for Children. He has experience and an intuitive sense about how to diffuse a crisis. He and his staff have served as back-up for these beleaguered communities since the beginning of Protective Edge.

"I don't come to give therapy. My first job is to empower the local staff, and to brainstorm with them to find additional resources for help."

There were several shelters in the farming community. In the first, Dr. Ben-Harosh led the group through exercises of psycho-education, recognizingthe signs of anxiety and stress and learning to deal with them through breathing and relaxation exercises and guided imagery. He met alone with parents to help them deal with the children. He led a "group discussion," actually a form of therapy.

"By the time we got to the second shelter, I told the social worker that she would do what I had done, and I would just come along to help if necessary. At first she was reluctant. But I encouraged her and she did great. By the third shelter, she could do it by herself.”

One of the issues is separating general anxiety—some of which can be dealt within group therapy and though play—with more serious issues that indeed need one-on-one counseling, he says. "Together, we learned to cooperate with the social workers of the local council, and to call in some of the school psychologists. We are building teams that will help through crises."

Dr. Ben-Harosh and his team will continue training and empowering local mental-health care givers in coming months.

Dr. Ben- Harosh was born in Morocco and grew up in Spain. He made Aliyah and studied medicine here, taking on his role as a psychiatrist/trauma expert just in time for the second intifada. His wife Hagit Benaroush is an instructor in Hadassah's nursing school.

Their own son was serving in a combat unit across the border in Gaza. "I had my own level of anxiety about him," said Dr. Ben-Harosh. "That's part of our complex lives here. Thankfully, he wasn't injured."

I wanted to give you a taste of our Hadassah family at this moment in the history of our people. I know you feel the same family pride I do.

We have two special commands in this week’s Torah portion Re’eh: to share our money with the needy and to rejoice. Isn’t that the Hadassah way? Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom from my home in Jerusalem to yours, And from my colleagues at the Hadassah Offices in Israel, Exec. Director Audrey Shimron, (whose son is in the IDF combat engineers who dismantled the attack tunnels) and Dep. Director Barbara Goldstein, (whose grandson is in the IDF combat engineers who dismantled the attack tunnels.)

Date: 8/25/2014

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