Earlier this week, as I do every year, I stood silently in the hospital with hundreds of members of the Hadassah family, moved by the mournful wail of the two-minute siren that officially marks Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I thought about the grandparents I never knew – and all my mother and father's relatives who perished in Auschwitz.
Dr. Yuval Weiss
Sunday evening, the sound of the siren will hit home again, to mark the beginning of Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day for Israeli fallen soldiers and victims of terror. As I anticipate this day, I think of my brother, Amir z"l, more than usual. I was 17 and he was just 20 when he was killed by terrorists on the Lebanese border during his army service.
These two days remind us – individually and collectively – of those we have lost and the price we have paid. Yom Ha'atzmaut, Independence Day, which follows on the heels of Memorial Day celebrates all we have gained.
In this small country of ours, the past and the present come together often and here at Hadassah especially so. My brother, Amir, went to the same high school class with Prof. Iri Liebergall, Head of Orthopedic Surgery, and Dr. Ido Yatziv, who established and headed our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit until he passed away suddenly last year. Whenever I walk through Hadassah-Mt. Scopus or Hadassah-Ein Kerem and see the amazing variety of people who have come to us for care, I can't help but think of all the Holocaust survivors, all the soldiers – and even a number of terrorists – Hadassah has treated over the years. When I look at the faces of our patients, I find it more than symbolic that here our aim is to treat all who come to our gates, all who need to combat disease, all who need Hadassah's healing touch – Jews, Moslems, Christians, Israelis and Palestinians, secular and religious.
In many ways, my story and my family's is similar to that of many other Israelis and that of many others in Hadassah; by the same token, everyone's story is their own, each and every one unique.
I think if I had to characterize the men in my family, I would point out our intense dedication to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) – to assuming responsibility as officers and to serving with distinction. My father joined the Haganah when he arrived in Palestine in 1947. When the State was declared he continued to serve as long as he could. My oldest brother, a pilot, was shot down in the Yom Kippur War and spent eight months in a Syrian prison. He retired many years later as a Lieutenant Colonel. Amir, z"l, was the next to go to the army, and I followed, spending 28 years in the Medical Corps, first as a medic and later as Deputy Surgeon General of the IDF.
When I look at the aging population that we at Hadassah aim to treat with dignity and respect, I can't help but wonder where they came from and if their childhood was as horrific as my parents was. When I look at the children we are helping in our many Pediatric Departments, I remember learning about my father's escape from the Hungarian work camp where he was imprisoned, and how he and his Hashomer Hatzair comrades went about their mission to save children from the Nazis – particularly Jewish children. They were quite successful, so much so that 10 years ago the Hungarian government awarded my father a Medal of Honor for his activities as a partisan fighter.
A few years ago, I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau with a delegation from Israel's Ministry of Defense. For me, that place, that time and that picture are even more meaningful today than they were then – for today, the son of the people the Nazis tried to destroy is the Acting Director General of the Jewish, Zionist Hadassah Medical Organization that treats more than a million people a year and has more than 6,000 staff members – in Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel.
These are emotional days for all Israelis and for Jews around the world. They are emotional days for my family and me. As the memorial observances become the celebration of our 65th Yom Ha'atzmaut, I look forward to celebrating and rejoicing with you as to all we have together achieved and accomplished.
Yom Ha'atzmaut Sameach,