I often joke with my wife that I was in Hadassah long before she became active 13 years ago. Let me tell you my story:
In 1975, as a fourth-year medical student at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, I was chosen to be one of the six students in the yearly exchange program with Hadassah Hospital.
A generous grant paid for all our expenses and we lived in the student dormitory at the medical school at Ein Kerem and participated in the daily rounds with the Israeli medical students.
Luckily for me, since my Hebrew was very basic, I chose to spend the three months in the Department of Pediatrics since I was on my way to becoming a pediatrician after graduation. The HMO pediatrics chief at that time was Dr. Alex Russell, a British-trained expert in genetic disorders. (Russell-Silver Syndrome is a dwarfism syndrome named after him.)
All of our rounds were conducted in English because Dr. Russells Hebrew was not very good. The medical students, interns and residents were required to write their notes in English even though Hebrew was the official language of the medical school.
I have many wonderful memories from my stay in Israel in 1975. Once a week, we would drive with Dr. Russell from Jerusalem to Ramallah in the occupied territories. There was a small hospital with very basic facilities in that town and Dr. Russell would do consultations in general pediatrics and in his specialty, genetics.
Because of the inter-marriage within the Palestinian and Bedouin populations, there was never a shortage of interesting patients with rare disorders. I saw my first and only patient with tetanus and this was in a newborn whose umbilical cord had been sealed with camel dung by his Bedouin parents.
There was a friendly arrangement with Hadassah Hospital at that time so that if complex medical care was unavailable in Ramallah, the patient would be transported to Jerusalem for their hospital care. At the end of each day in Ramallah, we would go to a local tea room where we would be served strong Turkish coffee and some fabulously rich ice cream.
I discovered at that time that Hadassah Hospitals policy was totally non-discriminatory. The twin-bedded hospital rooms often had a Palestinian family side-by-side with an Orthodox family. Despite their language and cultural differences, communication somehow occurred between the sick children, and even their parents found ways to get along well. This was of course prior to the Intifada.
I have been back to Israel and Hadassah Hospital many times over the years. On one trip ten years ago with my local Jewish Federation, I went to our communitys sister city of Tzfat where our translator happened to be the daughter of Dr. Alex Russell who had just passed away.
On another trip sponsored by our local Catholic hospital, I had the opportunity to visit Israel from a Christian perspective. On yet another trip to the northern part of Israel with a group of doctors, I met several Druze physicians and have continued to have a relationship with some of their relatives who live in Florida.
My wife, Meryl Strutin, is active in both her local Hadassah Chevra Chapter in Boynton Beach and on the Florida Atlantic Region level. She is chair of the Leadership Team for the Region. In 2010, we took our son, Ari, who was 17 at the time, for his first trip to Israel. We took him to some of our favorite places throughout the country including to Jerusalem where we visited Hadassah Hospital and saw the Tower under construction. We toured the existing emergency facilities built underground and our son was amazed by the high level of security required.
Meryl and I wanted to show our son that Israel is not only a Jewish homeland. We took him to Isfiyah, a Druze village near Haifa, where we spent the day with Druze friends we have kept in touch with over the years and whose relatives are my patients. We also took him to the St. Georges Monastery outside of Jericho. While we were at the Kibbutz Ein Gedi at the Dead Sea, he climbed the mountain by himself. Until he returned hours later somewhat dehydrated because of the 105 degree heat, we were very worried about his possibly being lost. One of our most unexpected memories was when Ari took off by himself in Jerusalem. We found him later at the Western Wall wearing Tfillin.
We continue to be supporters of Hadassah Hospital and encourage others to see it firsthand so that they can experience the amazing accomplishments which have happened because of the passion of so many dedicated women over the last 100 years.