By Rhoda Smolow
One of the things I love about Passover is the opportunity it gives us every year to recount and recommit ourselves to this story of freedom, just as generations of Jews before us have done. It's a powerful reminder that we're part of something bigger — across time and place.
Last Thursday a new humanitarian delegation of eight doctors and nurses from Hadassah's hospitals flew to Poland. Like earlier delegations this year, they'll help refugees on the Ukraine-Poland border, which is where they'll be — on our behalf — when Shabbat and Passover begin this Friday. Among them is Reuven Gelfond, the Hadassah operating room nurse who ran the Israel Defense Forces earthquake rescue efforts in Haiti more than a decade ago.
Dr. Elchanan Juravel, part of our March delegation, remained in Poland to help the new team transition. There are now so many more patients arriving at the Hadassah medical clinic with burnt skin and other injuries from bombing in their towns, before they were able to flee. Even though the number of fleeing refugees remains steady, our delegations are seeing increased medical needs, as newer arrivals have survived more heavy attacks. Their stories are heartbreaking, proving day after day how badly our medical response efforts are needed.
More than 10 million people have likely already fled their homes in Ukraine because of the invasion, according to the United Nations, and some have died trying. Just last Friday, the missile strike on the Kramatorsk train station in eastern Ukraine killed more than 50 people, including several children, among the thousands of Ukrainians attempting to escape the increased violence, seeking freedom.
For so many of us, these refugees bring to mind earlier waves of refugees. For some it's the stories of our own parents and grandparents fleeing the Nazis during World War II. For others, like Hadassah pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Alex Gileles-Hillel, the memories are more recent. "Those of us whose families left the Soviet Union after the international struggle to free us Jews may feel a special connection to what’s happening in Ukraine. We remember the gates of the Soviet Union opening," says Dr. Gileles-Hillel, who is proud to be helping Ukrainian refugees as part of Hadassah's humanitarian mission.
It's been a year since my last Passover message, asking us to hold onto hope. This year, as we face challenges new and old — including COVID-19 — hope is an intrinsic part of the work of healing. At Hadassah, we know that hope must be embodied and emboldened by action. Hope, like healing, is not passive.
I couldn't be more grateful to our Hadassah doctors and nurses for being there — and to everyone in our Hadassah family and beyond who have been a part of this effort. They represent all of us, our commitment to healing our world. Michael Brodsky, the Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine, visited the clinic last week, praising the Hadassah medical team's extraordinary work at the border.
A few years ago, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, z'l, and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt shared their reflections in an essay, "The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover." It's been a little more than a year and a half since we lost Justice Ginsburg, a hero and a Hadassah life member. Yet her words remain powerful and more timely than ever: "The Passover story recalls to all of us — women and men — that with vision and action we can join hands with others of like mind, kindling lights along paths leading out of the terrifying darkness."
Let us raise our cups of wine at our seders in gratitude that this call of freedom can still be heard. Let us continue to do our best to bring kindness, shelter, medical support and hope to all who need it. To paraphrase Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, let us pray that the time be not distant when all the world will be liberated from cruelty, tyranny, oppression and war. As we sing "Dayenu" at the end of the seder, let us continue to believe that hope exists as long as there are people, like everyone in our Hadassah family, who will fight the fight for those who can't!
Chag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover!
Listen to our latest Hadassah On Call podcast: Ukraine Dispatch: Healing Meets Humanity.
Follow our efforts in real time: Ukraine in Crisis: Saving Lives at Risk.