President’s Column: A Promise Kept
I arrived in Israel with my right arm in a sling, having fallen on the train from Baltimore to New York. If you’ve seen the photos, you know that I looked like a walking advertisement for an emergency room. To tell you the truth it hurt, but for the entire mission I was so distracted by joy that I hardly noticed. Some 700 Hadassah members and associates had come to Jerusalem, traveling around Israel in 22 buses. Posters welcoming the mission were visible on flagpoles and all the Israeli media carried the story.
More important than the publicity was the satisfaction, shared by everyone there, that Hadassah had made a promise and kept it. Four years ago at our convention in Israel we pledged to build a facility that would do whatever was humanly possible to minimize the damage of terrorism. I stood like a proud godmother kvelling as each mission member walked through the CEM. Nearly everyone—including physicians from the United States—had eyebrows raised to their hairlines with astonishment. Dr. Avi Rivkind, head of surgery and trauma, showed statistics revealing that his unit, compared to 51 level-one trauma centers in America, had less than half the mortality of the other units. The CEM will help him do even better.
At the dedication, President Moshe Katsav stated that Israel could never have accomplished it all without the help and ongoing support of Hadassah. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon so enjoyed the company of the mission participants that, in the midst of his government’s budget crisis, he engaged in a long discussion with us.
After the ceremony, we drove three hours south through camel country. Each bus paused at the entrance to the usually restricted Ramon Air Force base to pick up fighter pilots and personnel. These brave young men and women gave us an insider’s tour of their F-16’s and Apache helicopters. Air Force pilots in Israel must commit to a minimum of seven years of military service. One 25-year-old Apache pilot talked about his longing to return to his farm. “I sometimes think seven years is a long time,” he said, “but last year I went to Poland and I visited the concentration camps dressed in my pilot uniform. I realized that seven years is nothing to have the honor of defending the Jewish people.”
Base commander Avishai Levy invited us for dinner in an aircraft hangar converted to a dining hall, and with supersonic speed and precision we had a delicious dinner on our plates. Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon said that the Israel Defense Forces didn’t serve Israel alone, but was committed to the defense of the Jewish people around the world. Frankly, I felt embarrassed when he thanked us for our support and for the care we give wounded soldiers. It is we who owe the IDF thanks. And then, just picture us singing “Gesher Tzar Me’od”—the whole world is a narrow bridge/the most important thing is not to be afraid—accompanied by the Air Force entertainment troupe.
The CEM was named for donors and mission chairs Judy and Sidney Swartz of Massachusetts and Florida. They model for us the mitzva of giving, both of their energies and their resources. At the dedication ceremony, Hadassah Hospital-born actress Natalie Portman, an activist for Israel at Harvard and a visitor to our hospital during the intifada, surprised Dr. Rivkind by presenting him with Hadassah’s first Mordechai Award, named for the hero of the Purim Megilla. We surprised Portman, too, with our most precious gift: a Hadassah life membership. The gala production was a night of laughter and tears that we will forever remember. When my predecessor, Bonnie Lipton, recited the Sheheheyanu prayer at the affixing of the CEM’s mezuza, each of us felt supremely thankful, as the blessing says, that we had arrived at such a time and season.
We rejoice both in change and in continuity, going forward to a new era without forgetting the achievements of those who have brought us to this day. We can never rest on our laurels. Kadima—the future beckons.