President’s Column: Always on Call
January 5. While the networks were flashing headlines and Internet alerts were beeping about the deteriorating health of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, my home phone was ringing, too. The prime minister was being rushed to Hadassah’s Ein Kerem hospital. I want to share with you the overwhelming sense of both privilege and pain that those phone calls brought. On one hand, I didn’t have to wait for the international news reports to get an update on Sharon’s condition. On the other hand, I knew more than was being reported and it wasn’t good news.
My friends, this is the epitome of what being a member of Hadassah means—being an insider in the most important institutions in our beloved Jewish state, through thick and thin.
Both times he arrived at the Hadassah Medical Center, the prime minister was brought into the Judy and Sidney Swartz Center for Emergency Medicine, which we dedicated just last March. Those of you who came on the CEM Mission or on subsequent missions know that inside our trauma center is a VIP room, designed for patients who need top security or maximum privacy. While a high-profile patient is isolated, the staff can continue to treat other patients. Outside, the prime minister’s security detail—undercover agents and others carrying M-16’s—fanned out on the campus. Inside the VIP room, Sharon was surrounded by our outstanding staff, and we were praying they would be able to accomplish one of Hadassah’s famous miracles. Israeli and international media kept their cameras focused on our familiar Ben-Gurion Square for reports from Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of the Hadassah Medical Organization. Many of you have met him, and I’m sure that, like me, you could feel the concern and sadness in between the lines of the restrained briefings he provided through the night to the media.
While all of this was going on, inside the hospital patients continued to receive the care they needed. In the waiting rooms of the CEM, a Hasidic rabbi with a long white beard was watching television, as were a Russian immigrant, who had brought a sick friend, and two Arab patients from a village near Jerusalem. The staff, of course, was its usual mix of Jewish and Arab doctors, nurses, technicians, clerks and custodians. The pediatric emergency room was full of sick kids, many with winter respiratory infections. Among them was Itai, the 8-month-old son of the security guard who hovers over me when I’m in Israel. Itai was running a high fever. Despite the strain, the staff gave him and all the other patients their full attention.
Those of you who attended our national convention in Washington last summer met Dr. José Cohen, the neurosurgeon who was working on the prime minister with Dr. Felix Umansky, the department head. They both come from Argentina, not Buenos Aires, but the smaller city of Rosario. As we go to press, we don’t know the prime minister’s prognosis, but we knew that if anyone in the world could save him, they could. When Danny Naveh, the minister of health, went on the radio, he, too, said that Sharon was receiving the best care available in the State of Israel. Hadassah would do all that can possibly be done.
I remember a time during the intifada when the prime minister came to our hospital to visit a baby boy who had been shot in the head. For all his years of battle, he wept at the sight of a critically injured child. Sadly, we cannot rid the world of all its sickness and heartache, but our money, effort, vision and energy have enabled the extraordinary staff—sabras and immigrants from all over the world—to come together in a unique center of healing and humanity. Never should we have to live with the feeling that we weren’t there for the people of Israel.
Our challenge now is to take those feelings and translate the responsibility into membership and fundraising. Empowered, we must increase our pledges, become more active and sign up for Renaissance Missions to Israel to see our work firsthand. We have always been and will always be one with the people of Israel.