Medicine: Company’s Coming
With guests from Senator Bill Frist to actor Richard Gere to Canadian police chiefs, Hadassah Hospital—and its programs—is one of Jerusalem’s premier tourist attractions.
What connects the Dalai Lama in his red and gold robes, Canadian Inuit in beads and caribou skins and United States law enforcement officers in shiny black shoes? Improbably, the link they share is the Hadassah–Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, which they have all come to see in recent years.
“Some 90,000 people visited the two Hadassah Hospitals in an average year until the intifada,” says Ron Krumer, head of the Hadassah Medical Organization’s external relations division. “And that number didn’t include the usual visitors—relatives and friends of patients and those making collegial visits, both medical and academic.” Although the number fell during the intifada, it is now climbing back toward pre-2000 levels. Which begs a few questions: What brings people to a hospital when they are healthy? And why is Hadassah among Jerusalem’s premier tourist attractions?
The answers are as diverse as Hadassah: The Dalai Lama came twice because of the medical center’s research into traditional Tibetan medicine. The Inuit have come every year for the past eight years to sing, dance and tell stories to sick children. United States sheriffs and, last year, Canadian police chiefs came to study medical responses to unconventional warfare and terror.
“Hadassah is…impressively well planned for efficient medical care in any situation,” said National Sheriffs’ Association President Edmund M. “Ted” Sexton Sr. of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at the end of his visit this past January. “I plan to share my experience with our medical community.”
“Visits like these are coordinated in advance,” explains Krumer. “Each is specifically designed for its participants…. What we call our ‘preparedness route’—the way we handle nonconventional and mass-casualty events [and] which we showed the sheriffs and police chiefs—is now one of the most popular.”
Other visits are more spontaneous. “On a Thursday afternoon this past January,” says Krumer, “when [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon lay comatose at Hadassah–Ein Kerem, a World Zionist Organization group visiting from Argentina called me. Would it be possible, they asked, to meet endovascular neurosurgeon Dr. José Cohen?”
Dr. Cohen, who had been on duty when Sharon was rushed to the hospital following a stroke on January 4, is from Rosario, Argentina. His medical skill, youth and good looks had made him a media star.
“The request to meet him was no surprise,” says Krumer. “But we wanted to give the group a wider view of Hadassah than one physician and one specialty.”
The argentineans visited four days later, together with a group from Chile. Led by a Spanish-speaking guide, they saw the luminous Chagall windows in the Abbell Synagogue, Hadassah’s customized Mother and Child Center and trauma unit, and they ended their visit at the new endovascular neurosurgery unit, which Dr. Cohen directs. During their time at Hadassah, they met eight other Argentina- and Chile-born staffers—including surgeon Ricardo Segal, world-renowned researcher Ruth Gabizon and head of neurosurgery Dr. Felix Umansky.
“By the end of the visit, we not only got to see what we’d asked for but also learned a lot of what Hadassah is about,” said one member of the group as they posed for a group photo in the hospital forecourt.
That kind of comment is music to the ears of Krumer and his guides and coordinators. “The reason Hadassah devotes resources to visitors,” he says, “is to teach people about the medical center and about its connections with the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America and Hadassah International and to have them understand the uniqueness and strength of this connection. We have seen again and again that understanding what Hadassah is about generates support of every kind, from funds to develop the medical center to backing for Israel.”
With some forms of support more far-reaching than others, Hadassah does not simply sit back and wait for people to show up. For the past nine years, the advocacy department, led by Hadassah’s Washington Action Office, has sought out and encouraged visits by elected officials and opinion-makers in the United States.
“We have hosted literally hundreds of governors, senators, members of Congress, mayors, aides, ambassadors, business leaders and state legislators,” says Hadassah consultant Sarabeth Lukin, who handles the Israel end of a program known as Influentials to Israel. “The aim is twofold. One is to show…Hadassah’s impact in the Middle East and thus help forge bonds with the State of Israel. The second is to give HWZOA an opportunity to build relationships with the people who impact American public opinion and who can help advance causes supported by Hadassah, such as U.S.-Israel relations, the peace process, foreign aid and grants.”
While high-level visitors have long had the medical center on their Jerusalem itinerary, the first whom Hadassah actively sought was then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
“When HWZOA’s Washington office heard Ms. Albright was coming to Israel, September 1997, they went to the State Department and invited her to visit Hadassah,” says Lukin.
The visit was highly successful. Albright talked to victims of terror hospitalized at Hadassah–Mount Scopus and thanked Hadassah for the opportunity to meet with the patients who had directly experienced violence.
In the years since, Influentials has grown into an efficient outreach program hosting, among others, Hillary Rodham Clinton (once as First Lady and once as New York senator) and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. He made one of the largest-ever donations to the medical center as a birthday gift to his mother, Charlotte, enabling the much-needed extension of the Mother and Child Center.
As a nationwide organization, HWZOA fields an Influentials taskforce in almost every state. In May 2005, its Tennessee team helped bring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, senator from Tennessee, to Hadassah–Ein Kerem.
“We heard on April 18 that Senator Frist was to make an official three-day visit to Israel to examine the progress of the peace process, and we immediately set the lobbying apparatus in motion,” Lukin recalls. “Hadassah’s Tennessee task force, Tennessee members and Washington office set to work, while I got in touch with the U.S. Embassy in Israel and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.”
On April 29, the medical center was informed they would be hosting the senator for one hour, in two days time. Frist, himself a surgeon and organ-transplantation specialist, “feels that Hadassah is a priority,” they were told. “Its hard work in America does not go unnoticed.”
With Frist’s interests—surgery, trauma, organ transplantation, bioterrorism, emergency preparedness and stem cell research—in mind, Hadassah’s top physicians, researchers and administrators showed one of America’s most powerful men its new Emergency Medicine Center, Mother and Child Center, Gene Therapy Institute, even the Chagall windows.
“Hadassah is tremendous,” he said after his tour. “It’s an outstanding facility with leaders in the maternal- and fetal-health arena; a facility readily adaptable to predictable and nonpredictable events…. [And its] stem cell research is very promising.”
“While human embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage,” the senator said in a dramatic speech on the floor of the Senate three months later, “the limitations put in place [in the United States] in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases,” he announced. “Therefore, I believe the president’s policy should be modified.”
If senate majority leader frist is one of the more powerful people to have visited Hadassah, he can’t claim to be the best known. A strong contender for that is Hollywood star Richard Gere, who came in June 2004 on what was meant to be a private visit. Although the secret was kept until the last moment, by the time Gere reached Hadassah, patients had left their beds, medical and nonmedical staff had taken their breaks, the media had assembled in full force and there was a mob of fans.
In Jerusalem for the Israel Film Festival, Gere dropped by at his own request to see Hadassah’s Medicine in the Service of Peace outreach initiative. He visited Palestinian infants brought to the medical center for heart surgery during the previous six months, as well as Israeli teenager Michal Yacobson, who had boarded the same Jerusalem bus as a suicide bomber several months earlier. In hesitant English, she told the actor her story, pointing to her scarred neck. “They dug someone’s wristwatch out of here,” she said.
“I honestly can’t remember a visitor as genuinely interested in what he saw and whom he met as Richard Gere,” says Osnat Moskowitz, head of donors, visitors and events at the Hadassah Medical Organization. “He wanted to know everything about Hadassah, its members and its funding, about our patients and how we treat them, about our physicians and how treating so many victims of violence affects them….”
“The first step on the road to peace is kindness from every one of us to every other,” Gere said. “That first step is one already taken by Hadassah.”
Another Hollywood guest was Israel-born (and Hadassah-born) actor Natalie Portman, who visited children in pediatric oncology day care and the surgical wards in February 2005. Two months later she returned, this time to visit her 19-year-old cousin, Daniella Raveh, who had been injured in a terrorist attack.
Whatever the status or fame of the visitor, there are certain constants to every visit. One is the national flags that are flown outside the medical center for each group, alongside the Israeli and American flags.
“We have a large box with flags from almost every country,” says Hadassah guide Anna Maria Agmon.
Agmon has been a guide for ten years, one of only three to survive a drastic staff cutback during the intifada years. “Then, there were days when we had very little to do,” she says. “Now, we’re rushed off our feet again, with Ron, Osnat and Becky [Peretz] of management often having to help.”
Although most visitors want to see the same medical center units, it’s a job that never grows dull, according to Agmon.
“Yes, we take the same routes over and over, but every visit is completely different because of the people,” she says. “You show the Emergency Medicine Center or the Chagall windows to Hadassah life members and Hadassah Renaissance Missions or to Native Americans, United States senators or a German rock band, to diplomatic spouses or world waste-management experts, Young Judaeans or Israeli high school kids. Their reactions and questions aren’t the same.
“But very few—I’d even say none at all—leave the medical center in a negative frame of mind. Most all of them go away with a better and kinder understanding of Hadassah and of Israel.” —Wendy Elliman