President’s Column: Inspiration as Normal
More than 100 new nations emerged after World War II, but none has commanded as much attention as Israel. It has redeemed the Jewish people by taking in millions of immigrants and triumphed against overwhelming odds. It has built gleaming cities and made the desert bloom.
Behind the inspiration, Israel is a country of loud cafés and traffic, of families chatting at dinner tables and sports fans cheering or cursing, depending on the fortunes of their favorite team. It is a land of long lines—at theaters and restaurants—and short fuses in politics.
Isaiah called Israel a light unto the nations. After 2,000 years of exile, David Ben-Gurion wanted a “normal” country, where Jewish police would arrest Jewish thieves. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Israel as it celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence this month is that it has fulfilled both visions.
The drama of war and peace, the breakthroughs in science, agriculture, medicine and technology, generate headlines. If nations were sized according to the volume of news they generate, Israel would be a superpower.
Even in fulfilling the dream of normalcy, Israel attracts attention. This year, an Israeli film received an Oscar nomination and one of the big television successes is HBO’s In Treatment, adapted from an Israeli series. The country’s artists exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and its tennis players compete in the major tournaments. From literature to fashion to architecture, the Jewish state has a prominent place among the nations.
Despite the challenges it still faces, Israel has much to celebrate. And Hadassah has reason to celebrate, too. We have played a unique role in the nation’s growth. Our hospitals, schools and Youth Aliyah programs formed the prestate medical and social welfare infrastructure. After 1948, our institutions became pacesetters in medicine and education.
We have had a more subtle influence as well. It hardly escaped notice that the organization that made Israel a world leader in medical treatment and research was run by women. Today, Israel’s chief justice, foreign minister and Knesset speaker are all women. We can’t claim all the credit, but we’ve been making a big point.
Our reputation is still growing. A few weeks ago doctors at Hadassah Hospital became the first in the world to break the chain of the BRCA2 mutation, which is linked to breast cancer. As a result, a Jerusalem woman is expecting twins who will not inherit her defective gene.
People seeking to emulate Israel’s success often come to us. The city of St. Petersburg, Russia, is consulting with the Hadassah Medical Organization on the building of a pediatric oncology hospital. Japan’s first facility for the terminally ill is modeled after our hospice on Mount Scopus. Institutions from America to Africa to Australia have come to Hadassah in their search for excellence.
We often underestimate Israel’s ability to inspire others. Recently I went with a mission from the Conference of Presidents to the Republic of Georgia, independent since the breakup of the Soviet Union. We met with government leaders who identify profoundly with Israel. Like the Jewish state, Georgia is small and surrounded by hostile neighbors. President Mikheil Saakashvili showed us books about Israel from his library and boasted of his collection of Israeli CDs, including a recording of “Hatikva.”
Israel’s biggest challenge is to achieve peace. Here, too, Hadassah’s story is a microcosm of the nation’s. Our hospitals have a worldwide reputation as oases of coexistence, where all patients—Jews, Muslims and Christians—receive the same treatment. We set out to give Israel a good hospital, something any normal country should have. At a certain point, our work became inspirational. Isaiah and Ben-Gurion would both be pleased.
May Yom Ha’atzma’ut be a joy for all the Jewish people. And may this be the year that brings peace to Israel.
To view Nancy Falchuk’s monthly podcast, go towww.hadassah.org/podcast .