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Finding Tikkun Olam in an Israeli Hospital

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Ruchama Hendel bat Elisheva
Emily and her classmates were in Israel after spending time in Poland. This incoming senior trip takes them from the horrors of the past to the liveliness of the present and hopeful future. Except for Emily. Although her usual spunky self, she had some ailments that needed attention. When the school counselor took her to the ER, no one realized her symptoms meant something for more harrowing.
Seventeen-year-old Emily Hendel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A local Southern California rabbi suggested adding Ruchama (related to rachamim, the Hebrew word for mercy) and the prayers were added by people more likely to praise sunshine, cars, homes and sports teams than the Almighty.
Her parents flew to Israel. One of her sisters was able to fly over, through the generosity of another community member. Emily, who gave so much to the primary age children she volunteered with at our local K-12 Jewish school, brought people of all ages, affiliations and interests together. Hashem had other plans, a need to have Emily to attend to children in Olam haBa maybe. A little over two weeks after being admitted, this spirited, generous teenager was gone. The same local US Congresswoman that helped Emily’s sister get an expedited passport had a flag raised in Washington, DC a few weeks later.
Ruchama Hendel touched so many lives, especially those who were blessed to be touched by this angelic soul at the end. At her funeral the thousands mourning her, who came to comfort her parents and sisters, came to learn the impact she had on those in Israel. Letters were read that had been sent from her Israeli doctors, doctors who were amazed by the warmth and dignity Emily shared until the end. Yes, Emily was a unique individual who brought enough kindness and love to others that it seems she used up her lifeline in 17 years.
As special as Emily was, where else but in Israel do doctors take time to write to family members after a loss? It was not a pediatrician who knew her from birth or an orthopedist who mended broken bones and sprains over the years. These specialists had just met Emily days earlier and, as amazing as she was, this still says something about the medical care in Israel.
Sometimes socialized medicine means being treated like a clinic patient even when you are the CEO of a major company or even a government official. In Israel though, there is that personal touch not always found in socialized programs elsewhere. For all patients kvetch and curse, Israeli doctors do care for those they administer to. Israeli medical staff are well trained professionals who are known to “go the extra mile” for their patients. Whether trained in Israeli, European or North American universities, these medical professionals are well-versed in the latest techniques and practices. Israel may be located in the Third World-like Middle East, but these medical professionals are a major reason why Israeli medical care is top rated.
Bloomberg Most Efficient Healthcare 2015 has Israel #3 (in 2014 was #7), Mexico #15, UK #17, Canada #24 and USA #50 (down from #44 in 2014). Socialized medicine in the United States medical care still costs the government more per person than it does in Israel. Having every citizen covered means Israelis go to neighbourhood doctors or clinics to treat flu symptoms and ear infections so that hospitals can treat the more serious ailments like cancer and broken bones. Like Emily.
Israeli care is better than any other Middle East nation, which may be why leaders of countries that want Israel decimated still rush there for care. Bloomberg rankings place UAE # 9, Saudi Arabia #12, Libya #14, Malaysia #19, Iran #44, Jordan # 48 and with Singapore #2. Why should Israel open their hospitals to those who want to destroy us? Enough that Magen David Adom transports a would-be suicide bomber or knife wielding lunatic to local hospitals.
Does Israel need to care for the daughter of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as he sits in Gaza planning his next move against Israel? Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no problem with his brother, Abu Louai, getting cancer treatment in Israel, even though from Qatar he could just as easily get care elsewhere in the Muslim world. Then again Abbas has no problem with his wife and/or brother-in-law seeking medical care in the country he wants wiped off the map! Every year the IDF Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT/ MaTPaSH) counts tens of thousands from Gaza crossing into Israel for medical treatment.
Tikkun Olam or not, are Israel’s humanitarian efforts worth it? Does the United Nations cease their condemnations against Israel even though the country cares for all? Does Israel get reimbursed from the UN, Hamas or PA for all the monies spent to care for these individuals? Social services like medical care are funded by taxpayers’ dollars. Emily’s family medical insurance will be billed for her care, but who pays for the Gazans? Who pays for not only the patient, but their families, to be put up in hotels while receiving treatment, for meals and other expenditures?
Israel has become a nation to be proud of. Top medical care with staff who treat everyone as individuals, no matter their race or religion. Israel has become leading manufacturer of prescription and nonprescription drugs with companies like Teva known worldwide. Israel has become a world leader in cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s research to development of medical devices. Israel is a small nation but tops in so many areas. Unfortunately so many nations and organizations search for any negative to blow out of proportion.
The tragedy of Emily’s prognosis and passing devastated not only our community but her fantastic care takers in Israel. Thousands mourn for her and this aching emptiness will not cease. However this great loss also gave Jews and non-Jews alike a window into Israeli care and devotion. From our mournful Southern California community, thank you to those at Shaare Zedek Hospital who go above and beyond for all. Thank you Israel for caring for our blessed children.
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