About Me

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hadassah, Mt. Scopus Hospital

I'm now mostly recovered from hernia surgery, which was performed recently at Hadassah (Mt. Scopus) Hospital in Jerusalem. My injury occurred while playing softball - was rounding first base, felt something pull or tear, and knew right away that it was more than just a minor injury.

The care I received, from my surgeon to the nursing staff, was superb - and, indeed, prior to my surgery, the consensus among my family and friends was that, while they would have, of course, preferred for me to be closer to home so they could look after me while recovering from the operation, umm...how can I put it...they seem to suggest that...let's see...I'll put it like this...Jews aren't exactly strangers to the field of medicine and, well, they assumed that surgeons at one of the leading hospitals the Jewish state could, more than likely, handle my little hernia.

A brief history of the hospital: Hadassah was the first teaching hospital and medical center in Palestine, opened its doors in 1939, and quickly developed a reputation for providing medical services to all the communities in the region, providing modern medical care previously unavailable to the poorer classes amongst the Arabs.

In March 1947, as tension, and violence, in the region was mounting at the impending British withdrawal, the leader of the Arab Forces in Jerusalem, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, threatened to blow up the hospital and, though that didn't occur, attacks were carried out on traffic to and from the hospital - leading up to April 13, 1948 (about a month before Israel declared Independence), when an armored convoy of doctors, nurses, medical students, and other staff on its way to the hospital was ambushed, and 78 people were killed in what became known as the Hadassah medical convoy massacre.

Following Israel's War of Independence, under the 1949 armistice agreement with Jordan, Mount Scopus was declared a demilitarized zone and operation of the hospital became impossible. The staff moved to temporary quarters in Jerusalem and eventually, a new campus was built in Ein Kerem. After the unification of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, Hadassah Mount Scopus underwent extensive renovations, reopening in 1975.

With over 300 beds and 30 departments and clinics, the hospital serves all populations in Jerusalem without distinction - treating thousands of Arab patients from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. (Indeed, while resting in my room, following surgery, I heard, at various times, nurses speaking to patients in Arabic, Hebrew, English, and Russian.) In conjunction with Hebrew Univ. Medical School, they have trained hundreds of medical personnel from Egypt, Jordan, sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world.

Hadassah now has a reputation as one of finest medical institutions in the Middle East and the world, pioneering in computer aided diagnosis, cardiac surgery, as well as embryonic stem-cell research (apparently, stem-cell research isn't at all controversial here, as it is in the U.S.). Hadassah has also become a pioneer in Terror Medicine and Mass Casualty Management, and has treated 40% of all terrorism-related victims in Israel since 2000. (Terror medicine is related to emergency and disaster medicine but focuses on the myriad of medical issues uniquely related to terrorist attacks.)

One final note, my surgeon, Professor Oded Zamir, happens to be on facebook, and apparently has a sense of humor, as would be indicated by his profile photo, below:

Friday, September 25, 2009

On Facebook, Jewish Social Activism, and Israel Advocacy

Facebook is an interesting window into what people in your extended community think about - what occupies their time, what moves them culturally and socially. A few status updates, or the posting of a link or video, can tell you who's a Yankees fan and who is partial to the Red Sox; who grooves to Madonna and who prefers Brahms; who likes hanging out at the trendy club downtown and who feels more at ease at the neighborhood dive bar; whose sister just had a baby, and who recently returned from vacation.

Someone as political as me, however, is constantly looking for signs of friends' political leanings. Do they identify with a political party/ideology/movement on their Info page? Do they subscribe to fan pages for politicians of certain political persuasions? Did their posts reflect support for Obama or McCain during the recent election? Do they show their support or disapproval Obama's healthcare reform proposals? Do they post patriotic messages on July Fourth? Are reproductive rights important to them, or environmentalism? And, who inspires them to anger - evangelical conservatives or secular liberals?

While I post many non-political updates, am fond of commenting on pop cultural or sports, sometimes post the latest pic of my little nephew, and will post the simply humorous, the pithy one-liners, and the ''just because'' updates like most people, my greatest political passion involves Israel and, as such, Facebook for me is an incredible opportunity to use the new social networking media as an extension of my Zionist activism. From linking to my latest blog posts, to posting links to polemics I find persuasive, or more creative/personal essays I find moving or evocative, facebook is a great way to spread the ''word'' about Israel and to rebut the dangerous rhetoric of Israel's critics.

Recently, I posted a link to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's latest speech in which he once again called for the elimination of Israel and denied the Holocaust. I later posted a link to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech at the UN, where he eloquently criticized those in attendance at Ahmadinejad's speech who actually applauded at its conclusion. I also, posted a link to a translation of a Hamas children's show in which the main character, a bear named Nassur, informs the children that it is their duty to slaughter all of the Jews.

Among many of my progressive Jewish friends on Facebook, however, religious and non-religious, even those whose support for Israel has been demonstrated by frequent visits to the Jewish state, there is (with some notable exceptions) not much political content about Israel on their updates, nor are there comments (or the facebook ''thumbs-up) to Israel-related posts of me and other Zionist activists within their network. And, to the degree that these at least marginally socially aware friends do post political content, the issues which they seem most comfortable highlighting their support for tends to be healthcare, environmentalism, poverty, homelessness - lending their support for ''social justice'' related concerns, consistent with how they view a commitment to ''Tikkun Olam'' (repairing the world).

While many of these causes are indeed admirable, there is a ferocity in their support for these causes which seems, anyway, strangely absent in their support for Israel. For instance, the anger among my progressive friends with Republican opposition to President Obama's healthcare proposals was palpable in a supportive post which people were being asked to use as their status update, which read:
''No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status update for the rest of your day''
While I'm not certain if this status update exactly went viral, many of my friends responded in kind to this request, and posted this sentiment, which was then seen by their network of friends, etc. While my thoughts on the health care proposals being debated by Congress are a bit complicated, I do admire the passion many have for this topic, and - while I wish there was a bit more tolerance for those of us who have at least some reservations about increased government involvement in the health care sector - I am, more broadly, heartened whenever I see people engaged in a cause greater than their own self-interest. However, it seems that the only ones who ever post on Israel are (again, with a couple notable exceptions) those on the political right - broadly defined. While using my admittedly limited social network on Facebook to assess a community's passion for a given cause is, I readily acknowledge, not the most rigorous method for determining such a complex phenomena, there are polls and more empirically-driven data which seem to indicate at least prima facie evidence in favor of my conclusions.

While the politics of progressive support for Israel, and their views of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, more broadly, is a very complicated topic - and, I have at least begun to address the issue in two essays I wrote which were published by the Jewish Exponent right before I made Aliyah, here and here - the seeming ambivalence many on the Left feel when confronted with the topic of Israel concerns me greatly, and one which may lead to some very uncomfortable conclusions about the nature of modern progressive thought and the future of Jewish support for the democratic Jewish state.

A Jewish writer, Jay Michaelson, recently wrote an essay which appeared in The Forward expressing his diminishing ''love'' for Israel, and his increasing reluctance to mount a defense against her critics. And, while this, in itself, is, sadly, not a totally unique sentiment for a progressive Jew to express, at least one of the reasons he provides does seem unusual, as he openly laments that defending Israel within his progressive social circles (not to mention on college campuses, European liberal political circles) is an extremely risky endeavor. He says,
''In my social circles, supporting Israel is like supporting segregation, apartheid...the war in Iraq, or George Bush ...It’s gotten so bad, I don’t mention Israel in certain conversations anymore, and no longer defend it when it’s lumped in with South Africa and China by my friends.''
Yet, he goes on to admit that he knows it is,
''...a sign of weakness of will on my part...this is wrong of me, I know.''
He, remarkably, concludes by acknowledging:
''I still support the State of Israel, its right to exist and the rest. Most important, it is still, in part, my home.... But as an outsider, I no longer want to feel entangled by their decisions and implicated in their consequences.B’seder: It’s your choice to make… but count me out''.
Michaelson's acknowledgment that, though he still supports Israel and believes the arguments against it are often weak and quite facile, he is simply unwilling to burden the social consequences of that support is remarkable in its honesty, but depressing in its lack of resolve - and expresses a politics which writer Anthony Julius aptly referred to, in his powerful essay on Jewish anti-Zionism, in the American Jewish Committee website, Z-Word, as the ''morality of vanity''. Anthony states:
''The moralizer makes judgments on others and profits by so doing. He puts himself on the right side of the political fence.''
While I wish to be clear that I'm not accusing all, or even most, progressive Jews who don't feel comfortable expressing public support for Israel of such vanity - and I am fully aware that there are Jews who don't support Israel for what I feel are misguided, but principled reasons, I am asking to what degree the fact that identifying too closely with Israel has become unfashionable (indeed, a social liability) plays a part in many Jews' unwillingness to openly show their solidarity for the state - a nation which has historically served as the only true political refuge for Jews all over the world, as well as the religious and spiritual home for Jewish culture, the Hebrew language, and Jewish religious life, as well as a politically liberal state, one which is fully consistent with our progressive ideals.

Let me further suggest that progressive politics, the way the word is typically understood in most Jewish circles, has largely come to mean the identification with the oppressed, those fighting for freedom against tremendous odds...as well as the urge to provide ''comfort to the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.'' And, as such, it should be remembered that Israel is still - despite its incredible economic and social achievements over the last 61 years - in many ways also a beleaguered state, the David fighting Goliath, a state surrounded by enemies who openly and repeatedly call for her physical destruction, and one who is also forced to confront a furious intellectual assault - those who use the media and international bodies to weaken Israel morally and politically. There is nothing even remotely right-wing (or ''reactionary'') - in what these terms have come to broadly denote in our current political context - about Zionism.

So, allow me to conclude by saying that if being a progressive in good standing requires you to abstain from expressing your solidarity with the state of the Jewish people then you may wish to reconsider your political alliances, and start to ask the question, ''where have my progressive friends gone wrong?''

With 192 nations in the world, all representing various ethnic, religious, social or tribal affinities, Israel - the only homeland representing the religious, political, and cultural aspirations of the Jewish people - should never have its right to exist as a state for the Jewish people questioned, nor should her passionate supporters be excluded from the progressive community. Post this as your status update for the rest of your day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Despite my pleas of innocence, they would not reconsider my sentence. It was scheduled to be carried out the following day and, as the finality of it all weighed upon me, as I began pondering the dread of what was to be, I somehow came across an opening in the fence, and was able to escape with others to a city in some amorphous land where I sensed that I was safe for the time, but still must continue to run...was still hounded by the fear of the being captured and sent back...to that place.

This Holocaust dream was one of only a few I've had a few in my life, and it was the first one I've had in Israel. My great-grandparents all left Russia and immigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century, and so our family was left...in tact. And, yet...

One of the more unusual experiences I've ever had was at an old train station in Germany some years back. I was backpacking across Europe with a close friend, and was truly having an incredible time, we were both fully experiencing the joy of being on our first European journey together, were living in the moment. Yet, while waiting for our train to depart...my mood began to gradually change...a subtle fear had taken hold. Perhaps something about the weathered steel, the harshness of that foreign, yet - in some ways - familiar, toungue announcing each arrival and departure. I knew rationally that I was safe, that nothing was going to happen, and yet I - not typically one for drama - was genuinely nervous, possessed a palpable fear I was unable to control. I wanted more than anything just to leave, to get out of...that place. The train couldn't have arrived sooner.

My friend, Sarah, had lost family members in the Holocaust, and the others who escaped had only barely done so, managing somewhow to flea the fire that would consume millions. But she grew up in a house, a family, that was consumed by the fear, the insecurity, the memory of what could have been, and, even after all of these years, the knowledge of what could happen still.

Sarah once dremt of a Rabbi she had known all of her life. He ran up to her in a fit of panic, and warned her, with the look of fearful urgency, a tragic recognition on his old, weathered, face, that it wasn't safe anymore, that she must be warned, that we must all be warned, that she must leave, that we must all leave at once, that we were once again in danger and must flea!

Her dream was something of a jolt - I was shaken by the unfamiliar. I had already known so much , I thought...had read so much, has seen so much - a camp, a cattle car, as well as those shoes, all of those shoes. I had even heard from survivors. And yet, hearing this from Sarah, younger than me, and yet haunted - the vividness of her vision reminding me of a fear that may exist to some degree in most of us...a fear somewhere beneath the surface that, though we were now so safe, we are still so small in numbers, still vulnerable, and the worst could conceivably, again, happen. We could once more be in danger, the political tides could turn. And, would we realize in time? Would we get out in time? Of course I don't really believe it will ever happen, and yet...I guess that somewhere inside of me, inside most of us...

I felt a sadness for my friend...for the feeling of safety she, even as a child, never knew. And, I wanted to tell her that everything would be okay....that she would be safe, that it was all just a dream. But, really, how could I? How could anyone say such a thing to her?

I've recently become friendly with an older nieghbor who lives upstairs from me - in my building on our quiet tree-lined street in the Rehavia section of Jerusalem. I occasionally go up to visit Anna, who always places a bowl of fruit in front of me before helping me with my Hebrew. Anna was a hidden child. Her family (like many Jewish families in Europe in the 30s), placed her with a gentile family to keep her safe until the end of the war.

Only her mother made it out alive. Her father, and 60 other members of her extended family, perished.

I imagine what her mother may have told Anna - the little girl - as she was left with that strange family. Did she promise her daughter that they would all one day be reunited? Did she tell her that her father and the rest of her family would all be okay? Did she assure her that life would once again be for her as it once was, and as it should always be for Jewish children everywhere? Did she tell her she would feel safe again? Did she tell her everything would be okay?

Did she assure her that the nightmares would be over forever?