More than 150 American Israeli health care providers gathered at the Beverly Hills home of Dr. Said and Jila Rahban on Dec. 3 to hear talks by distinguished Israeli physicians. Speakers included Dr. Tzaki Siev-Ner, director of the orthopedic rehabilitation department at Sheba Medical Center, and Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, a family health care practitioner based in Miami and author of “A German Life: Against All Odds, Change is Possible,” a memoir of the author’s journey to Judaism as the son of a decorated Nazi soldier. The event was organized by the American Israeli Medical Association (AIMA), a professional network for American health care providers seeking to maintain ties with Israel.
Dr. Siev-Ner, as chairman of the Organization of State Employed Physicians in Israel and vice president of Israel Medical Association-World Federation (IMA-WF), shed light on the relationship between Israel’s medical profession and the Palestinian population, including the extent of medical and humanitarian aid Israel has provided to Palestinians in recent years. He sought to debunk charges of Israeli humanitarian abuse lodged by critics of Israel and, more recently, the Goldstone report.
“During Operation Cast Lead, Israel continued to ensure the Gaza strip received humanitarian necessities,” he said, referring to Israel’s incursion into Gaza a year ago.
In response to people who may be critical of the Israel Medical Association’s commitment to treat Palestinians even during times of armed conflict, he said, “The first thing is the Jewish moral. We shall take care and give medical care and help to each and everyone who needs it.”
The tone turned from professional and factual to deeply emotional and personal as Wollschlaeger read an abridged version of his personal saga of coming to terms with his father’s past as a Nazi officer.
“It is difficult for me, still today, to stand with a group of friends, fellow Israelis and Jews, and tell a story which didn’t come off easy when my son asked for the first time the question I had to answer honestly,” he said. His son’s inquiry came 32 years after Wollschlaeger pressed his own father about World War II, when Jewish athletes were murdered at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich.
That was when Wollschlaeger, then 14, realized the magnitude of the atrocities committed against Jews. On a quest to learn more about the people the Nazi regime had doomed, he visited Israel at 19, where he met a Holocaust survivor for the first time.
“The experience of unconditional acceptance led me from shame [about] being a German to a curiosity to finding out more about Jews,” he said.
Upon converting to Judaism in Germany in 1986, Wollschlaeger made aliyah (immigration to Israel) at 28 and served in the IDF as a medical officer.
For AIMA General Director Dr. Ben Drillings, the evening was particularly poignant. His father and grandfather fled their Polish town as Wollschlaeger’s father led the tanks invading Poland.
“It’s amazing how we are standing here, in Beverly Hills, a son of Holocaust survivors and the son of a Nazi officer who profoundly affected my family’s life 70 years ago. We’re both Jewish; we both served in the Israeli army, and we both live and practice in the United States. It’s closing a circle.”