September 22, 2018

Holy Days in the Hospital

Last December, I was a “guest” at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a week that felt like an eternity. Every day I prayed that I would be well enough to go home and every day brought new problems. It was impossible to keep the dark thoughts at bay.

One of the most important things that kept my spirits buoyed was a visit from Senior Rabbi and Director of the Spiritual Care Department Jason Weiner, along with one of the other Jewish chaplains. They came with little prayer cards, get well wishes, and they helped allay my fears.

It was an absolute blessing at a time when I was feeling incredibly vulnerable. So how much more vulnerable must someone feel to be in the hospital during the High Holy Days — a time when we are supposed to confront our mortality? I reached out to Rabbi Weiner to ask.

“It’s a very difficult time for people, it’s a lonely time,” Weiner said. “It’s a time when they want to be with their families or want to be in the synagogue.”

At this time of year in particular, Weiner said there are so many conflicting emotions for patients, “especially on Yom Kippur, when there’s so much talk about the Book of Life and the Book of Death. Often an existential crisis comes up and patients wonder if it’s a bad omen if they’re starting their year in the hospital.”

“Often an existential crisis comes up and patients wonder if it’s a bad omen if they’re starting their year in the hospital.”
— Rabbi Jason Weiner

 

Weiner said his job is to listen to patients “and let them articulate their fears and provide support and compassion.”

Patients sometimes ask him, “Does this mean I’m likely to die this year because I’m in the hospital over the High Holy Days?”

Weiner said, “I tell them ‘There’s no Torah source that says that.’ I’m more likely to say, ‘Why is that on your mind right now?’ and then explore it with them and help them through it.”

Weiner and his staff do a lot to help make the holidays special for patients. Sometimes they reserve rooms and have entire families come in for Rosh Hashanah dinners. The hospital’s kitchen prepares a special kosher meal and hands out apples and honey and sweet cake. There are pre-recorded High Holy Days services that patients can watch on the television from their beds, and the chaplains will blow the shofar in every room where patients request it.

“We try to give the patients extra TLC and talk about the holidays,” Weiner said.

For those who are well enough to leave their rooms, they can attend services. While the hospital has on average 180-200 Jewish patients over the holidays, services have to be moved from the chapel to the Harvey Morse Auditorium because close to 600 people attend.

“The services are geared for the patients,” Weiner said. “They sit in the front row and we have their nurses with them. But we also have a lot of [Jewish] staff who are working attend, as well as past patients and even people who live in the neighborhood.”

Weiner leads the services himself with Cantor Jordan Gorfinkel, and the hospital has its own machzor in Hebrew, Hebrew transliteration, English and English commentary. The services are truncated. “We call it a learning service,” Weiner said. “There are full Torah readings and a full shofar blowing, but for the prayers, we skip around a bit.” On Yom Kippur afternoon, however, there are full services.

“We try to [hold services] in a way that Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated will all feel comfortable,” Weiner said.

The full Neilah service at the end of Yom Kippur is something Weiner cherishes. “There are so many tears because people are literally praying for their lives.” He recalled a particularly moving moment when he saw two women hugging and crying. “One said, ‘I was praying for your husband,’ and the other said, ‘I was praying for your son.’ It was so profound,” Weiner said. “And really meaningful.”

Critical Care by Rabbi Janet Madden

hospital waiting area

I spend my days as a hospital rabbi-chaplain sitting with patients and families who are dealing with the unimaginable: an 18 year old college student-athlete and cancer patient who believes that she has done something to deserve her illness, a 33 year old whose wife died hours after giving birth to their first child, an 80-something member of a prominent show business family who attempted suicide because, for her, life has no meaning now that she is no longer active in the world of the arts.

One of the benefits of my professional life is that I have many opportunities to acknowledge and affirm that life is not fair. I have learned to see life as a mashup of the most wonderful and beautiful and the most terrifying and horrific, as the exquisitely heartbreaking combination of love and pain. I’ve come to see every ordinary and mundane day as, in fact, an extraordinary and wonderful day.

I was having one of those ordinary, wonderful days three days ago when I went to dinner with a friend as part of my birthday festivities. We had just placed our order when I excused myself to pick up a voicemail from my husband. His message was that he had received a call from a hospital emergency room telling him that one of our children was in critical condition and might not survive the night.

During our two hour drive to the hospital, we continued to get calls that were both updates and urgings to hurry. Beginning that evening, our family became—again—one of the families who sit in Critical Care units, waiting rooms, conference rooms and cafeterias, receiving medical updates, sharing them with those who are not physically present, waiting, hoping, praying. With a loved one in a medically induced coma and on life support, we, too, are a family signing consent forms for procedures that may or may not result in positive outcomes. We, too, are a family precariously balanced between, hope for a positive outcome and statistical medical realities.

Every morning, I give thanks that our loved one has survived the night. I do the best that I can to convey my deep gratitude for all of the help that he and we have received: the bystanders who jumped into action, began CPR and called 911; the EMTs who fought to keep his heart beating; the doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists who have kept him alive and are caring for him; the widening circle of those who praying for his healing. Most of all, we are grateful to the Creator who gives life, knowing both that it is indeed a miracle that our loved one is alive at this moment and that should he survive, his life and ours may be very different than they were or what we imagined they would be.

In these weeks of the Shabbatot of Consolation, in our acute awareness of the uncertainly of his prognosis, we find consolation in knowing that although outcomes are far from certain, we feel held by the Compassionate One. We find comfort in being together, in our ability to openly express our hopes and fears with one another and in telling our loved one that we are here and that we will continue to be. We chant the Shehekiyanu as he survives each crisis. Holding tightly to the knowledge that life offers no guarantees, in this time of fear and hope and uncertainty, we are deeply thankful for the precious gift of life and for the critical care of so many.

Rabbi Janet Madden earned her PhD in literature from The National Univer-sity of Ireland. A writer and ritualist, she is Rabbi of Providence Saint John’s Health Center (Santa Monica, CA) and Visiting Rabbi of The Oahu Jewish Ohana (Honolulu).

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden

 

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Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to a free informal online session, held monthly. On the third (3rd) THURSDAY of each month, different person(s) will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is September 20th. More details will be sent out soon.

If you are interested in teaching a session, you can contact us at rboroditsky@jewisgh-funerals.org, rlight@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Taste of Gamliel Series

The 2018 Taste of Gamliel series has concluded, but it is not too late if you want to access the recordings. You can Register for the 2018 series, Your’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone: Jewish Practices of Remembrance, or any of the series from prior years. There are usually five sessions in a series, and each session is approximately 90 minutes.

Registration for Taste of Gamliel is mandatory to access the sessions. Registration $36 for each series to help us defray the out of pocket costs.
Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions. To register, click here: register.

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Gamliel Continuing Education Courses

Gamliel students should be on the lookout for information on a series of Gamliel Continuing Education  Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will usually be in groups of three ninety minute sessions (three consecutive Wednesdays) offered roughly twice yearly, with different topics addressed in each series. The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. The first course took place in Fall 2017, focusing on Psalms, and the second was on The World to Come and the Zohar.

The next course will be November 28th, December 5th, and December 12th. We will continue to look at death as seen in the Zohar, taught by Beth Huppin.

Registration is required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for each three session series. Contact us for information, by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/.

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Gamliel Course

The next course in the cycle of core courses offered by the Gamliel Institute will be Course 4 – Nechama/Comfort. It will be offered online during the Fall from October 9th to December 25th on Tuesday evenings, for 90 minutes each week for 12 weeks. The classes will begin at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST. Primary instructors will be Dan Fendel and Edna Stewart, with guest instructors.

Registration is open – click here.

The course planned for Winter 2019 is Course 2 – Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah. Plan ahead!

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Please note: this blog depends on you for content. Without you it cannot publish new material. If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Why a Jewish Hospital Has a Christmas Concert

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center once dutifully held a holiday concert. The annual show, put on in a small auditorium on the periphery of the medical campus, contained discreet references to Christmas with a couple mentions of Hanukkah. But the bulk of the program centered around songs of sleigh rides, snowfalls and winter frivolity.

Then, several years ago, we decided to scrap the holiday program in favor of the annual Cedars-Sinai Christmas Concert. The idea was to bring greater meaning to an event with important religious underpinnings for so many who work and spend time at the hospital.

These concerts typically open with a Christian prayer led by one of our staff chaplains. Carolers wearing Santa hats sing Yuletide favorites like “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “O Holy Night.”

The event now is held in the medical center’s main auditorium, which also features a 12-foot-high mural honoring Jewish pioneers in medicine. It features a reading from the Gospel of Luke or another book from the New Testament about the origins of Christmas amid murals depicting Maimonides, Sigmund Freud and other great Jewish scholars.

I’m often asked: Why would a Jewish hospital stage a Christmas concert? My answer is easy: For the same reason it celebrates Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights and holds a nightly iftar break-fast during Ramadan. (We also gather during Hanukkah for a candle-lighting ceremony and mark other Jewish holidays, but this is hardly news to most.)

Honoring other faith traditions is an integral part of what it means to be a Jewish hospital. More than a century ago, Jewish hospitals were established primarily because most of their American counterparts refused to hire Jewish doctors or treat Jewish patients with dignity and respect — or at all, for that matter. These Jewish institutions were never intended to be exclusively Jewish. They were meant to be open to everyone.

As a Jewish hospital, we have a special obligation to be attuned to what it feels like to be alienated, separated or excluded.

We have a special obligation to be attuned to what it feels like to be alienated, separated or excluded.

When our original holiday concert was organized, it was done with the best of intentions. Even in name, the point was to avoid offending anyone or appearing to be exclusionary. However, it unwittingly became a mishmash, a watered-down version of its true inspiration.

We all knew it was a Christmas concert. Why not treat it like one?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one of the 20th century’s most influential Orthodox figures, once wrote that there can be no identity without uniqueness. To preserve this distinctiveness, he argued, each group must be allowed to flourish on its own and in its own context.

We are charged in our daily work at Cedars-Sinai with healing the sick, comforting the dying and providing the best possible medical care for all. In this, we are unified. But in our religious and spiritual beliefs, we want people to express themselves in ways that are most meaningful and genuine to themselves.

I do play one small part in the annual Christmas concert, and it is one that I always look forward to. Toward the end of the hourlong lunchtime program, I go up to the podium — not only as a rabbi but in my role as administrator of the Spiritual Care Department. I thank our department for organizing another wonderful show and recognize the performers and support crew who set the stage, the lights and the decorations, which create such a festive mood. I thank the overflow crowd for attending.

And then I say something that may surprise people, and even sometimes draws a laugh, because it’s coming from a bearded man in a yarmulke. These parting words are meant to convey my respect for the Christian observance and honor the faithful who are celebrating.

I say simply, “Merry Christmas!”


Rabbi Jason Weiner is senior rabbi and manager of the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai.

Netanyahu was ‘smuggled’ to hospital twice in disguised vans

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “smuggled” to medical appointments in disguised vans shortly before and after elections.

Netanyahu, 65, in both cases had routine prostate examinations that found “nothing uncharacteristic for a man of his age.”

In the first instance, shortly before the March 17 elections, he was transported to Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center, a haredi Orthodox hospital in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, in what appeared to be a pita delivery van, Israel’s Channel 2 reported.

Shortly after the vote, Netanyahu was taken in a disguised pest-control van, with his security guards dressed as pest controllers around the vehicle.

Channel 2 did not explain why Netanyahu employed the disguised vehicles.

Israeli Arab reinstated at job after suspension over anti-IDF Facebook post

An Arab nurse at an Israeli hospital suspended from his job for a Facebook post that calls the Israeli military “war criminals” was reinstated.

The Arab-Israeli male nurse at Sheba Medical Center must issue a public apology to the hospital administration, according to reports.

The agreement between the nurse and the hospital came on Wednesday, a day before a scheduled hearing at the Tel Aviv labor court.

Several Israeli-Arabs reportedly have been fired from their jobs during Israel’s current Gaza operation, for statements against Israel or the Israel Defense Forces.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel this week stressed that employers are forbidden from firing a worker just because of his or her viewpoints or online comments.

ACRI in a statement “also has reminded the public that in general, employers bear no responsibility for statements made by their employees in the context of their personal lives outside of the workplace. It is forbidden for employers to spy on their employees or interfere in their personal lives by imposing sanctions or threats thereof.”

The organization also stressed that Israel’s Law for Equal Opportunities in the Workplace “prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because of his/her viewpoint unless the comments made affect the professional functioning of the employee.”

Granddaughter of Hamas’ Haniyeh treated at Israeli hospital

An Israeli hospital treated the seriously ill granddaughter of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

One-year-old Amal Haniyeh, accompanied by her grandmother, crossed from Gaza into Israel to be seen by doctors at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petach Tikvah,  according to reports based on Palestinian sources.

Amal reportedly had an infection of her digestive tract that affected her nervous system and damaged her brain. She was transferred back to a hospital in the Gaza Strip after Israeli doctors determined that they could not help her, and her condition continued to deteriorate.

Her father, Abdul Salam Haniyeh, wrote on his Facebook page Monday afternoon that his daughter had returned to Gaza in a state of clinical death.

He had posted previously on Facebook that his daughter had been transferred to an Israeli hospital, though the post was subsequently removed, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Haniyeh recently called for a third Palestinian intifada in the West Bank.

Israel allows Gaza Palestinians into the country for medical treatment on a case-by-case basis.

Wounded Syrians find care in Israel that is no longer available at home

Last February, nearly two years into the civil war still tearing across Syria, a group of seven wounded Syrians dragged themselves to the Israeli border, where they were picked up by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and rushed to the nearest hospital.

It was the first public rescue of Syrians within Israel, and reporters flocked to the Ziv Medical Center in Safed, a 40-minute drive from the Syrian border. Facing a wall of microphones, hospital director Dr. Oscar Embon dodged questions about whether the patients, all men, were fighting for or against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“We treat patients regardless of religion, race, nationality and give the best care we can provide,” Embon told CNN.

The media blitz soon died down, but the mission kept growing. Dozens more Syrians mysteriously made their way into Israel, and three more Israeli hospitals, each with different specialties, volunteered to take in the Syrian patients, while the IDF also set up its own field hospital along the border for emergency care.

“They know where to bring the wounded now, just from ear to mouth,” said Peter Lerner, IDF spokesman for international media. “We haven’t made any public announcement about it, but they keep coming to the same places of access. It seems to be an unwritten agreement: If you need help, you know where to come.”

[Related: Dr. Alexander Lerner, head of the orthopedic department at Ziv Medical Center, with a picture made for him by an 8-year-old Syrian patient. Photo by Simone Wilson

Among the Syrians being treated in Israel is a 15-year-old boy who lost his leg and almost lost his arm, had it not been saved by doctors at Ziv. The boy was riding in a tractor, helping deliver water to neighboring villages in Syria, when the tractor rolled over a land mine. When he woke up, he was in Israel. (The hospital will not release the boy’s name, to ensure his safety in both Israel and Syria.)

“I was surprised, and a little afraid,” the boy said in Arabic, as his social worker translated. “But when I saw people speaking Arabic, I was more relaxed.”

This 15-year-old, one of almost 20 Syrians currently hospitalized at Ziv, shares a room with two other boys — a chubby-cheeked 14-year-old whose arms and legs broke when a bomb sent him flying off the roof of his house, and a third teen who was blinded and lost a hand in another blast. White gauze fills both this patient’s eye sockets. (“I’m not sure he really understands what is happening,” Gil Maor, a spokesman for the hospital, said of the boy who lost his eyesight.)

Their hospital room opens to a balcony with a dazzling, panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee, a longtime point of geographical contention between Israel and Syria.

“I always heard that Israel was the enemy,” the 15-year-old said. “But there are a lot of good things that they give me here.”

On the morning of Oct. 21, the boys’ hospital room was crammed with nurses, social workers and press supervisors. Curious community members brought plastic bags full of snacks to the door — Israeli favorites like peanut-butter-flavored Bamba puffs and Quadratini biscuits — and tried to pop their heads in for a peek. Guarding the room and doing his best to keep the visitors at bay in the hallway, a gangly IDF soldier who didn’t look much older than the Syrian boys inside made repeated calls to his superiors, seeking approval for each new person to enter the room and each Syrian patient to be interviewed. A photographer for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz spent 20 minutes setting the boys up in different poses around the room, always with their faces tilted slightly away so as not to reveal their identities. 

By noon, the boys all looked exhausted. “I miss my family; I miss my friends, and I miss my teachers. I miss taking the school photo,” the 14-year-old in the middle bed said, before softly requesting that he be excused from the interview. He made a sideways chopping motion with his hands and rolled over, directing his gaze out the window toward Syria.

Offering (illegal) care, as needed

The border between Israel and Syria is guarded closely by the IDF, and a new high-security fence between the two enemy countries is now 90 percent complete. However, the IDF’s official policy is to accept any wounded Syrian who can make it to the border (oftentimes with the help of an accompanying party).

“We are facilitating urgent medical aid to any Syrians who have reached the fence,” IDF spokesman Lerner said.

Some patients remain unconscious through the journey. And when they wake up in enemy territory, according to Israeli hospital staff, their faces often brim with fear.

“They’re very frightened,” said Dr. Eyal Sela, head of the ear, nose and throat department at the Western Galilee Medical Center in the far-north beach town of Nahariya. “They don’t understand what we’re saying when we talk in front of them — the whole situation is unfamiliar ground. You see it in their eyes.”

But after a week or two, Sela said, “You see that the trust is building up. They learn our faces.”

And as word of the Israeli aid operation spreads within Syria, that initial round of shock is fading.

Fares, a Christian Arab social worker at Ziv Medical Center who chooses to keep his surname out of the press, is the first face Syrian patients see upon their arrival at the hospital. During their stay in Israel, Fares also becomes the familiar face that coaches the patients through treatment, all the way up to their day of discharge.

He said patients have told him his name is circulating in Syria. 

“Some come back from the same village where they told them that I was here,” Fares said. “[New arrivals] say to me, ‘Yes, they told us about you.’ ”

Sela, a facial reconstruction specialist, said he has formed very close bonds with a few of his patients. The doctor is especially fond of his very first case, a “very intelligent” agriculture student who was rushed to the Western Galilee Medical Center with a severe gunshot wound stretching from his jaw through to his lungs.

“He grew up thinking that Israel was bad and that we kill each other here,” Sela said of the patient. “Then suddenly he sees Arabs and Jews are working together as doctors, as nurses. He couldn’t figure out what was going on. He thought it was a show.”

Watching the young man’s perceptions change, Sela said, made the doctor feel, for the first time, like a sort of diplomat.

“It’s not just the medicine — you touch people, and you change people, and you change people’s perspective of you,” Sela said. “And you’re not a monster, as they saw you before.”

But while some Syrians’ personal feelings about Israel may shift after receiving life-saving treatment in the Jewish nation, they must keep the treatment a secret upon returning home. Setting foot on Israeli soil is illegal under Syrian law, and widely frowned upon, besides.

So, when IDF medics send patients back across the Syrian border, they make sure no Hebrew lettering nor Israeli logos are printed anywhere on the patients’ medical equipment or tags.  In some cases — according to Sara Paperin, international liaison at the Western Galilee Medical Center — Syrians have even been sent home with forged discharge papers, made to look like they were printed at a Syrian hospital. (Paperin stressed that the Western Galilee Medical Center played no part in creating these false documents, and that all Syrian patients who come through the hospital are released to the IDF with accurate discharge papers.)

The 15-year-old at Ziv Medical Center who lost his leg in a land-mine explosion said people in Syria would be angry if they learned he went to Israel. “I prefer not to tell them,” he said.

Russian-Israeli surgeon Dr. Alexander Lerner, head of the orthopedic department at the hospital and a leading expert on limb salvation and elongation, is now in the process of building the boy a prosthetic leg. “Next week, I hope he’ll start walking,” he said. “I plan to return him to Syria on both legs.”

With more attention, more patients

The Golan Heights — the 700 square miles of disputed farmland that connects Israel to Syria — is a historically gray area surging with tension between the two countries. On Google Maps, the region is double-outlined by a tangle of dotted lines, with no clear border between Israel and Syria — illustrating almost a century of back-and-forth land grabs. To this day, a special force of United Nations workers, called the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), patrols the area to keep peace. (According to a UNDOF report from March, Syrian officials accused UNDOF personnel of collaborating with the IDF to “transport across the ceasefire line of injured persons to the Israeli-occupied Golan and back.”)

“There have never been any diplomatic relations between Israel and Syria,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “It is legally considered an enemy state.” 

Meanwhile, the other four countries that touch borders with Syria — Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq — have collectively absorbed more than 2 million Syrian refugees since the civil war broke out, with another 125,000 fleeing to Egypt.

“Refugees tend to go to places where they speak the same language, where they have the same culture,” the IDF’s Lerner said. “So many Syrians have been told that Israel is the arch-enemy of Syria. Why would they come here?”

The only Syrian refugees that Israel has offered to take in are Palestinians — former refugees of the Israel-Palestine conflict who fled to Syria in a time of peace. But had they taken Israel up on its offer, those Palestinian refugees would have been confined to the occupied West Bank and forced to give up their refugee status, which would cut their access to U.N. aid and their hopes for a “right of return” to Israel proper.

Israel’s small Druze community, leftover from Syrian rule of the Golan Heights, has also been pressuring the Israeli government to provide refuge to their brethren on the other side of the fence. Israeli authorities have yet to issue a public response.

“There is no change in our policy as far as the border is concerned,” Lerner said. “No Syrians can pass through.”

The Syrian civil war and refugee crisis have put Israel in an awkward position, as the conflict between Syria and Israel long predates that between the Free Syrian Army and the Assad regime. However, because the Syrian rebels have temporarily set aside their beef with Israel to focus on toppling the oppressive government in their own country, the Israeli medical community has spotted an opportunity to try to plant some seeds of Israeli humanity inside Syria.

Doctors Without Borders, the premier medical aid organization operating in Syria and in surrounding refugee camps, recently urged “all states and non-state actors involved in the Syrian conflict” to devote the same urgent attention to Syria’s medical crisis as to the infamous chemical weapons attack in August that killed some 1,500 Syrians.

“The medical system — like the rest of Syrian society — has been under siege during the conflict and is no longer capable of responding to the acute and chronic medical needs of the Syrian population,” a September report from Doctors Without Borders said. The organization has also warned that health care for refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq is crumbling under extreme demand.

Israel, on its own terms, has answered that plea.

Whereas stretched-thin hospitals inside Syria are depleted of medical supplies and often targeted by the Syrian military, Israeli hospitals just over the border are able to provide patients with a full team of professionals, from medical clowns to psychiatrists, and cutting-edge treatments they might not receive elsewhere.

As the director of Ziv Medical Center, Dr. Oscar Embon said he would never turn away a patient. “I’m glad I have the opportunity to exercise my values, which is to treat everyone regardless of religion, race — whatever. For me, it’s the natural thing to do.” Photo by Simone Wilson

One of Sela’s current patients lost his entire jaw in an explosion. “It’s totally gone,” the doctor said. “A grenade or something just took it off — the lower lip, the chin, the floor of the mouth and half of the tongue.” So the hospital has ordered a special plate from the United States and plans to reconstruct the patient’s jaw in full.

And over in Safed, Dr. Alexander Lerner at Ziv Medical Center is known for avoiding amputation at all costs. 

A few months ago, an 8-year-old Syrian girl named Aya arrived at Ziv Medical Center with her mother. The woman and child had survived a bombing together, and one of Aya’s legs was almost completely blown off. But through a painstaking process of “temporary acute shortening and temporary angulation” to keep the leg alive, then “gradual realignment” to restore it to its full length, Lerner was able to salvage the limb.

“When it was her first time walking in the department, all the Israeli patients looked at her and started clapping,” Lerner said in a thick Russian accent. “I’ve seen very many interesting situations, but it’s the first time I’ve seen this kind of applause for a small girl walking.”

Aya boarded the IDF ambulance for Syria about a month ago, but she’s become something of a legend at Ziv. Above Lerner’s desk is a picture of a vase of flowers that the young survivor made for him, along with an inscription that she asked her nurse to write in Hebrew: “Dear Dr. Lerner,” it reads, “Thank you for your care. God will be with you and he will guard you.”

Israel has a rare chance to provide world-class health care to a war-torn neighbor, hospital director Embon said. “We try to save limbs. This is the modern thing to do — the right thing to do. The Red Cross is used to amputations. You just cut it, put in a suture, and you can release the patient in two days. And probably if you don’t have the means, this is the right thing to do. But the Red Cross was surprised to see that we are trying to save limbs and doing a lot more modern surgeries.”

Syrian hospitals seem to be catching wind. Two men in their 20s under Sela’s care at the Western Galilee Medical Center told the Jewish Journal that they were transferred to Israel by a hospital in Syria, somewhat against their wishes. And another two patients recently arrived at Ziv with doctor’s notes — one blood-splattered — written in Arabic, pinned to their clothing. One of the men was suffering from a bullet wound through his chest and shrapnel in his diaphragm.

“There was no possibility to suture his liver, and pressure bandaging was applied to his stomach,” his note read. “Please do what is required and thank you in advance.”

Said Embon, director of Ziv Medical Center: “As a physician, I believe in the universality of health care and medicine. And as an Israeli, I believe that we should have peace — and if we are contributing to changing how our neighbors see us, maybe we can bring peace to the area one day earlier.”

One year into the Syrian civil war, Israeli public-affairs consultant Lenny Ben-David hinted at the potential impact of such an operation in an op-ed for the Times of Israel.

“If there’s a tiny chance for coexistence with the post-Assad government of Syria and if Syria doesn’t shatter into ethnic satrapies,” he wrote, “a life-saving medical facility along the Israel-Syrian border may be a good place to start a coexistence process.”

According to the IDF, the medical aid program for Syrians in Israel didn’t begin until early 2013, simply because up to that point, no wounded Syrians had turned to Israel for help. But earlier this year, the IDF said, violence within Syria began to spread to villages near the Israeli border — thus driving Syrians to seek treatment at the fence.

Slowly but reliably, global press outlets picked up on the unlikely story.

“In March, only the director of the hospital and maybe the physicians that were interacting with the Syrian patients knew about it,” said Paperin, international liaison at the Western Galilee Medical Center. “I got involved in June — and since then, that’s really all we’ve been handling here.” Before the influx of Syrians, Paperin’s job consisted mainly of overseeing medical tourism, a booming million-dollar industry in Israel. Now, the young Chicago native is responsible for overseeing a constant rotation of Syrian war casualties — and introducing them to dozens of journalists eager to interview the survivors in a rare cocoon of safety.  

At first, Israeli reporters began visiting Syrian patients at a slow trickle, Paperin said. But in August, a big New York Times piece on young Syrian children being treated at the Western Galilee Medical Center “was really the big burst in the dam. All of a sudden, within a few days of it being published, a tsunami of reporters showed up.”

Maor, a spokesman for Ziv Medical Center, said the same: “We had times where there were three or four media crews here the whole week.”

With the spike in press coverage came more waves of wounded Syrians.

The IDF has since set up a well-oiled distribution system for Syrian patients who make it to the border: Those with less-serious injuries are patched up by mobile IDF medical teams along the border, or treated at the IDF field hospital, and returned to Syria. Those with serious wounds to the torso and limbs are transferred to Ziv Medical Center in nearby Safed. Those with serious head injuries are driven a couple of hours west to the Western Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya. And the most critical patients — only 20 so far — are transferred to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.

One woman taken to Rambam, for example, had a piece of shrapnel removed from inside her heart.

“This is the path that all Syrian patients come through,” said Paperin, leading a reporter down a long hall at the Western Galilee Medical Center, its walls painted a calming eggshell and turquoise, and into the hospital’s shock room.

“The connection between the hospital and the IDF starts like this: They pick up the phone and they say, ‘We’re transporting X number of patients — we’ll be there soon,’ ” Paperin said. “But there’s no information about age, or gender, or injury. So the first step is always in preparing the shock room for resuscitation.” From there, patients head to the ICU and — once they’re stabilized — to the hospital ward that best suits their injuries.

The hasbara challenge

From the start, Israel’s normally pushy hasbara (public relations) detail has seemed unsure of how to handle the Syrian issue. The same muddled elements of the Syrian civil war that complicate larger international aid efforts — including the risk of funding terrorist groups mixed in with the rebels — have proven even more complex for Israel, a grave enemy both of Assad and terrorist factions in the region.

A hurried and blood-stained doctor’s note arrived from Syria with one unconscious patient, outlining his injuries and what little treatment he had already received. Photo by Simone Wilson

In September, the IDF permitted a single newspaper, conservative Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, to speak to the head of the IDF field hospital, Dr. Ofer Merin.

When the Jewish Journal requested access to the hospital and an interview with Merin, a lieutenant at the IDF spokesperson’s office wrote in an e-mail: “At this point, the medical treatment center (as well as staff, patients, etc.) is not open to media coverage.” She later added that the Yediot piece “caused significant internal controversy” within the IDF.

New York Times reporter Isabel Kershner, likewise, told the Jewish Daily Forward in an interview that she faced a ton of pushback from the IDF while writing her piece on Syrian children in Israeli hospitals. 

Israel’s hasbara jitters may originate from a fear of looking like the country is taking sides in the conflict, after the great pains that the prime minister’s office has taken not to get involved. 

Various Arabic-language news outlets throughout the Middle East have accused Israel of indirectly supporting the rebels through medical rehabilitation: Pointed headlines have included “Israeli hospital treats 17 rebel militants” and “Free Syrian Army wounded being treated in Israeli hospitals.” And Egyptian outlet Egy Press wrote last month that Ziv Medical Center in Safed had become “the first resort of the terrorist factions in Syria to receive treatment and rehabilitation before returning to complete their terrorism on Syrian territory.”

An anonymous patient who said he was part of the Free Syrian Army told France 24: “The [Syrian rebel] fighters take the patients without carrying weapons. They put us on a particular spot where the Israeli army can see us. Then the Israelis come and take us. To be honest, I was shocked that Israel took us in.”

The strongly worded French article suggested that Israel’s humanitarian effort could be its stealthy way of intervening against Assad. 

And the speculation is not unfounded: No Syrian patient at an Israeli hospital has ever claimed allegiance to the Assad regime in an interview with the press. And while plenty of wounded women and children have passed through Israel, the majority of patients are still men. (Seventy-seven percent of the patients at Ziv Medical Center, for instance, have been males over the age of 18.)

Israeli officials appear equal parts proud and paranoid. Press supervisors at the hospitals hosting Syrians are eager to show reporters around but steer them away from political questions and only allow them access to certain patients. Throughout these tours, the spokespeople stress that they do not ask — and do not care — if patients were fighting in the war, nor which side they were fighting on.

Media outlets are asked not to print Syrian patients’ names or identities. Not only will this put them at risk of persecution inside Syria for seeking Israeli care, Maor said, but the community surrounding the hospital — a mix of mainly Muslim and Christian Arabs, Jewish Israelis and Druze — have charged opinions about, and even allegiances to, the two camps in Syria.

Inevitably, given the deep roots of the Israeli-Syrian conflict and the greater Israeli-Arab conflict in the Middle East, there is still much public skepticism surrounding the operation. One Lebanese news site accused Israel of “exploiting this matter in the media, in order to promote the image of humanity about them.”

But, in general, the Western media has embraced the Israeli initiative as pure. 

It’s one of the few positive Israeli news events that the Israeli Foreign Ministry has not helped promote at all — perhaps making it that much more attractive to reporters.

“Do we really have to be concerned about our image when we’re giving therapy to children who would be left to die?” Paperin asked. “From this hospital’s standpoint, you can’t make Israel the villain when that’s all we’re doing.”

Merin, commander of the IDF field hospital, told Yediot Aharonot: “I realize that we’re not changing the Middle East here,” he said, “but maybe we can make a small difference in how we are perceived, and that’s certainly worth something.”

However, the Israeli government has been reluctant to pay the price of the good press and goodwill. Hospital officials told the Jewish Journal that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defense are still arguing over who will back the Syrians’ hospital bills, which have so far amounted to a combined $5.5 million, according to hospital estimates.

When asked about the dispute, Defense Ministry spokeswoman Myriam Nahon said only: “No comment.” And the spokesperson’s office for the Health Ministry responded: “The issue will be discussed soon with the director general of the prime minister’s office.”

(Those are just the costs that Israeli hospitals can temporarily absorb. Extra hardware for wounded Syrians, such as prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs, which must be paid for upfront, are purchased through private funds hosted by each hospital. Donations can be made to Ziv Medical Center and the Western Galilee Medical Center at ziv.org.il and wgh.org.il, respectively. )

Israeli news station Channel 2 witnessed similar hesitation from the Israeli government last year while accompanying a private Israeli aid mission to Syrian refugee camps along the Syria-Jordan border. Aid workers brought a letter from medical-tourism officials, offering a pro-bono eye surgery for a Syrian man that would help him see again. But soon after, Channel 2 reported, the Israeli Ministry of Interior rescinded the offer.

“That’s Israel: One hand extended, the other blocks the way,” said a Channel 2 reporter, who tagged along on the mission.

Later in the broadcast, one Israeli aid worker explained: “When we come to help [Syrian refugees], I look at them and think, ‘If there was war between us now, I’d aim my rifle at him, ready to fire.’ He’d kill me or I’d kill him. For now, I extend my hand to help him. As time goes on, will we shake hands or will we keep fighting? You don’t know what will happen. Do I make him healthy now so later he can take up his weapon against me?”

For Embon, director of Ziv Medical Center, in a humanitarian crisis like the one unfolding in Syria, those questions become irrelevant. 

“I am aware that not all the patients we treat are loving us and changing their minds [about Israel],” the hospital director said. 

“This is not a thing we do because we want to change them. We do this because we know that we have to do it — this is our job.”

Across enemy lines, wounded Syrians seek Israeli care

Not a hundred miles from Damascus, a Syrian rebel lies in a hospital bed, an Israeli sentry at the door. Nearby a Syrian mother sits next to her daughter, shot in the back by a sniper.

What started this year as a trickle is now a steady flow of Syrians, scores of civilians and fighters wounded in the civil war and being discreetly brought across the Golan frontline into Israel — a country with which Syria is formally still at war.

For all the advantages it brings of excellent medical care, it is a journey fraught with risk for those who fear the wrath of President Bashar Assad's government.

“There was one man, where I am from, who was treated in Israel. The regime forces killed his three brothers,” the teenage girl's mother said. “They will kill my sons and my husband if they ever find out we were here.”

For fear of retribution back home, Syrians in Israeli clinics who spoke to Reuters asked not to be named.

The woman's 16-year-old daughter, whose wounds have left her paralysed in both legs, lies stone-faced as an Israeli hospital clown juggles and dances, trying in vain to raise a smile.

[Related: Jews helping Syrians: Never invited, always welcome]

For the past month, she has been at the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, on Israel's Mediterranean coast, about 50 miles west of the U.N.-monitored ceasefire line in the Golan Heights that has kept Israeli and Syrian forces apart since they fought in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

A few weeks ago, a battle was raging in her home village between Assad's forces and rebel fighters. There was a lull, her mother said, and the girl opened the front door to see if it was safe out. Her aunt told her to shut it again because there was a sniper in the house opposite. As she did so, he shot her.

“I saw her falling to the floor, in all the blood,” her mother recounted. “I was terrified I was going to lose her. I said 'Please, I don't want to bury my children one by one'.”

The girl was rushed to a rebel field hospital, where Syrian medics removed a bullet lodged in a lung. But they could not provide the further care she needed. The girl, they said, should be taken across the border, to Jordan or to Israel.

“We would get Israeli television channels in my village. I knew that medicine here is advanced,” the mother said. “In Jordan I would have to pay for it and we do not have enough money. Here it is free.”

The woman declined to say exactly how she and her daughter reached the Israeli lines in the Golan so that soldiers could transport them to hospital. She did say that Syrian rebel fighters helped them reach the area of the Israel-Syria front.

BORDERS

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war which began in 2011. According to the United Nations, more than 2 million refugees have fled the country, most to neighbouring Jordan and Turkey. Of the population of about 20 million, one third is displaced, either inside or outside Syria.

Israel refuses to accept refugees from a country with which it is still technically at war. But it does provide medical care and, always concerned to counter the negative image it has in most of the Arab world, it has made no secret of doing so.

The Nahariya hospital has treated more than 80 Syrian patients since March, around the time the Israeli military began taking in wounded Syrians who reach its lines seeking help.

The army does not reveal how the Syrians are brought over, nor whether it coordinates with rebels or others who deliver them into Israeli hands. “This is a very sensitive issue and people's lives are at stake,” a military spokeswoman said.

U.N. military observers based along the 45-mile ceasefire line did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six Day War of 1967 and much of its population, many of them from the Druze sect, resettled beyond the ceasefire line in Syria. A small Arab Druze community remained under Israeli occupation and has kept in contact with relatives inside Syria.

The Israeli army has set up a field hospital on a mountain ridge that overlooks a cluster of Syrian villages on the plain.

Gunfire and explosions from battles there often sound across the frontline fence. Some wounded Syrians who have reached the boundary have been treated at the Israeli field hospital and then sent back. Others are transported to hospitals in Israel.

“We don't know how they come in,” said Shukri Kassis, a doctor at the Ziv Medical Center in the northern Israeli town of Safed, 25 miles from the Syrian frontline. “We just get notified by the army doctors that they are bringing them here.”

Kassis said his clinic had taken in more than 90 Syrians since February. The Israel government declines to give a total figure for how many have been treated in its hospitals.

EXECUTION

Staff at Nahariya said one man they treated had survived his own execution. He was shot at close range in the back of the head. Another young woman was shot in the head by a sniper.

Both are now back in Syria, their fate unknown. “It is very hard for us, after they go back, not knowing what happens to them after they return,” said Naama Shachar, head nurse at the children's intensive care unit in Nahariya.

In another ward, a man in his 20s sat up in bed staring down at his thigh, his lower leg now gone. He said he was a fighter in the Free Syrian Army. He was shot in a battle with Assad's forces a few weeks ago. He did not say where.

He recalled medics at a rebel field hospital trying to save his left leg but had no memory of how he got to Israel, a journey long enough for gangrene to turn his flesh black.

“I remember waking up in the emergency room,” he said. “The doctor said that to save my life they must amputate my leg and he asked me to sign the consent.”

The International Red Cross visits patients and offers assistance in contacting families. Some patients say they have sent word back home. Others fear that any message revealing their whereabouts would endanger their relatives.

The 16-year-old's mother has had no contact with her six other children left behind. “I worry about them all the time, if they are safe or not. There is no phone, only God to pray to,” she said, pointing upwards as her eyes welled up with tears.

FRIEND OR FOE

Israel has not taken sides in the Syrian war. Assad, allied with Israel's arch-enemy Iran, is also helped by fighters from Lebanese militia Hezbollah, another long-time foe. But those they combat worry Israel too. Among the rebels are al Qaeda-linked Islamists, also no friends of the Jewish state.

At the hospitals, the army stations military police outside the rooms of most male patients. Many of these, staff said, have come in with wounds most likely sustained in combat. At Ziv, doctors checking one fighter's pockets found a hand grenade.

“They could be al Qaeda. We just don't know,” one staff member said, adding that the men were being guarded for their own safety too – in case of disputes among patients.

With many Israeli medical staff being native Arabic speakers, communication with Syrian patients presents little problem. And many of the wounded and relatives have responded to a welcoming environment by modifying hostile views of Israel.

“For us, Israel was always the enemy,” one Syrian woman from the southern city of Deraa said at Ziv, where she and her eight-year-old daughter were being treated after being caught in an explosion. “Thank God, I am happy here. I am well treated.”

The Free Syrian Army fighter said word of Israeli treatment was spreading back home: “I was happy when I found I was here,” he said. “Most fighters know they will get good care in Israel.”

Medical staff say they make no distinctions among those they treat and some have formed close bonds with Syrian patients:

“In medicine there are no borders, no colour, no nationality,” said Oscar Embon, director general of the Ziv Medical Center in Safed. “You treat each and every person and I am proud that we are able to do this.”

Happy birthday Mr. Mandela: World pays tribute as ‘improving’ former S. African president turns 95

South Africa and the world showered tributes on Nelson Mandela on Thursday as the anti-apartheid leader turned 95 in hospital and his doctors reported he was “steadily improving” from a six-week lung infection.

The country has been on edge since the former president and father of the multi-racial 'Rainbow Nation' established at the end of apartheid in 1994 was admitted to hospital on June 8 with recurring lung problems that kept him in a critical condition.

It was his fourth stay in hospital in six months and has reminded South Africans that the man who is globally admired as a moral beacon against injustice and a symbol of racial reconciliation will not be with them forever.

But the mood was of celebration on Thursday as thousands of South Africans sang “Happy Birthday” and took part in charitable initiatives in a global outpouring of support for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on U.N.-designated 'Nelson Mandela Day'.

At a United Nations event in New York marking the day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed Mandela as “a giant of our times”.

Throughout the day, crowds of well-wishers outside the Pretoria hospital where the retired statesman is being treated sang “Happy Birthday, Madiba” – using Mandela's traditional clan name – brought cakes and birthday cards and danced.

“Thank you for all that you have done for this country,” said one well-wisher, Margaret Chechie.

Many South Africans also commemorated the birthday with 67 minutes of public service to honour the 67 years Mandela served humanity by first fighting against white-minority rule and then consolidating racial harmony when he was president.

As part of the public service initiative, office workers, students, soldiers and ordinary citizens spruced up orphanages, painted walls at schools and delivered food to the poor.

President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela at the hospital and said he was making steady progress. “I was able to say 'Happy Birthday' to him and he was able to smile,” he told reporters.

Hours earlier, his office had cited Mandela's doctors saying “his health is steadily improving.”

Mandela's victory in the first multiracial elections in 1994 put an end to the apartheid system. Four years earlier, he was released from 27 years spent in prison under white minority rule, 18 of them at the notorious Robben Island penal colony.

His former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela called the 95th birthday “a gift to the nation”.

Family members had lunch together at the hospital where the revered patriarch is being treated and his daughter Zindzi said they gave him a collage of family photographs for a present.

“Tata (our father) is making this remarkable progress and we look forward to having him back home soon,” Zindzi said.

Grandson Ndaba Mandela was more cautious about Mandela's condition. “He's still critical … he's just a lot more alert now, a lot more aware of his surroundings,” he told CBS News.

“FIRST CITIZEN”

Mandela Day celebrations in the United States included a special event at U.N. headquarters in New York, where figures such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson added their voices to the global tributes.

Clinton, a personal friend of Mandela, recalled the nearly three decades the nonagenarian spent in apartheid jails.

“Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years a greater man than he went in,” Clinton said. “Though he is old and frail and fighting for his life … what is in his heart still glows in his smile and lights up the room through his eyes.”

Volunteers in New York handed out South African oranges.

In South Africa, Ethiopian and Nigerian asylum seekers who had settled there fleeing persecution and conflict in their own countries cleaned streets in Johannesburg expressed their praise for the personality considered “a father of Africa”.

“In this country, Mandela is the reason all of us blacks are free, so that's why we love him as the first citizen,” said Kennedy Uzondu, 30, a Nigerian trader in South Africa.

Despite the adulation on his birthday, Mandela's post-apartheid 'Rainbow Nation' has not fulfilled all expectations.

Enormous gaps still persist in income, employment and access to education and these inequalities largely follow racial lines, according to the government's own data. White households in 2012 earn on average about six times more than black households.

Nevertheless, quality education and employment opportunities have also been opened up to tens of thousands of blacks.

Additional reporting by Reuters TV, Benon Okula and Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, Michelle Nichols and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay at the United Nations; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Michael Roddy

What Boston hospitals learned from Israel

Minutes after a terrorist attack killed three at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, doctors and nurses at the city’s hospitals faced a harrowing scene — severed limbs, burned bodies, shrapnel buried in skin.

For Boston doctors, the challenge presented by last week’s bombing was unprecedented — but they were prepared.

Many of the city’s hospitals have doctors with actual battlefield experience. Others have trauma experience from deployments on humanitarian missions, like the one that followed the Haitian earthquake, and have learned from presentations by veterans of other terror attacks like the one at a movie theater in Colorado.

But they have benefited as well from the expertise developed by Israeli physicians over decades of treating victims of terrorist attacks — expertise that Israel has shared with scores of doctors and hospitals around the world. Eight years ago, four Israeli doctors and a staff of nurses spent two days at Massachusetts General Hospital teaching hospital staff the methods pioneered in Israel.

According to the New Yorker magazine, every Boston patient who reached the hospital alive has survived.

“We had periods where every week we had an attack,” said Dror Soffer, director of the trauma division at the Tel Aviv Medical Center, who participated in the delegation. “It becomes your routine.”

Techniques that were “routine” in Israel by 2005, and helped save lives in Boston last week, began evolving in the 1990s, when Israel experienced a spate of bus bombings. Israeli doctors “rewrote the bible of blast trauma,” said Avi Rivkind, the director of surgery at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, where 60 percent of Israeli victims have been treated.

Much of what Israel has learned about treating attack victims was done on the fly. In 1996, a 19-year-old soldier arrived at the Hadassah hospital following a bus bombing with severe injuries to her chest and esophagus. Doctors put chest drains on her lungs and performed endoscopies twice a day to stop the bleeding. Both techniques are now regular practices.

“We were sure she was going to die, and she survived,” Rivkind said.

Rivkind is an internationally recognized expert in terror medicine and widely considered one of the great brains behind Israeli innovations that have been adopted around the world.

Trained at Hebrew University, the Hadassah Medical Center and the Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems in Baltimore, he has contributed to several volumes on trauma surgery and post-attack care, and authored a number of seminal medical studies. Rivkind was the personal physician for the late Israeli President Ezer Weizman, helped care for Ariel Sharon when the prime minister fell into a coma following a stroke, and has performed near-miraculous feats, once reviving a soldier shot in the heart who had been pronounced dead in the field.

But not everything Rivkind has learned about treating attack victims comes from a story with a happy ending. In 2002, Shiri Nagari was rushed to Hadassah after a bus bombing. She appeared to have escaped largely unharmed, but 45 minutes later she was dead. It was, Rivkind later wrote, the first time he ever cried after losing a patient.

“She seemed fine and talked with us,” he said. “You can be very injured inside, and outside you look completely pristine.”

Organizing the emergency room, Rivkind said, is as important as treating patients correctly. During the second intifada, Hadassah developed what he called the “accordion method,” a method of moving patients through various stages of assessment with maximal efficiency. The process has since become standard in hospitals across Israel and around the world.

Suspect charged with Boston Marathon bombing

Prosecutors charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the Boston Marathon bombings in an impromptu hearing on Monday in his hospital room, accusing him of crimes that could carry the death penalty if he is convicted.

Video taken by security cameras showed the 19-year-old ethnic Chechen placing a backpack near the finish line of the race one week ago, the criminal complaint said, alleging he acted in concert with his older brother, who was killed during a shootout with police early Friday.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured later that day after a massive manhunt and taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds.

The criminal complaint did not mention a motive for the bombings, leaving that as one of the mysteries of the investigation.

But a sworn FBI statement in support of the criminal complaint did reveal new details, such as the recollection of a man whose car was allegedly hijacked by the brothers while they tried to escape on Thursday night.

“Did you hear about the Boston explosion?” one of the brothers is said to have told the carjack victim. “I did that.”

The brothers carried two backpacks containing pressure cooker bombs that ripped through the crowd near the finish line of the world renowned race, killing three people and wounding more than 200, the complaint said.

Ten people lost limbs from the bombs packed with nails and ball bearings. By Monday, Boston-area hospitals were still treating at least 48 people, with at least two listed in critical condition.

The charges were delivered on the same day Canadian police said they had thwarted an “al Qaeda-supported” plot to derail a passenger train. U.S. officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto, but Canadian police did not confirm that.

The 10-page complaint in the Boston case drew from investigators' review of a mass of video and still images captured by security cameras, the media and the public at the race before and after the bombing.

Thirty seconds before the first explosion, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev started fidgeting with his cellphone, the complaint said. After the blast, virtually everyone around him turned to look in that direction “in apparent bewilderment and alarm,” while Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared calm, the complaint said.

He then left his backpack on the ground and walked away, the complaint said. About 10 seconds later the second explosion ripped through the crowd.

The charges were issued shortly before the city paused at 2:50 p.m. (1850 GMT) to mark the moment a week ago when the bombs exploded. A funeral was held for Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager who was killed in the bombings, and a memorial service was planned for another victim, Chinese graduate student Lingzi Lu, 23.

An 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, was also killed.

WOUNDED SUSPECT

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was wounded during at least one of two gun battles with police on Friday, suffering gunshot wounds to his head, neck, legs and hand, the complaint said.

He was mostly unable to speak due to a throat wound, managing to say “no” once in response to a question, according to a court transcript posted on the New York Times website. Mostly, he nodded in response to questions.

Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler found he was lucid and aware of the nature of the proceedings, the transcript said.

His capture capped a tense 26 hours after the FBI released the first pictures of the two bombing suspects, still unidentified, on Thursday.

Five hours after their faces were pictured on TV screens and websites around the world, the brothers shot and killed a university policeman, carjacked a Mercedes and sought to evade police by hurling more bombs at them during a shootout on the streets of a Boston suburb, police said.

Older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was shot during a close-range exchange of gunfire with police and run over by his younger brother during his escape, police said. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev later abandoned the car and fled on foot, evading police for nearly 20 more hours until he was found hiding and bleeding in a boat.

Those extraordinary days captivated the United States and reminded people of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“Although our investigation is ongoing, today's charges bring a successful end to a tragic week for the city of Boston, and for our country,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

In choosing the civilian justice system, U.S. authorities opted against treating Tsarnaev, a naturalized U.S. citizen, as an enemy combatant.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a legal U.S. resident, visited relatives in the volatile region of Chechnya for two days during his six-month trip out of the United States last year, his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva and aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, told Reuters in Dagestan on Monday.

U.S. investigators were trying to piece together if he may have become radicalized and determine whether he became involved with or was influenced by Chechen separatists or Islamist extremists there.

That trip, combined with Russian interest in Tamerlan Tsarnaev communicated to U.S. authorities and an FBI interview of him in 2011, have raised questions whether danger signals were missed.

The Tsarnaev brothers emigrated to the United States a decade ago from Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim region in Russia's Caucasus. Their parents, who moved back to southern Russia some time ago, have said their sons were framed.

A grand jury was likely to charge Tsarnaev with more crimes, said former federal prosecutor and University of Notre Dame law professor Jimmy Gurulé, calling the prosecutors' complaint preliminary.

Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel in Makhachkala and Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Tim McLaughlin and Samuel P. Jacobs in Boston; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Eric Beech

‘Ichilov’: Life behind the stethoscope

Move over “Grey's Anatomy,” an Israeli reality series set in a Tel Aviv hospital is providing a look at life through the eyes of overworked and overtired doctors.

“Ichilov” follows the doctors from several wards at Ichilov Hospital as they care for patients.

The series, which took two years to film, is airing on the Yes Doco channel, a satellite television station.

“The idea was to tell a story through doctors' eyes. A story experienced over their shoulders, through their eyes, through their experiences,” Israeli filmmaker Ruthie Shatz told Haaretz. “We wanted to show what it’s like to be a surgeon and the burden one carries after picking inside human bodies all day long.

“One must deal with these changes, between looking a person in the eye and being human and compassionate and being focused enough to save his live. If you're not the best at this job, you cannot continue doing it.”

Shatz and her partner, movie director Adi Barash, decided to tackle the documentary series after Shatz and her mother were patients at Ichilov Hospital. Shatz's mother had cancer and died, while Shatz suffered from complications of pregnancy.

Henry Kissinger hospitalized in New York after fall at home

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was admitted to a New York hospital on Tuesday after a fall at his home and was expected to be released later in the day, New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center said in a statement.

A hospital spokeswoman declined to give more details.

Kissinger, 89, has remained a leading voice on U.S. foreign policy since serving Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the 1970s.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Sandra Maler

Israel to allow Turkish construction material into Gaza

Israel has agreed to allow Turkish trucks carrying construction materials into the Gaza Strip for the construction of a hospital.

The Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported Monday that the construction of the Turkish-Palestine Friendship Hospital, which it called “the most symbolic Turkish humanitarian assistance to date for the people of Palestine,” will be complete within the year. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to attend its official opening.

The hospital will have 150 beds, making it the largest hospital in Gaza and Ramallah.

Israel's permission to bring in the construction materials came “as part of Israel’s decision to soften its embargo over Gaza,” the newspaper wrote. It also noted that easing the blockade on goods allowed to enter Gaza is part of Turkey's conditions for normalizing relations with Israel, which have been on hold since Israel's raid of the Mavi Marmara, a ship attempting to break the naval blockade of Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in the ensuing violence.

Turkey also has demanded that Israel apologize for the raid and compensate the families of those killed.

Pakistani girl shot by Taliban leaves British hospital

A Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls' education has been discharged from a British hospital after doctors said she was well enough to spend time recovering with her family.

Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who was shot by the Taliban in October and brought to Britain for treatment, was discharged on Thursday but is due to be re-admitted in late January or early February for reconstructive surgery to her skull, doctors said.

The shooting of Yousufzai, in the head at point blank range as she left school in the Swat valley, drew widespread international condemnation.

She has become a an internationally recognized symbol of resistance to the Taliban's efforts to deny women education and other rights, and more than 250,000 people have signed online petitions calling for her to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism.

Doctors at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where Yousufzai was treated said that although the bullet hit her left brow, it did not penetrate her skull but instead travelled underneath the skin along the side of her head and into her neck.

She was treated by doctors specializing in neurosurgery, trauma and other disciplines in a department of the hospital which has treated hundreds of soldiers wounded in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery,” said Dave Rosser, the hospital's medical director.

“Following discussions with Malala and her medical team, we decided that she would benefit from being at home.”

Yousufzai has already been leaving the hospital on a regular basis on “home leave” in recent weeks to spend time with her parents and younger brothers, who have a temporary home in central England, Rosser said.

“During those visits assessments have been carried out by her medical team to ensure she can continue to make good progress outside the hospital,” Rosser said.

Yousufzai's father said in October he was sure she would “rise again” to pursue her dreams after medical treatment.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Hillary Clinton discharged from N.Y. hospital, State Department says

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was discharged from hospital on Wednesday after being treated for a blood clot in a vein behind her right ear, and her doctors expect her to make a full recovery, a State Department spokesman said.

“Her medical team advised her that she is making good progress on all fronts, and they are confident she will make a full recovery,” said Philippe Reines in a statement.

“She's eager to get back to the office, and we will keep you updated on her schedule as it becomes clearer in the coming days,” he said.

Related: Hillary Clinton returns to hospital 15 minutes after leaving, the New York Daily News reports.

A Chaplain’s calling: ‘It drew me in’

For Rabbi Jason Weiner, his one-year chaplaincy internship at Beth Israel Medical Center New York’s Lower East Side was a not-so-pleasant requirement while he was a rabbinic student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

“I didn’t feel like I had any impact. I didn’t feel like I could really help people,” said Weiner, who is now senior rabbi and manager of spiritual care at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The feeling changed in 2007, when Weiner, who was serving as assistant rabbi at Young Israel of Century City, was asked to fill in part time at Cedars-Sinai because the hospital’s longtime chaplain, Rabbi Levi Meier, had fallen ill. 

“I quickly began to build confidence in the impact a chaplain could have in people’s lives. I began to realize how appreciative people were, and how fulfilling it was, and how much I was learning and growing. I felt like I was on the front lines of life and death. The intensity of that really drew me in,” he said.

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Cedars-Sinai’s chaplaincy program puts spirituality on the medical charts

Usually, the frantic words, “Someone get the rabbi!” uttered in a hospital room mean only one thing. So Debbie Marcus burst into tears when Rabbi Jason Weiner was summoned to her grandfather’s room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in July 2008. 

Weiner, then interim Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai, quickly assessed the situation: Albert Rubens, 97, had been brought in with a massive heart attack. Although he was still lucid, it was clear he was not going to make it. 

But even with that devastating news, the rabbi detected that Debbie’s tears were about something more. And he was right. Albert, known to his family as Pop-Pop, had been eager to see Debbie, then 39, get married, but she and her then-fiancé, Marty Marcus, had not set a date for the wedding.

So someone floated an idea: Get married. Right now. 

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Amid conflict, Israel’s hospitals treat Gazan patients

(The Jerusalem Post) Israeli hospitals, amid the ongoing conflict, are treating dozens of patients of all ages who came to Israel from Gaza to get healthcare unavailable there, and are making provisions for accompanying persons.    

“We at Rambam Medical Center are taking care of sick children and adults, and we are not looking at their religion or where they come from. At the moment, we have four—a baby girl in the nephrology department, two children in oncology and an adult in urology,” Rambam director-general Prof. Rafael Beyar said.    

“Family members accompanied them,” he said. “It’s absurd that we are doing this at the same time Israelis are being attacked, but there is no other way. We are used to it. We are very far from politics.”   

Working in Haifa, Beyar was “extremely upset” when he learned that Arab students at the University of Haifa last week stood for a “moment of silence” when Ahmed Jabari, the terror chief of Hamas, was killed by the Israel Defense Forces.

“I just can’t accept that,” he said.    

Beyar also said that he had received no reports of any tension among Jewish and Arab personnel in his medical center. “We are used to working together to save lives.” 

The Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem said that in the past month, it has hospitalized six Gazan patients.    

Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer said that it provides medical center to several dozen Palestinians each month, and even now, there is no change. Most are children who are hospitalized for long periods or youngsters who underwent treatment and return periodically for follow-up, Sheba spokesman Amir Marom told The Jerusalem Post.    

“Just two days ago, a nine-year-old girl from Gaza who was hurt in her palm was brought to Sheba. Her father is an Arab journalists who writes from Gaza for an Israeli newspaper. She was accompanied by her mother. An Israeli boy who was wounded by a Gazan rocket that fell in Kiryat Malachi last week is in the same room with a Gazan girl whose fingers were amputated due to injury,” Marom said. “We regard our hospital as a bridge to peace.”    

Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said 50 patients and their accompanying relatives from Gaza are now hospitalized—both children and adults. Most of them are cancer patients. The relatives live in the hospital’s hotel, and there is a hospital employee who serves as a contact person and helps them.    

Medical treatment for Gaza residents allowed into Israel is paid for by the Palestinian Authority or by other bodies, including the Peres Center for Peace.

This story was written by The Jerusalem Post and is distributed with the permission of that newspaper.

Hospitals battled to protect patients as Sandy raged

At one New York hospital where backup generators failed, staff carried premature babies down more than a dozen flights of stairs in one of the more dramatic moments for healthcare workers during powerful storm Sandy.

Record flooding and power outages across the northeastern United States made for a long night caring for the most critically ill, as several hundred patients were evacuated in New York City, day-time hospital staff slept overnight on vacant beds and less urgent procedures were postponed.

From Maryland to Massachusetts, hospitals large and small had prepared for the worst as the storm approached, stocking up on supplies and ensuring backup power generators were ready. At least 30 people were reported killed by the storm, and millions left without power.

In its aftermath on Tuesday, many hospitals were still limiting care to the neediest patients, canceling chemotherapy sessions and elective surgeries and anticipating a new influx to emergency rooms as travel conditions improved.

New York University's Langone Medical Center near the city's East River was one of the hardest hit as eight feet of water flooded its basement. It evacuated all 215 patients, including critically ill infants, when its backup generator failed.

“It is a very long operation because they have to hand move every patient. There are no elevators and some of the patients are on the 15th floor,” said hospital spokeswoman Lorinda Klein. “All the patients have been safely transported … the nurses had battery-operated machinery for patients that needed that level of care.”

Nearby Bellevue Hospital also grappled with a power outage and visitors on Tuesday were turned away at the door as many hallways remained dark, though a receptionist assured them that patients “are okay and have lights.”

The Manhattan Veteran Affairs Hospital and the New York Downtown Hospital, both in low-lying areas of lower Manhattan, evacuated patients before the storm hit. Other city hospitals picked up the slack, including Beth Israel Medical Center, where one student nurse said nurses had stayed put at the hospital since Sunday, with some working multiple shifts.

Dr. Adam Levine, an attending physician at Rhode Island Hospital's emergency room, began to see patients injured in the storm overnight.

“I treated a man who was driving and had to stop very suddenly when a branch crashed into his front windshield,” he said. While many people tried to wait out the night with whatever ailed them, some took the risk to drive to the hospital. “We admitted one woman who relies on home health care attendants and when they could not come to her she had to come to the hospital and be admitted because there was no one to care for her,” he said.

PLUGGING UP WINDOWS

In tiny Crisfield, Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, McCready Memorial Hospital claims to be the smallest hospital in the state of Maryland with only half a dozen beds.

Situated at sea level on a tiny peninsula, the hospital faced a 6-foot storm surge and wind-driven rain that brought water into the building as power from the electrical main flickered off and on.

“We're at sea level, so it doesn't take much to get right up close. We're up high enough so water didn't enter the building through any doors. But it did enter through some windows,” said Shane Kelley, who handles community outreach for McCready.

Kelley said staff plugged the leaking windows with towels and used large commercial vacuums to clear water before closing off rooms. While no new patients showed up for emergency care during the storm, McCready had 11 emergency room visitors before noon on Tuesday, mainly elderly people who waited out the storm before seeking care for hypothermia and respiratory problems.

“We remained open throughout the storm. We did have to go onto our generator several times throughout the storm. We did lose power. At this point, we're all here as a team and able to accept any patient who needs our help,” said Kelley.

St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, closed its chemotherapy infusion center and other outpatient areas and between 60 and 80 of the hospital's 2,700 staff slept in the empty hospital beds.

Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital, both members of the Western Connecticut Health Network, canceled outpatient services and elective services.

The 85-bed New Milford hospital lost power and fell back on a generator. The 371-bed Danbury hospital weathered the storm using a cogeneration plant, which spokeswoman Andrea Rynn said provides steam power when it needs to come off the local utility grid.

Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, David Morgan, Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Toni Clarke; Writing by Debra Sherman; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Claudia Parsons

City of Hope restores, rededicates chapel

On a recent sunny afternoon, City of Hope, a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, celebrated the unveiling of its newly restored campus synagogue. Now dubbed the La Kretz House of Hope, the chapel has been renamed for philanthropist Morton La Kretz, who donated $1 million toward the project in 2009.

Built in 1940 on the City of Hope’s Duarte campus, some 20 miles east of Los Angeles, the chapel was originally designed by Harry Herzog and called Beth Hatikvah, or House of Hope. It initially stood on a 10-acre property devoted to cancer research and patient care. Today, the La Kretz House of Hope is in the same location, but now stands between a Japanese Zen garden on one side, and a statue of Pope John Paul II on the other, on grounds stretching across some 100 acres.

Herzog had been a patient at City of Hope, and his design is complemented by the artwork of another former patient from the 1950s, Janos “John” Bernat, who painted the two murals adorning the walls of the synagogue. They, too, have just been restored.

In honor of their father’s contribution to City of Hope, Bernat’s children, Tom Bernat and Suzanne Bernat Droney, attended the opening ceremony. They told of his years at City of Hope, saying he had a studio on the grounds and ultimately worked as the facility’s medical illustrator.

The two-year restoration by architectural firm DLR Group brought the building’s exterior back to its original appearance, while the interior has been updated to give it a more contemporary feel. Electric yahrzeit lights line donor-recognition plaques on the walls, and an interactive monitor displays names of those being remembered. As Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, explained, “It’s not easy to take a traditional religious space and give it a modern, sacred look.”

Despite the Jewish affiliation of the synagogue, the City of Hope chaplains are eager to use the space for interfaith services and holidays, as well as make it available for select lectures and meetings.

The space will be open to the entire City of Hope community as “a place where everyone is welcome,” Dr. Michael Friedman, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit facility, said in his opening remarks at the ceremony. Historically, the chapel often has been used as an interfaith space, and with the completion of the restoration, it has been rededicated to the patients, families and staff as a place “for moments of gathering, solitude and spiritual reflection.”

Also in attendance was Dr. Eugene Roberts, director emeritus of neurobiology at the Bechman Research Institute of City of Hope, who joined the staff in 1954 as the chairman of biochemistry at Beckman. Roberts had worked closely with Bernat over the years, as both his doctor and colleague, and he shared many stories about the legacy of the House of Hope.

To dedicate the newly renovated space, Rabbi Olga Bluman, a member of City of Hope’s spiritual care staff who consulted throughout the renovation process, led a short ceremony to bless the synagogue. Rabbis Gilbert Kollin and Joshua Levine Grater, as well as Cantor Ruth Harris, all of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, accompanied Bluman in leading the prayers. Together, they blessed the temple by reaffixing the mezuzah and returning the Torahs to the ark, as is tradition since King Solomon sanctified the First Temple of Jerusalem.

“In Judaism, the building itself is not inherently holy. It is our souls that make a synagogue holy,” Diamond said. In an attempt to do just that, members of the community filled the room and sang prayers in honor of those in need of healing.

The La Kretz House of Hope, which has stood as an institutional landmark for more than 70 years, is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and upon special request.

Egyptians rally for power, Mubarak ailing

Staking its claim to Egypt’s presidency, the Muslim Brotherhood rallied in Cairo on Tuesday to demand the ruling generals hand over real power, following moves by the army that its U.S. ally labeled an assault on democracy.

Up to 10,000 gathered as darkness fell on Tahrir Square, cradle of last year’s Arab Spring revolution, chanting the name of the Islamist who they say won the weekend’s presidential election and condemning measures to curb his powers that will leave much legal authority in the hands of the army for months to come.

The election result is due to be announced later this week.

“Down, down with military rule!” chanted the crowd, one of the biggest in months at the capital’s protest rendezvous, but showing no sign of seeking confrontation with troops as the Brotherhood treads warily through a shifting political arena.

“We are here to finish the revolution,” said Ahmed Badawy, a Brotherhood member bussed in, like many, from the provinces.

“We are showing the military council we can see that it is trying to reproduce the old regime and abort the revolution.”

In a mark of the movement’s desire to put violence behind it and assure Egyptians, fellow Arabs and anxious world powers that it can rule a democracy, one man held a poster of presidential candidate Mohamed Morsy reading “Egypt’s Erdogan”. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is a model, for some, of modern Islamic leadership in a nation also long used to influential generals.

“The military council should stick to what it is supposed to do,” said the man holding the sign, Hassan al-Attar, 60, adding they were clinging to power for fear of joining ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak – in prison for oppression and corruption.

News as the rally was breaking up that Mubarak, 84, had been moved from prison and was critically ill in hospital left most little moved. Their anger is directed at those who followed him.

The dissolution of a new, Islamist-led parliament on the eve of the presidential election run-off, and a decree issued as it ended that took new powers for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), have been widely condemned in Egypt and abroad.

But weariness after the turmoil and economic hardship of the past 16 months, and a lack of enthusiasm for two presidential contenders from the familiar old adversaries of the army and the Brotherhood, have dimmed many rebellious spirits.

Despite calls to rally, few of the young, urban activists who first launched the revolt turned out on Tahrir on Tuesday.

While many feel betrayed by the generals, who pushed out Mubarak to appease the revolt but now seem to be entrenching their own privileges, the latest anger has not turned violent; neither the Brotherhood nor the army, engaged in a hesitant new symbiosis over the past year, seem anxious to start a fight.

WESTERN DILEMMA

The rise of Islamists, not just in Egypt but other Arab states where autocrats were overthrown last year, has also left Western powers with a dilemma, so that criticism of SCAF’s moves seems unlikely to bring any immediate sanction for a military elite that has been funded for decades by the United States.

The Pentagon, which gave the Middle East’s biggest army $1.3 billion in annual aid this year, rebuked Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi’s military council on Monday and urged it to hand “full power” to civilians, as it had promised to do by July 1.

The State Department said it was “concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military’s hold on power” and urged SCAF “to restore popular and international confidence in the democratic transition process by following through on their stated commitments”.

But worries in Washington’s vocal ally Israel about Islamist leaders in Cairo reneging on a 1979 peace treaty, or aiding Gaza’s Hamas militants, mean Washington is unlikely to alienate its Egyptian military allies for the sake of the Brotherhood.

A militant attack on Israel’s border was a reminder of the lawlessness Egypt’s revolution has brought to the Sinai desert. But Israeli officials say the fact that U.S. aid is conditional on peace with Israel will keep Egypt’s Islamists in line.

“Any rise of an Islamic regime … is worrisome,” Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said. “But on the other hand, Egypt today is dependent to a large extent on the peace agreement.”

Egypt’s election committee refuses to give results from the weekend’s presidential run-off before Thursday. The Brotherhood says its data show Morsy won by 52 percent to 48 over former general Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister.

Shafik’s camp shot back that they have a one-point lead.

But army and election committee sources say the count does show Morsy winning. The military seems to be prepared for that.

“SQUARE ONE”

Where the political system goes now is unclear. What had been seen as the final step in a “transition to democracy”, the inauguration of a president, now seems only a beginning.

“We’re back at square one,” Hussein Ibrahim, a senior Brotherhood member of the dissolved parliament, told Reuters.

“After Egyptians waited for the election of a new president to end the transitional period, we discovered that by electing a new president we are restarting the transitional period.”

At a news conference, a spokesman for the Brotherhood played down talk of head-on conflict with an army with which the movement has lately developed a cautious working relationship.

“Why do we rush to the word ‘confrontation’?” said Yasser Ali. “We do not seek any confrontation with anyone. No one in Egypt wants confrontation … There has to be dialogue between national forces, and the people alone must decide their fate.”

The secretive SCAF has appeared to make up rules as it goes along for what is supposed to be progress toward democracy, giving it considerable flexibility in interpretation.

With the economy, notably the tourist trade, suffering badly, Egypt is looking for financing from the IMF. For the generals to maintain influence but avoid taking all the blame for economic troubles, they have an interest in sharing at least some responsibility with civilian politicians.

Speaking publicly on Monday, generals from SCAF insisted they were still committed to a full handover of power and blamed squabbling politicians for the failure to draft a constitution.

One noted that the new president was free to appoint his own government, which could then draft laws that the head of state could pass into law. But the process will involve SCAF, in its role as legislator, able to amend or blocks laws as it sees fit.

Another general pointed out it was not SCAF but the constitutional court, staffed by judges from the old regime, that annulled the results of January’s parliamentary election.

In another potentially explosive judicial saga on Tuesday, a court adjourned until September one of several civil cases that challenge the Brotherhood’s very right to exist or engage in politics, using old laws aimed specifically at the Islamists.

Additional reporting by Tom Pfeiffer, Edmund Blair, Shaimaa Fayed, Patrick Werr, Alastair Macdonald, Saad Hussein and Samia Nakhoul in Cairo, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Andrew Quinn and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Israel builds huge underground hospital for protection against attacks

The Rambam Medical Center in Haifa has unveiled the world’s largest fortified hospital, intended to protect more than 2000 patients from missile and rocket attacks. Construction of the Sammy Ofer Northern Regional Underground Emergency Hospital was spurred by missile attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas, particularly during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

The patients will be housed dozens of meters below ground and will also be protected from chemical and biological weapons. During peaceful times, the underground structure will be used as a parking facility for up to 1,400 vehicles, the Times of Israel reported.

Hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners moved to hospital

Two hunger-striking Palestinians in Israeli jails have been moved to an Israeli hospital in poor condition, their lawyer said.

Bilal Diab, 27, of Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, of Hebron, are at risk of death, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency. Both have marked their 63rd day without food. Eight other prisoners also have been hospitalized.

Israel’s Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal against their detention without charge on Thursday, according to Ma’an.

A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to four months; it can also be renewed.

Some 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are on an open-ended hunger strike launched two weeks ago. The mass hunger strike is calling for an end to solitary confinement and isolation; for allowing families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip to visit their loved ones; and allowing prisoners to have newspapers, learning materials and specific television channels. It is also protesting administrative detention.

Israeli prisons commissioner Aharon Franco on Monday told Palestinian hunger strikers that he had named a panel to address the prisoners’ demands, according to Arab news sources.

More than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, with some 320 in administrative detention.

Two high-profile hunger strikers were released earlier this year after cutting deals with Israeli authorities.

Report: Pollard hospitalized, then returned to prison

Jonathan Pollard reportedly was hospitalized at a facility off his prison campus.

Israel radio and representatives of Pollard’s wife reported Friday that Pollard was taken to a facility outside the Butner Federal Correctional Complex, the prison complex in North Carolina where he is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.

Butner has a medical facility, suggesting Pollard had suffered an emergency condition that could not be treated by a conventional clinic, said Aaron Troodler, a spokesman for the campaign to release him.

Pollard, 57,apparently has since returned to the prison; an official at Butner told JTA on Friday that he was in his regular prison facility.

Pollard’s wife Esther had yet to reach him since learning of his hospitalization, Troodler said, and she called on his supporters to pray for his recovery and health.

Pollard, who has been imprisoned since 1986, reportedly has suffered from a variety of illnesses.

“There are many reasons to release him,” Troodler said. “This latest episode highlights how important the health factor is.”

Hackers hit websites of Israeli hospitals

The websites of two Israeli medical centers as well as several other public Israeli websites, were hacked.

The websites for Tel Hashomer and Assuta medical centers, among the largest in central Israel, were down Wednesday morning.

The hospitals’ security systems held back the assaults and patient information was not compromised, according to the hospitals.

Following the attacks on the hospital websites, the websites for the Dan Public Transportation company, the Israel Festival, the Cinematheque and the Haaretz newspaper were simultaneouly attacked in the afternoon.

The Israel Festival website was changed to read “Free Palestine, death to Israel.” The other sites read “Jew = Nazi.” 

The attacks come after successful assaults by anti-Israel hackers on the websites of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and El Al, as well as the exposure of thousands of Israeli credit card holders’ information.

Giffords released from hospital

Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in January, was released from the hospital.

Giffords’ release Wednesday came days after the release of photos of the congresswoman taken in May.

She reportedly will move to her husband astronaut Mark Kelly’s home in League City, Texas, near the Johnson Space Center, and will return to the hospital each day for speech, music, physical and occupational therapy.

It is unknown whether she will be able to return to her job as a congresswoman.

The first Jewish congresswoman elected from Arizona, Giffords had been in a recovery facility in Houston. The third-term Democrat was shot Jan. 8 as she met with constituents in Tucson, Ariz.; six people were killed.

‘House’ cast gets taste of Israeli medicine

On television Lisa Edelstein, a star of the hit Fox show “House,” and her fellow actors work medical miracles every episode. But at an Israeli hospital she stumbled trying her hand at simulated arthroscopic surgery.

“I’m so glad this is not a living person,” she said Wednesday, shifting the controls over a robotic dummy, eyes fixed on a computer screen that revealed her would-be patient’s internal organs. “I think I just mangled its liver.”

Edelstein and three other members of the “House” cast, along with David Shore, the show’s creator, are on a weeklong tour of Israel as part of a public relations effort to bring high-profile Americans on visits here.

Among their stops were two Tel Aviv-area hospitals—the first at the Israel Center for Medical Simulation at the Sheba Medical Center, the only simulation center of its scope internationally, where medical staff, students, and army medics and physicians from around the world undergo extensive training.

The cast members looked on as medical students re-enacted a particularly dramatic scene from the last season of the show in which a patient who was crushed under a falling building has his leg amputated and is rushed to the operating room.

Among the team of medical students was Yuval Lotan, an avowed fan of the Emmy Award-winning “House,” which stars Hugh Laurie (who was not available to come to Israel as he was touring elsewhere) as a curmudgeonly genius doctor who leads a team of young physicians in investigating mysterious infectious diseases and other ailments at a New Jersey hospital.

“The show is good entertainment, but at medical school we learn what not to do from it,” Lotan said. “After all, this is Hollywood we are talking about.”

The visiting cast—which also included Omar Epps, who plays Dr. Eric Foreman; Jesse Spencer, who plays Dr Robert Chase; and Amber Tamblyn, who will play Dr. Martha Masters in the upcoming seventh season—also visited the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

At Wolfson they visited the pediatric cardiology intensive care unit and met with children from the West Bank, Iraq, Africa and Romania, among other places. All of the children were brought to the hospital by an Israel-based humanitarian project called Save a Child’s Heart to receive life-saving treatment.

Save a Child’s Heart, also known as SACH, brings children with heart disease from the developing world for cardiac care in Israel while also working to improve cardiac care centers in their native countries, on average saving some 200 children’s lives a year.

“The work that Save a Child’s Heart is doing is an important reality check,” said Shore, who is Jewish and has two brothers living in Israel. “It’s good for the Jews, it’s good for Israel, but really it’s good for humanity.”

At the hospital, Edelstein played with two young girls from Zanzibar who had undergone surgery recently and spent time trying to connect with a girl from Iraq. Nearby, Tambly gave her sunglasses to a young Palestinian boy from the West Bank.

The trip was organized as part of a combined effort of America’s Voices in Israel, an arm of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Israel’s foreign and tourism ministries.

Irwin Katsof, director of America’s Voices in Israel, said the project’s purpose in bringing celebrities on such trips was to make them goodwill ambassadors when they go home.

“We want them to talk to their friends, perhaps do an interview to let people know Israel is more than just wars,” Katsof said. “These people have an impact. The amount of free publicity we get from them going back and speaking on a news show is phenomenal.”

The visit has coincided with Israel’s somber marking of Memorial Day, and the cast members described watching as Israelis came to a halt at the sound of a siren to stand in silence for those killed in the country’s wars.

“It was very emotional,” said Edelstein, who is Jewish and has relatives in Israel, including descendants of a great aunt who was a founder of Kibbutz Dafna on the border with Lebanon.

Memorial Day was followed by the abrupt shift into celebrations for Independence Day.

“You guys know how to party,” said Tamblyn, laughing in an exchange with reporters.

The group had stayed out late the night before exploring Tel Aviv’s vast club scene.

Also on the touring list were the Galilee (stopping off in a spa), Jerusalem and the ancient desert fortress of Masada.

And more actors who play doctors on TV are on their way. Katsof said the next delegation he is bringing is due here next month: members of the “Grey’s Anatomy” cast.

Japanese deputy FM tours Israeli field hospital

Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Makiko Kikuta toured the Israeli army’s medical clinic in the city of Minami-Sanriko.

Kikuta said that the good relationship between Israel and Japan will be strengthened due to the arrival of the medical delegation to help in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March.

“Your excellent work here, which was impossible to ignore in media reports throughout Japan, is very much appreciated by us and the Japanese people,” Kikuta said during Monday’s tour. “Your success and the cooperation that you have been able to establish with local medical officials will create an opening for additional delegations in the future.”

Kikuta added that she recognized many members of the Israeli army’s medical delegation due to the wide media coverage the delegation has received on Japanese television broadcasts.

During her visit, Kikuta was interested in learning about the patients who have come to the clinic and asked to hear about the medical issues they are facing as well as the care they are receiving.

Kikuta praised the Israeli medical team for being the first to offer aid to the Japanese people and promised to tell other Japanese government officials about what she saw during the visit.

They never run out of patients

An Iranian Jewish girl was going through chemotherapy treatment — which tends to suppress your appetite — but one day, she got this craving for a lamb stew with carrots. Within an hour, someone was headed to the nearest Persian restaurant to get the dish and bring it to the girl.

Another young patient was in Minnesota for a special medical procedure. She was used to getting challah delivered to her every Friday afternoon while she was in Los Angeles. Again, just like magic, a FedEx package arrived before Shabbat with her favorite challah.

A mother and father decided, at the last minute, that they both wanted to spend the night at the hospital with their young child, who had a serious illness. No problem: a babysitter immediately showed up at their house to take care of their other children, including helping them with homework and serving them dinner.

Where did all this magic come from? Not from the Magic Castle, but from a little Jewish organization called Chai Lifeline.

For many years, because of its highly visible banner on the corner above Pat’s Restaurant, where it rented office space, Chai Lifeline was a fixture in the heart of the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

They recently moved to a less visible but larger location a few blocks west, where they can now accommodate their growing list of volunteers. I went by there the other day and met one of these volunteers, a mother of four named Helena Usdan.

Usdan fell in love with Chai Lifeline 18 years ago when she was a counselor at their Camp Simcha back East, and helped open the West Coast office nine years ago. She told me that one the best decisions they made was seven years ago when they brought in executive director Randi Grossman, who had worked for many years at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

Grossman runs a cause that’s all schmaltz, but she’s all business. Perfect manners. Perfect tone of voice. Perfect answers. Still, behind the professional demeanor, she’ll choke up at a video of someone Chai Lifeline has helped.

Like little Chana Bogatz, who was born with a rare renal disease and received a kidney transplant before turning 1. When the new kidney began to fail, the doctors told Chana’s parents that she would need another kidney to survive, but the high percentage of antibodies in her system made finding a compatible donor almost impossible. So they needed to get the word out to as many people as possible.

Grossman and her staff had already become an extension of the Bogatz family, so they put on their PR hats, and in partnership with Chana’s parents, helped get three stories over several months onto the evening news about the urgent need for a kidney. By the third, a donor was found, and Chana made it.

But not every story has a happy ending.

A few weeks ago, Grossman had to cancel a breakfast meeting because one of their kids “didn’t make it.”

It doesn’t happen often, she says, but death is not something she’s comfortable talking about. That’s why they never use the word “terminal”; they say “serious” or “life-threatening.” They let God and the doctors worry about things like “terminal.”

Grossman and her group worry about the “life” part — adding joy to the life of the children and doing whatever it takes to ease the lives of their families.

Many of these seriously ill children and their families were present last week at Chai Lifeline’s annual signature event: A community-wide carnival at the Scandia amusement park in Pomona during the Sukkot festival. I was there, but I couldn’t really tell who the seriously ill children were.

I guess when kids are having a ball, it’s hard to tell them apart.

Having a ball is one of Chai Lifeline’s basic services. When I hung out in their office, at one point it felt like being in one of those creative brainstorming sessions in an advertising agency. They’re always bouncing ideas around to come up with creative ways of helping their “patients.”

A young boy with a serious illness was a big football fan. So Grossman, Usdan and the staff made some calls and found someone to donate two Super Bowl tickets, and someone else to sponsor the trip. When the boy found out about the trip, his parents said it was “the first time he smiled since getting his diagnosis.”

Over the years, they’ve used their creativity to develop a slew of different programs, like KidShops (art therapy for patients and siblings), Wish at the Wall (trips to Israel), Chanukah Angels (adopting a child for Chanukah), Seasons of Respite (separate retreats for mothers and fathers of patients), and ChaiLink (individual tutors and Web cam-based connections between classrooms and homebound or hospitalized children).

One of the best things I heard, though, was a lot more mundane: They have a team of professional advocates who help parents navigate the complex bureaucracy of insurance coverage for serious and long-term illnesses. (That comes in handy when you have an insurance company that covers an electric wheelchair but won’t cover the electric wheels.)

I couldn’t leave without asking Grossman what it was like to spend so much of her waking hours dealing with seriously ill children and their families. Isn’t it draining? Isn’t there a burnout point, when it gets just a little too heavy?

“It’s the good news,” she says. “The little moments of joy, the recoveries, the smiles on the kids’ faces, the gratitude of the parents, the generosity of all the volunteers, all those things help.”

I thought of something else that probably helps: The unspoken gratitude any of us would have to be in the position of helping people with a life-threatening illness, rather than being the person needing that help.

When I brought that up, Grossman — all choked up again — just nodded quietly.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.