Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hillel: If Not Now, When?
"If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Israel's Field Hospital in Haiti: a small, hopeful miracle in a sea of misery

Israel has set up the only surgically capable field hospital in Haiti
Watch this 2 minute CNN clip!

The reporters shock is apparent as she tours the Israeli facility with full imaging equipment, ventilators, and functional operating rooms. Israel, coming from half a world away, got a fully functional hospital set up by Saturday, while the American hospital, coming from Haiti's backyard, is not more than a first aid unit.

Not well known, is that Israel was denied landing clearance by the Americans controlling the airport. After a 14 hour flight they were to be diverted to the Dominican Republic. Somehow the Israeli pilot found out about my friend's brother, a prominent and wealthy Jewish man whose family has been in Haiti for generations. He has many businesses there, and even though he could leave, decided to stay to help. From the cockpit, the pilot called my friend's brother by satellite phone and he directed the plane to an open field on his property. The Israeli pilot landed a Hercules (that is one big plane!) between two warehouses in an open field and it was offloaded there. They were operational 18 hours later. That's getting the job done!

There is also video footage on Israeli TV showing crowds in the streets chanting "Israel Good Job. Israel Good Job" This special medical unit was disbanded 9 years ago for lack of funding and only reconstituted a few months ago. I think this is one of the most important things that Diaspora Jews can support during the Haitian crises. It seems to be the mot effective care on the ground- and puts Israel's best face forward at the same time. See article below.

Israel's Haiti field hospital: a microcosm of a country's turmoil

By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE - The Israeli field hospital in the earthquake-stricken Haitian capital reflects the streets of the city, fluctuating between despair and hope amid the looting, violence and stories of miracles. Each account takes on great importance against the background of the earthquake that devastated the Western hemisphere's poorest country.

A baby around 18 months old lies on a bed in intensive care. She was admitted with an open sore and a massive infection throughout her body. The respirator shakes her every time it forces air into her. She has already been resuscitated a few times, and the team is not optimistic.

In the children's ward, located in a tent, is a baby under a year old; someone left him here after he was pulled out of the rubble Sunday morning. He has open sores on his leg and does not make a sound except for a slight chirping when the doctor checks his leg. The doctors say he is in shock.

"His condition is stable and pretty good considering what he's been through. He'll get antibiotics and surgery on the leg - it's a rare case of survival; apparently he was in an air pocket," says Dr. Assaf Amit, who heads the children's emergency department. "When he came here his condition was life-threatening."

His parents aren't here - perhaps they are dead - but the Israeli nurses caress him and give him a warm bottle of milk. "Apparently it's genetic, the ability to survive - he was lying in the rubble without food for five days," says Gali Wiest, the delegation's head nurse.

"We were shocked by the sights, and the nurses here have to cope with providing nursing care - it's a third-world country," she says. "I have four children myself and I was an emergency-room nurse, but the sights here are very difficult and you need a lot of mental fortitude. We've already taken in 87 children, most in moderate to serious condition; there have been a few operations and amputations, and they keep coming."

But no one stays for long. The hospital has a two-week mandate - nothing compared to the time it takes to recover from complex injuries.

"We're all thinking about the fact that we discharge them into the street, in effect, because they have no home," says Dr. Avi Yitzhak. "But you have to make the right decision: Either you take in 40 people and treat them for two weeks or you try to save as many as possible to at least stop the primary injury."

Yitzhak immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1991 and says he feels a special connection to the patients here. He says he knows the problems of practicing medicine in the developing world.

"There's no organized network of clinics here, there's nowhere to discharge them to and we have to treat as many people as possible, as long as it's still possible to save them," Yitzhak says.

"When I went out on rescue yesterday I saw what was happening in the streets, the bodies, the people who didn't know what to do. It's obvious that the work is very intensive and I assume that we could burn out at a certain stage. But for now we're full of energy and we're thrilled by our ability to help."

Willsmith Joseph, 9, had surgery Saturday to amputate his toes, which had developed gangrene. Sunday morning he was in a deep sleep in the children's ward. His older brother knelt beside him. They will have to leave before noon. The nurse gives him two packets of antibiotics and some acetaminophen and tries to explain in English when to take them.

"Where are you going?," I ask the older boy. "We have no place to go. To the tent encampment," he says. "Our house was ruined." Willsmith's face contorts in pain as he walks with his new crutches.

"Had we not amputated his toes the gangrene would have spread and he would have died within days," Dr. Yitzhak explains. "Yes, it hurts, and there's an infection, but he'll live. It's a drop in the ocean, and it's frustrating, but we have to do the maximum to help as many people as possible."

Most of the wounds are infected and neglected - some people were pulled out of the rubble after being trapped for a few days, others simply couldn't get to a hospital or were turned away. Max Darlene Azur, 29, came to the Israeli hospital with open wounds on both sides of her leg. For four days she shouted and writhed in pain in the town square. The bodies of two of her cousins were still inside her home.

"I was in my room, and the wall simply collapsed onto my leg. But now I feel much better," she says.

The hospital also had its first birth Sunday. Jeanne-Michelle was brought in with labor pains and delivered a beautiful boy, her fourth child. Jeanne-Michelle sits indifferent most of the time, but when she says her newborn's name - Israel - a broad smile spreads across her face. "I feel fine," she says. She will be discharged within a few hours, to make room for other deliveries.

"It's very symbolic," Dr. Dar Shir says. "In a place where even without the disaster infant mortality is among the highest in the world and most women don't give birth in hospitals, the best experts in Israel delivered her baby. It's very moving, and balances out a little the things that are happening here, and reminds us that a woman who is ready to give birth will do so even when there's an earthquake. It's what keeps the human race going. Of course it's a problem to discharge them under these conditions, but at least she delivered safely and both mother and baby are in excellent condition."

According to the field hospital's commander, Dr. Itzik Kreis, "Throughout the night we continued to deal with saving lives; we received a number of patients in very poor shape who needed surgery and intensive care.

"For now the other medical teams don't have the ability to provide more than first aid. We are focusing on saving lives," says Colonel Kreis. "Most of the injuries are a result of the earthquake, but in a few days the situation can change and regular patients will start to come in as well."

How to donate via Israeli organizations:

Foreign Ministry:
Tel (+972) 2-659-4222

Online at
Or via bank account:
Bank of Jerusalem
Branch # 30
18 Keren Hayesod, Jerusalem, Israel
Account No: 300060134
Swift Code: JERSILIT

Magen David Adom:
Magen David Adom Trumot Lakaribim
Israel Discount Bank
Branch # 151
Yad Eliahu, Tel Aviv
Account No: 17926

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Vast Majority of Residents Are Decent"

On Sunday, the Miami Herald published my letter to the editor regarding Councilman Blynn's racially hostile comments about closing down the basketball courts, available here. I am also publishing a copy of the text here on my blog.

Vast majority of citizens are decent

I grew up in Keystone Point, and always enjoyed using the basketball courts in the park. I'm a white Jewish guy, and the park was one of the only places where people from all over North Miami of different races could play and interact with each other.

I valued that experience as a child, and enjoyed making friends with my fellow North Miami residents, including many African Americans.

One bad apple breaking the law and bringing a gun to the park is no reason to close down the entire basketball court [Official recommends closing court, Neighbors, Dec. 27]. Closing the courts would be a sad and wasteful disposal of community resources, and even worse, it would be motivated by apparently racist intentions. Shame on you, Michael Blynn, for fanning the flames of racial insensitivity and discrimination. Your comments show a deep hostility and disrespect for thousands of North Miami citizens, the vast majority of whom are honest, hard-working, taxpaying citizens of our city. It's disgraceful.



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