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September 25, 2013 9:20 am

Israel’s Acts of Charity Prove It is a Righteous Nation

avatar by Danielle Haberer


A Syrian refugee is treated at Ziv Medical Center in Israel's northern city of Safed. Photo: Ziv Medical Center.

In the words of Yehuda Bauer, a professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: “I come from a people who gave the Ten Commandments to the world. Time has come to strengthen them by three additional ones, which we ought to adopt and commit ourselves to: thou shall not be a perpetrator; thou shall not be a victim; and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

As a people who suffered at the hands of the Nazis as the world looked on, the Jewish community cannot look on as the world suffers. Having risen from the depths of a dark past, Jews have a unique obligation to respond to the suffering of the world. This obligation is a guiding principle at the core of Israeli society. The Jewish State cannot be a bystander.

In their undertakings as “upstanders,” Israelis have provided humanitarian aid to people all over the globe, from Boston to Oklahoma, to Haiti, to Japan, to Gaza, to Syria, and many more, dealing with a wide array of dire situations, from natural disasters to medical emergencies, to refugee crises, to wars, to genocide.

However, despite this consistent global aid in times of crisis, a recent LA Times article cited Israel as “[giving] the least as a percentage of gross national income among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development” along with Mexico and Chile. According to an interview with Hillel Schmid, head of Hebrew University’s Center for the Study of Philanthropy in Israel, Israelis are lacking in generosity when it comes to making donations, both internationally and domestically.

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While some may attribute this lack of financial charity to greed and self-absorption, in actuality, it simply points to a difference in methods and values. The definition of charity isn’t limited to giving money; it is defined as showing generosity toward those in need. Israel partakes in forms of giving that operate on a much deeper level than financial donations, affecting people’s lives in significantly more personal and impactful ways.

As a 65-year-old country that is still developing its economy and facing unpredictable threats of violence and terror, giving financially is not Israel’s strong suit. But that doesn’t mean Israelis are not generous to people in need. Israelis work to create organizations such as Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), IsraAID, and the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED) that operate to save the lives of those in crisis, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. Additionally, Israelis utilize various innovations in the areas of medicine, agriculture, and military technology that have been developed in Israel to benefit individuals on a global scale.

In the wake of natural disasters, Israel has come to the aid of victims in desperate need of food, shelter, and medical attention. In 2010, an earthquake shattered Haiti, leaving thousands homeless, starving, and injured. Within a day, more than 200 Israelis, including doctors, rescue, and relief workers led by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, departed for the devastated area. Upon their arrival, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) set up the first field hospital at the chaotic scene.

Then, in 2011, when a tsunami devastated Japan, Israel was one of the first to send a full-scale medical delegation in response to the disaster. Working with the Japanese authorities and Japanese National Disaster Center to determine what manner of aid would be the most valuable, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense provided 18 tons of aid, including thousands of blankets, coats, gloves, and portable toilets.

Additionally, Israel has come to the aid of its closest ally, the United States, on many an occasion. During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and the recent Oklahoma City tornado, Israelis aided victims through the recovery process. Recently, a team from IsraAID, a humanitarian organization that primarily works with the victims of natural disasters, was stationed in Moore, Oklahoma, aiding victims in salvaging items from the wreckage of their homes, providing trauma counseling, and bulldozing and rebuilding damaged structures.

And it isn’t just countries that have peace agreements with Israel to which Israelis extend a helping hand. In March of 2012, Israel offered humanitarian aid to Syria in light of a rising death toll attributable to the ongoing civil war. “Even though Israel cannot intervene in events occurring in a country with which it does not have diplomatic relations, it is nevertheless our moral duty to extend humanitarian aid and inspire the world to put an end to the slaughter,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.

Save a Child’s Heart, a non-profit Israeli based humanitarian organization dedicated to providing pediatric care to children in developing countries who suffer from heart conditions, has saved more than 3,000 children since its creation in 1995. The IDF medical delegation in Haiti treated more than 1,110 patients, successfully performed 319 surgeries and delivered 16 babies. Since the beginning of the year, the transport of 662,239 tons of supplies has been facilitated by the IDF into Gaza. So shouldn’t figures of lives saved by Israel speak louder than figures of financial donations? Maybe the problem is that figures don’t speak at all.

Many people are aware of Israeli’s global aid; they have been exposed to information regarding the number of tons of supplies that Israel has provided and the approximate number of people they have saved. However, those facts are too wide in scope and too abstract to invoke an emotional response or effectively stimulate positive feelings towards Israel. People are unable to relate on a personal level to facts and figures. This explains why many dismiss the statistics and overlook the meaning behind them, some even going so far as to write off Israel’s social action endeavors as publicity stunts, solely intended to improve Israel’s reputation. So how do we make the connection?

On a trip to Poland in my senior year of high school, I stood in Auschwitz facing a glass enclosure containing thousands upon thousands of shoes. The number of victims who had perished in the camp was too big to grasp, the mass scale of the murder of the Jewish people too overwhelming to process. I was then advised to focus on a single shoe, think of the person who it had belonged to and reflect on what his or her life might have been like. This exercise was powerful and helped me put things in perspective.

Similarly, to truly understand the purpose and meaning behind Israel’s humanitarian aid, we need to dial back and narrow the focus. The personal experiences of those who have been touched by Israel’s helping hands are much more revealing as to the depth and impact of Israel’s giving than statistics. Just as each shoe in Auschwitz represents a real person who it once belonged to, each number in reference to the recipients of Israel’s humanitarian aid represents a real life, a real person.

Israeli entrepreneur Dr. Amit Goffer created a system called the ReWalk, a “quasi-robotic, wearable upright mobility system” that aids paraplegics previously confined to wheelchairs in completing everyday tasks such as standing, walking, climbing, and driving. I had heard about the ReWalk before, but the true implications of such an invention hadn’t hit me until I watched Dan Webb rise from his wheelchair and walk across the stage at the 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference.  I watched him stand with feet pressed firmly to the ground and address thousands of people, watched as his family witnessed this miraculous moment with beaming smiles and teary eyes. Webb, a resident of Warminster, Pennsylvania, had been injured in a hunting accident, becoming paralyzed from the waist down. He was told that he may never walk again. With ReWalk, he was able to defeat the odds.

Twenty-four-year-old Gubilande Jean Michel and her family are residents of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. When the 2010 earthquake struck, Michel was pregnant with her fourth child. With her husband missing since the earthquake and her three children at home with her parents, Michel went into labor and was brought to the IDF field hospital. With the aid of the Israeli doctors working there, Michel gave birth to a healthy baby boy, in a smooth delivery with no complications. Her newborn son was the first baby delivered in the hospital. In an expression of immense gratitude for the country that came to her aid in her time of need, Michel chose to name her son Israel.  Midwife Major Efrat Shrir said, “We departed on this mission with a sense of dedication and purpose, with a true will to help people. So for me, the fact that we were able to help this woman is a real contribution.”

When 3-year-old Noam Naor was killed in a tragic accident, Israeli parents Sarit and Avi Naor faced not only the heart-breaking loss of their son, but also a difficult decision that would change the life of a young Palestinian boy and his family. Yakoub Ibhisad’s condition was rapidly deteriorating, and he was in desperate need of a kidney transplant. The Health Ministry’s Transplant Center called upon the Naor family for help. The Naors answered that call and donated their son’s kidney to Yakoub. It didn’t matter that he was Palestinian and they Israeli; what mattered was that a young boy’s life was in danger and he needed their help. Their kind actions broke down barriers of prejudice and mistrust, rooted in a deep emotional connection between the two families based on mutual understanding of the depth of the love of one’s child.

A 4-year-old Syrian girl was recently brought to Israel for medical treatment, accompanied by her mother, who was nearly nine months pregnant at the time. They had been living in Jordan as refugees escaping the ongoing Syrian civil war. Though her real identity has been kept anonymous for protection, the Times of Israel has dubbed the little girl “Nadrah.” When Nadrah was just 6-months-old, Syrian doctors discovered that she had a heart condition, but were unable to treat her due to lack of available medical care. Congenital heart disease plagued Nadrah all her life, preventing her blood from being properly oxygenated and restricting her from running and playing with other children. Upon her arrival in Israel, Nadrah was examined by the Save a Child’s Heart medical team. They then performed open-heart surgery on Nadrah at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. After ten days of recuperation in the center’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Nadrah has made a full recovery. Now, she has the chance to live, to grow, to be a big sister, to have a future.  The Israeli doctors that treated Nadrah were the first Jews that the mother daughter pair had ever seen. The kindness they received in the land of the “enemy” was eye-opening and uplifting.

Though those who make misguided statements about Israel’s lack of charity and selfish ways may have a louder voice, it is those who have benefited from Israel’s assistance that matter most – the American man injured in a hunting accident, rising from his wheelchair to walk across a stage to meet the Israeli inventor of the system that changed his life; the Palestinian family who thanks two grieving Israeli parents for saving the life of their son in the face of their own tragic loss; the Haitian mother who names her child after the country whose doctors delivered him into the world; the Syrian mother who holds her 4-year-old daughter in her arms after she is saved by open-heart surgery in a medical center in Israel. They are Dan Webb, Yakoub Ibhisad, Gubilande Jean Michel, and Nadrah. They are the ones who know Israel’s true nature, and it is their stories of survival and immeasurable gratitude that display the profound impact of Israel’s giving. In the words of the Talmud: “Whoever saves a life, it is as if he saves the entire world.”

Danielle Haberer is a CAMERA Fellow, and a junior at the University of South Florida majoring in mass communications with a concentration in magazine journalism. She spent the past summer in Washington, D.C., completing a fellowship in writing and media advocacy at The Israel Project. On campus, she serves as Vice President of USF Hillel.

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