One group came to be briefed. Another came to do the briefing.
Separate delegations of Israeli experts came here recently to strengthen ties and build cooperation between the terror-plagued Jewish state and New York.
A group from Ashalim — a partnership of top Israeli officials, UJA-Federation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — was analyzing the response to and recovery from the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Members met with officials of the city’s Office Emergency Management, the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as heads of UJA-Federation agencies.
“They came away with a fuller picture of ways that New York was able to mobilize itself and provide the kind of services that were needed, and a better handle on the way we have responded to terror,” said Roberta Leiner, managing director of UJA-Federation’s Caring Commission.
Since Ashalim’s main mission is to serve the needs of at-risk children, the delegation was briefed on the impact of 9-11 on the social service sector. It included representatives of JDC’s Brookdale Institute, Israel’s leading center for applied research on aging, health policy, social welfare and immigrant absorption.
The other delegation was from Chaim Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. Members met with state health officials and representatives of the Greater New York Hospitals Association to discuss Israel’s preparation for a chemical or biological attack in the face of a likely conflict between the United States and Iraq. Sheba’s groundbreaking Center for Medical Simulation regularly runs drills to help civilian and army medics practice treating mass casualties of an unconventional weapons attack.
“It was truly a unique experience to learn about the preparations undertaken in Israel, where they are engaged in preparing for nuclear, biological or chemical events far longer than we have,” said Susan Waltman, senior vice president of the GNYHA. She said that although her agency’s committee on emergency preparedness had taken some measures to prepare for a nuclear reactor radiation leak or a chemical spill, “we really had not thought of it as intensely as [the Israelis]. It was extremely helpful to our membership.”
The delegation was organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Waltman said local hospitals and state officials were exploring the possibility of establishing a local simulation center based on the model at Sheba hospital, where army and civilian medics practice treating patients while encased in protective suits.
The center in Israel was designed similarly to flight simulators in which a variety of random events test the reaction of trainees. Although Israel, which has inoculated some 15,000 healthcare workers with smallpox vaccine, is at the forefront of chemical and biological preparedness, Dr. Avi Shamiss, Sheba’s deputy director, said his program was heavily constrained by the cost of the training. “It’s not covered by HMOs,” he said.
Dr. Amitai Ziv, director of the simulation center, said 1,500 doctors and 4,500 healthcare professionals had undergone training there. “Israel is taking seriously a very real threat,” said Ziv.
After touring Ground Zero and UJA-Federation agencies such as the Education Alliance in downtown Manhattan, the Ashalim delegation met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The group was stunned by the staggering sum of New York’s rebuilding costs — $35 billion. “That’s half of Israel’s [national] budget,” said delegation member Chaim Posner, director of social service programs for Israel’s Ministry of Labor and Social Services.
Delegates were surprised to learn that rebuilding issues extended far beyond the 16-acre site of the World Trade Center to the entire downtown area, where retail businesses are suffering a 30 to 40 percent decline in sales, according to Silver.
And what do Israelis make of the memorial-vs.-office space debate over rebuilding in Lower Manhattan?
“You have to rebuild,” said Yossi Tamir, executive director of Ashalim. “You cannot play into the hands of the terrorists.”