What does it mean to be a light unto the nations? How does a tiny nation of just over eight million people not only survive but thrive in an extremely hostile neighborhood? How do we have the strength to, more often than not, strive to do the right thing, even when no one else will? The world needs to start learning how the incredible state of Israel has achieved so much in its mere 70-year existence. Through Write On For Israel, I had the privilege of visiting this amazing country and learning how it has become what it is today.
On the third day of our trip, we visited the Wolfson Hospital in Holon, which houses the Save a Child’s Heart Program that brings underprivileged children in desperate need of heart surgery to Israel, so they can get the necessary care that doesn’t exist in many developing countries. When we first saw the building, we were slightly underwhelmed at its appearance—it hailed in comparison to those in the United States. It was relatively small, outdated and was not aesthetically pleasing, to say the least. But when we walked through the doors, we found the work done by the doctors to be incredible.
One doesn’t need to be deeply involved with Save a Child’s Heart to understand its successes—miraculous stories tend to speak for themselves. One such story came from our own tour guide and core educator of Write On For Israel, Tuvia Book. As a member of the organization, Tuvia set out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in order to help support Save a Child’s Heart. The climb was planned to start on the Sabbath, so Tuvia decided to camp at the base of the mountain on Friday night then climb with the group on Saturday. While at the camp, he met his guide Moses, a Christian man from the Massai tribe. The two began talking as Tuvia brought up Save a Child’s Heart and explained their incredible work. Moses then told him that his niece, Queen, had congenital heart disease and was examined by Indian doctors. However, it was later discovered that in fact Israelis from Save a Child’s Heart examined Queen, and was just waiting to get a passport to get to Israel. She was able to get the next trip to Israel, paid for by the Israeli government, and was cured. “The rabbis teach us that we can break Shabbat to save a life,” Tuvia said. “In this case, because I kept Shabbat, I helped save a life with Save a Child’s Heart.”
After a brief Q&A session, we were taken downstairs to the wing which hosted the Save a Child’s Heart patients. It was there where we first met Fatimah, an Israeli Arab and a social worker for the program. She explained that Save a Child’s Heart brings in patients from multiple countries in Africa, war-torn Syria and even the Gaza strip. The non-for-profit program is funded by Israelis and all doctors perform their work pro-bono. One surgeon, Sagi Assa, showed us around the wing. He performed at least two lifesaving surgeries that day, one immediately before we arrived, and one immediately after we left. Still, he refuses to take major credit for the important work he does every single day.
Our day wouldn’t be complete without visiting the children themselves. We took a short drive across town to the home which houses all the children before and after surgery. Many of the Write On students brought art projects for the kids. I brought a magic marker kit, and I will always remember how the kids looked when they saw the marker fail to draw on one page, but do so on the next—they thought it was pure magic. All the children particularly loved our smartphones. Playing with Snapchat filters and various games opened the kids up to technology that many will never see again after they leave Israel. We raced toy trucks, played with building blocks on the grass and even danced to Shakira’s “This Time for Africa”.
Meeting and playing with these kids opened our eyes not only to how privileged we are to live in a time and a place where we do not need to worry about contracting these kinds of diseases but to the amazing work that Israel is doing. Israel is typically portrayed in a negative light and often does not receive the credit they deserve for their humanitarian efforts. If only the world was able to see all the children being treated in Wolfson Hospital. If only everyone would open their eyes to the work that Israel does for the world, maybe then we would have peace.
Ben Baruch is a senior at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School and is a member of the Write On For Israel class of 2018.