Affirming the Diaspora connection to Israel’s healthcare success: the new Zionism?

As a highly contentious, politically-charged year draws to a close, converging with the High Holidays, rabbis and other Jewish leaders may be grappling with how to talk about Israel.  Issues such as “the conflict,” religious pluralism, or concerns over particular government policies may sow divisiveness, often dominating the headlines and clouding the conversation.

But one way Jews can unite around Israel is by recognizing its remarkable health care system and the vital role that private philanthropy plays in its success.  Health care in Israel accounts for roughly 7 percent of the country’s GDP, compared to double that in the U.S.  But with lower cost comes greater efficiencies, including breakthrough advances in medical research and clinical care.

Israel, by law, guarantees universal health care.  It is largely provided through the country’s HMOs, which not only provide basic coverage but also comprehensive care, a veritable “basket” of services across the board.

According to Bloomberg’s Global Health Index, Israel ranks as  the sixth healthiest nation in the world.  Its ratio of health care professionals to patients also is very favorable.  Average male life expectancy is 81 years, the second highest in the world.

Hospitals in Israel can be government-operated or private. Rambam Medical Center, in Haifa, is among the former.  It serves a population of over two million people in the North, with the largest trauma center in the country, in part a consequence of its experience as the major emergency center for soldiers injured in battle along Israel’s northern borders.

Everyone is entitled to health care in Israel, and its providers – doctors, nurses, and allied professionals – are highly trained and well regarded in their fields.  Still, the system is not perfect, as government cutbacks often leave gaps in services and funding for innovation and technology.  This is where donors from abroad can step in.

It’s difficult to imagine what advanced medicine at a leading Israeli teaching hospital would be without the support of individual donors.  At Rambam, the Ruth Rappoport Children’s Hospital provides a child-friendly environment for seriously ill children.  The Joseph Fishman Oncology Center provides state-of-the-art treatment for cancer patients, including a highly-advanced device for local therapy of prostate cancer.    And the soon-to-be-completed Eyal Ofer Heart Hospital will ensure the highest standard of cardiac care.

This is just a sample of the private philanthropic support that makes Israel’s health care and medical research so advanced.    And it is wholly distinct from the vagaries of the political arena,  affording some of the most effective ways for Diaspora Jewry to proudly connect to Israel.

As Prof. Gilad Amiel, Chairman of the Department of Urology at Rambam, observes, “engaging with Israel’s healthcare system is the new Zionist movement.  We have developed cutting-edge technology with almost zero help from the government.”  He attributes this not only to Israeli innovation, but also to creating attractive opportunities for funding.

Diaspora Jewry can take great pride in the evolution and success of healthcare and medical research in Israel.  It is a message we should amplify throughout the High Holidays and beyond.  L’Shana Tova.

About the Author
Rick Hirschhaut has served as a Jewish communal professional for over three decades. He has held senior leadership positions with the Anti-Defamation League, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and American Friends of Rambam Medical Center. He is also an Emmy Award winning co-producer of the nationally broadcast documentary, Skokie: Invaded but Not Conquered.