Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Esther’s Story: From the Heart of Africa to Israel

Just before Rosh Hashanah this year I returned from East Africa having spent almost two weeks with a team of medical personal and climbers from Israel’s “Save a Child’s Heart”(SACH) young leadership team (www.saveachildsheart.org). I was honoured to witness first-hand the ability of Israel to affect the world for good.

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On the roof of Africa.  Photo (c) 2015, T. Book

The challenge of Tikkun Olam is our own responsibility for others and for our world. Our Jewish state knows how to rally around now and always. Today more than ever before we have among us worldwide circles of aid and assistance. It does not matter where you are or what language you speak, we all grew up on a set of common values. When we open our hearts to the world and give of ourselves to others we become part of a long tradition of charity and righteousness and leading by personal example part of the Jewish culture of Tikkun Olam. The State of Israel is totally dedicated to the idea that every person deserves the best medical treatment available; regardless of their nationality, religion, colour or gender.

SACH team on KILI
SACH Young Leadership Mission in Tanzania.  Photo (c) 2015, T. Book

Back in 2009, Esther, an eight-year-old Christian orphan from the Massai tribe in Tanzania, became the twenty five hundredth patient of Save a Child’s Heart. Dr Lior Sasson, one of the cardiologists at Wolfson Medical Centre, described Esther’s condition.

Rheumatic fever had damaged her heart and as a result her heart was huge. She was very limited in even the simplest tasks. Even walking was difficult from her.”

Sister Angelika Wohlenberg, the German born director of the “Little Africa” orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania, where Esther was living, heard about the SACH program from a volunteer who just happened to be riding the same bus as her from Kenya to Tanzania. Angelika contacted SACH and discovered that a team was actually heading to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro two days later. One of the medical crew was Dr Godwin Godfrey, who is Tanzanian, and was being trained in Israel for five years to return to his country as a paediatric cardiologist. They met Esther and saw she needed urgent life saving surgery. Two months later she was in Israel. Dr Lior Sasson and his team, including Dr Godwin Godfrey and Dr Sagi Assa operated for hours and reconstructed her damaged heart valve. Now she can live a normal life. A popular Swahili saying states, ‘Ni shauri ya Mungu’ (‘It is the will of God.’)

Six years late,r I was privileged to be on a SACH team that returned to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and over $60,000 for SACH to save the lives of children in developing countries by bringing them to Israel, at no cost to the families, for life saving heart surgery.  We pushed our collective physical and mental boundaries in order to be part of the effort to raise cognisance and appreciation outside Israel for all the good that Israel does for the world.

The day before our assent we visited the “Little Africa” orphanage in Arusha. Dr Assa, one of the cardiologists who had operated on Esther, was among our SACH team who visited the orphanage and had a chance to reconnect with Esther six years after her successful surgery in Israel.

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Dr Sagi Assa and Esther, Arusha, Tanzania.   Photo (c) 2015, T. Book

We spent many happy hours at the orphanage amongst special people whose poverty is not of the spirit. The children treated us to a lovely concert. In one of the songs, “Halleluyah,” sung in both Swahili and English, Esther was the smiling soloist. In conversation with Dr Assa, Esther mentioned how she is motivated to pursue a career in medicine and specialise in paediatrics in order to help other children in need. Sister Angelika confirmed that Esther is an outstanding student and SACH donours have committed to funding Esther’s education.

This is one more example of how Israel, with all of its imperfections, sees as part of its purpose looking out for other people. As Prime Minister Netanyahu stated:

Israel is operating under two principals: Israel must help its own and that it has a responsibility to offer humanitarian assistance to other countries around the world.”

Many of my friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, were deeply moved my stories of the SACH mission to Tanzania, and by the images of the Israeli field hospitals and search and rescue teams after any natural disaster in the world, and ask why there is so little awareness and appreciation in the outside world for all the good that Israel does for the world.  Israel will continue to provide aid and assistance to all those who need help, because it is the right thing to do. It’s in our genes. Together, we will overcome the darkness, and rebuild for a brighter future.

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Sunrise from the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.   Photo (c) 2015, T. Book

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He is the author (and illustrator) of the internationally acclaimed Zionism curriculum; “For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Education” (fifth edition, 2017, Koren) and is at present working on his next book, a history of the Jewish people. Tuvia has a doctorate in Israel education. His dissertation title is: “Through the Soldiers’ Eyes: Exploring the Influence of a Birthright Mifgash on the Israeli Soldier Participants.”
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