Sally Abrams
Here's How I See It
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Israel is the friend who shows up

The humanitarian reach of the Jewish state includes Haiti, Nepal, Japan, Syria, and even the United States

The photos from Houston’s Tropical Storm Harvey are mind-boggling. Against a backdrop of submerged cars, buildings, and roads, people are fleeing for their lives. The level of destruction is staggering. What it will take to recover is unimaginable.

Who is on the scene to help? IsraAID and iAID, two Israeli non-governmental aid organizations. Their experts are helping clear debris, clean flood damaged homes, and provide psychological support to survivors.

It should be no surprise that the people whose foundational text contains the story of Noah would come to the aid of those who lost everything in a flood of biblical proportions.

Yet the story of Israel’s humanitarian aid is not, in my experience, widely known. Here’s one example. A few months ago I spoke about Israel at a local gathering of business and community leaders. It was a warm, engaged, and educated group. I opened by asking them to say the first word that springs to mind when they hear “Israel.” Their replies?


And so it went. After the last person responded, I smiled and said, “Great!! No one said ‘humanitarian aid’! That means that everything I’m about to tell you will be new information.”

My audience listened with rapt attention as I told them about three remarkable Israeli organizations working to alleviate human suffering. They had no idea that this plucky little country takes such an outsized role in saving lives around the world.

First up, they learned about IsraAID’s work after natural disasters in Haiti, Nepal, Japan…and even in the United States. How astonished they were to know that IsraAID provided disaster relief following Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. That IsraAID sent teams to help after floods in the Carolinas, Denver and Detroit, and after wildfires in Washington.

The story of Israel’s lifesaving care for injured Syrians was news to this audience. I explained how the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and medical personnel have saved thousands of lives as Syria’s war grinds on.

The care has gone above and beyond treating injuries. Here’s a story they won’t soon forget and neither will you. A severely wounded 5-year-old Syrian girl recovered in an Israeli hospital. She was about to go home when doctors discovered she had cancer. They would not allow her to return to Syria untreated, and so they began a search for a bone marrow match. That search led them to a relative living in a country designated as an ‘enemy state’ under Israeli law. In a secret operation, Israeli security services smuggled the relative out of the home country and into Israel.

I studied the audience’s reaction. You could have heard a pin drop.

I wrapped up the presentation by talking about Save a Child’s Heart. These Israeli medical teams provide life-saving heart surgery and follow-up care for children from developing countries regardless of their race, religion, gender, nationality, or financial status. As well, they send teams on medical missions and train medical personnel all over the world.

Finally, I said a few words about the Jewish values that compel this work.

As people left, I asked them to share with me something new they learned. Each one took away a new image to add to the word ‘Israel’. They learned that Israel is more than a story of conflict.

These are the stories that we must tell. These are the stories that matter to everyone who wants to see less suffering in this world.

Back to Houston. Back to the people whose lives have been devastated. Thoughts and prayers matter a great deal. So does every dollar raised to help people who have lost everything. But in a crisis, there is no match for skilled aid workers who stand with you.

There is nothing that equals the friend who shows up when your world has collapsed saying, ‘Hineni. I’m here to help.”

About the Author
Sally Abrams is Director of Judaism and Israel Education at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. She has taught thousands about Israel and/or Judaism in churches, classrooms, civic groups, and Jewish communal settings.
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