Sue Polansky
Vice-Chair, Zionist Affairs, Hadassah

Mending Wounded Soldiers’ Bodies & Spirits at Hadassah’s Gandel Rehab Center

Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Photo courtesy of Hadassah.

I’ve been on a long ride with Hadassah. I joined about 40 years ago because a friend became chapter president where we lived, in Delmar, NY. I was strictly supporting a personal friend, with no pressure to become active. Who could have imagined that when I moved to Massachusetts, I’d wind up as chapter president with about 40 friends on the board? Times change and our chapter’s energy has migrated with the snowbirds to Florida. But my volunteer commitment has lasted through a Hadassah region presidency and various national portfolios.

One of my current assignments is to serve as a Hadassah delegate to the Vaad haPoel, aka World Zionist Organization, in Jerusalem. While attending this year’s conference, I was fortunate enough to tour the Hadassah Medical Organization’s new Gandel Rehabilitation Center on the campus of Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus.

As a former occupational therapist, I had some preconceived ideas about what I might see. I had worked on both psychiatric and medical wards with burn patients, hand patients and neuro-impaired patients. But that was in the Stone Age. The state-of-the-art facility at Hadassah we toured was light years beyond my expectations. Today’s equipment auto-adjusts to a patient’s therapeutic challenges. Wall consoles give immediate feedback so that patients can monitor their own progress.

When Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th,  the Gandel Center’s opening was accelerated so that Hadassah could offer rehabilitation care to as many wounded  soldiers as possible. The soldiers were the first patients to be brought in on January 15th.

The Center offers a host of special treatments along with physical, occupational and respiratory therapy as well as hydrotherapy and orthopedic rehabilitation. There is a post-traumatic stress disorder center and rehabilitation for neurological problems caused by brain, spinal cord and nervous system injuries. Since the Hamas invasion, both hospital staff and patients have accessed the center’s psychological and social services.

Therapy is not a respite. Our highly motivated soldier-patients work hard to regain strength and function. My tour group was fortunate to meet a member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), an extraordinary hero, who served as a battalion tank commander at the onset of the Hamas-Israel war. His group of 15 armored tanks secured the border between Israel and Gaza.

In Israel, commanders lead from the front and can be targeted. Unfortunately, he was. Early in the war, this brave soldier was shot and his arm and forearm were shattered. The bones have been replaced with rods. He is grateful to be at the Gandel Center, where he has spent weeks working to regain full range of motion and strength in his shoulder, elbow and hand, which the injury severely compromised. From what I could tell, he has a long way to go.

When construction is complete, the 323,000-square-foot, eight-story Gandel Center will care for 10,000 patients annually, with 140 in-patient beds and an out-patient clinic that can serve 250 patients daily. Among the state-of-the-art advances the Gandel Center will offer are walking labs (called gait labs), which use computers to analyze motion and detect problems not always apparent in clinical exams, and a therapeutic swimming pool with a modular floor that adapts to each patient’s requirements.

Little did I realize that when Hadassah’s founder, Henrietta Szold, spoke about the “healing of the daughter of my People” over 100 years ago, she was talking to me. I am grateful that my unexpected connection to Hadassah is helping to give the wonderful soldier we met, and other IDF heroes like him, the best chance possible to return to full functioning and to lead meaningful lives.

Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
About the Author
Sue Polansky serves as Vice Chair of Zionist Affairs in Hadassah’s Education & Advocacy Division member and a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. Sue is also a Youth Aliyah Team Member and a Hadassah delegate to the American Zionist Movement. She has previously ghostwritten the “Zionism…Did You Know” puzzle for Hadassah Magazine. She served as president of Hadassah Western New England, headed Hadassah’s delegation to the 2017 and 2019 Va’ad haPoel (JAFI & World Zionist Organization meetings), was a Hadassah delegate to the 2020 World Zionist Congress and to the 2024 WZO meeting in Jerusalem in 2024. She represented Hadassah at the Jewish Council of Public Affairs and co-taught a syllabus from the Hartman iEngage Program: “Jewish Values & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” in her community and later taught the series for Hadassah Northeast. During the Covid19 pandemic, she facilitated a Beit Ha’Am Zionist video series for Hadassah Southern New England. She continues to serve on the National Youth Aliyah Committee and as Zionist Affairs VP of Hadassah Southern New England. In her home community, Sue has served as a vice president of Heritage Academy, chair of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School Committee, served on the Board of Jewish Geriatric Services, and on several committees at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Her involvement at the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts has included serving as vice president on the Executive Committee, chair of its Education Committee, president of the Women’s Division, a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, Nominating Committee, and Executive Director Search Committee. Sue has chaired the Federation’s Planning and Allocations Committee, Partnership 2000, the Israel@60 Mission, and the Jewish Endowment Foundation’s Distribution Committee. She was honored by the Federation at its Rose Luncheon in 2013, and at its 13 Extraordinary Women event. She received the Unsung Hero Award from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation for her many contributions to the Jewish community. Sue, who resides in Longmeadow, MA, is also a 2017 Israel Bonds awardee.
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