Jorge Diener
Executive Director, Hadassah International

My October 7th

Photo taken by the author during his stay at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.
Photo taken by the author during his stay at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on October 7th.
Photo taken by the author during his stay at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on October 7th.
Photo taken by the author during his stay at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on October 7th.
Photo taken by the author during his stay at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on October 7th.

It was the best night’s sleep I had had since my open-heart surgery. Almost three weeks into my successful recovery, I felt I had reached the point of independence and relative comfort that had allowed me to enjoy a long night of deep sleep, alone in my room in Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem’s Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower. My wife and life-mission partner, Ira, was sleeping close by at the hospital’s hotel.

We kissed goodnight the night of October 6th and I woke up at 6:30 am on Saturday, October 7th, with a bright smile, looking forward to going home that day. As the executive director of Hadassah International, Hadassah’s global advocacy and fundraising arm, I have felt that Hadassah Ein Kerem has been my “home” for the last 13 years. And now I had experienced the hospital in a new way, as a patient receiving outstanding care and treatment from the medical teams of the hospital I love.

When I woke up, I automatically extended my hand to reach for my phone, a movement that wasn’t yet as easy as it is now, months later. I opened the phone and saw the first strange thing of the day: two of my teenage children, who were sleeping in different cities in the Tel Aviv area, had written to tell me that I shouldn’t worry, that they were okay. It was 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday! As typical adolescents, they would both normally still be asleep, with many more hours to go before they would open their eyes.

Hours later, my kids’ texts would seem almost banal on a day that will be remembered by millions as one of the most tragic in our collective existence.

Notifications were coming in rapidly on my phone, with announcements of sirens in response to the barrage of Hamas rockets falling on Israel. News of the rockets transitioned into horrific details of Hamas terrorists coming by land and air into Israel cities and kibbutzim on the Gaza border and beyond. Families had been expecting to wake up to a day of rest and leisure. Instead, they were massacred, wounded, raped and kidnapped.

At the hospital, I was beginning to realize the magnitude of what was happening. Shortly after calling my children to hear what they had experienced, the first siren went off in Hadassah Ein Kerem. We all had to move to a secure area, but nobody knew where it was. Instinctively, we all headed to the staircase, where we saw a sign indicating a secure area. For me, walking was still a slow process; for most of my fellow recovery patients, it was almost impossible. In Jerusalem, we have 90 seconds from the moment a siren goes off to get to a safe area. That short amount of time is stressful but doable for healthy people, for those recovering from heart surgery, the short walk to the secure area felt like an eternity.

The news kept coming, bringing glimpses of the horrors that were happening: people trapped in their kibbutzim; others running for help. Then came the first images from the Nova Music Festival massacre.

For the first time in our Israeli existence, a sense of insecurity invaded our strong nation.

I heard the sound of the first helicopter before I saw it pass right next to my window, bringing the injured to Hadassah Ein Kerem. It would be the first of many helicopters that day. They just kept coming throughout daylight and even after darkness fell upon us.

Indeed, darkness had fallen on our country that tragic morning. At the hospital, confused staff members quickly organized themselves to deal with the transition to a mass casualty event of unprecedented proportions. Loudspeakers started calling for urgently needed blood donors. Ira immediately found her way to the first floor nursing station that was set up to receive the donors. Meanwhile, the patients on our floor had to combine with recovering neurosurgery patients from the floor above, who were also at risk of being hit by rockets coming from the south. I volunteered to go home to make room for more seriously ill patients. They told me to wait until the next day.

As the hours passed, doctor after doctor, nurse after nurse, arrived at the hospital to serve in this emergency mode. They were wearing vests with their different roles written in big letters on them so everyone could recognize each other’s jobs. It reminded me of two years ago, when I was with dozens of Hadassah doctors and nurses on Hadassah’s Humanitarian Medical Mission, treating Ukrainian refugees on the Polish border. Now, our people were the ones suffering, the ones needing all the help Hadassah could provide.

That evening, preparing for my release, I went to the Emergency Department to get an X-ray of my recovering heart and chest. As I entered the ED, I saw the flow of ambulances bringing the seriously injured. I learned later that what I had seen were wounded Arab Muslims who had been praying at a neighboring mosque when it was bombed by Hamas missiles.

Everybody remembers where they were on September 11, 2001, when New York City’s Twin Towers were destroyed by terrorists, killing thousands of innocent people. Over time, we will all remember where we were on October 7th, 2023. By chance, I was in Hadassah Ein Kerem, witnessing with my own eyes the vital role Hadassah plays during extreme crises – something I had spoken about endless times in my role as executive director of Hadassah International. That day, lying in a Hadassah hospital bed, I still didn’t know that this time would be and still is the toughest and most challenging crisis of all.

About the Author
Jorge Diener is Executive Director of Hadassah International, the global fundraising and advocacy arm of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA), supporting the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) in Jerusalem and promoting its mission of healing, teaching and research in different parts of the world. Diener, through his activity as a senior fundraiser for major capital gifts has solicited and closed seven and eight figures major gifts in the fields of health, education, social and community work. Over the years, Diener's professional activity has focused on adding international value to local leaders, companies and organizations through a combination of training, consulting, coaching and networking building. Throughout his activity as consultant and trainer for companies, NGOs and public institutions, Diener has developed innovative models that enable grass-root movements and well-established NGOs to grow their support through human and financial capacity building. Diener, before starting his consulting and training practice, served for many years as a Senior Director at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, where he gained extensive international experience after spending years of service in Latin America, North America, Europe, the countries of the Former Soviet Union and Israel. He trained, coached and consulted for over 1000 leaders and managers of all different backgrounds and sectors. He has been a keynote speaker at several international events as well as providing consultancy and advice on communications, strategy and fundraising to NGOs and governments across the globe. He is also a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle.
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