Thanksgiving Weekend Gratitude – and a renewed sense of purpose for Israel

Two weeks ago, the latest round of missiles began falling from Gaza. It was two days after I left Israel.

Dr. Nimrod Adi, 3ft walls protect ICU from Gaza missiles

A family wedding was the excuse for a one-week trip, but the real purpose was to visit Rehovot and walk the campus of the Kaplan Medical Center. It is a huge campus, more than 60 acres located in the center of Israel. Kaplan with 1,000 nurses, 600 doctors, 700 plus beds,* serves the day-to-day health needs of more than a million Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens, 11% of the total population.

My plan was to meet Dr. Tal Ben-Ami, Chief of Pediatric Oncology and get an update from her on a new effort to build a Kids Cancer Ward in the recently built Beit Ida Pediatric Center, opened in 2012.

I needed details from Dr. Ben-Ami as we have a Philly event planned immediately following Thanksgiving Weekend. On Monday, December 2 we have invited Neshama Carlebach, internationally acclaimed Jewish “Soul” songstress to open her US tour in our Tri-State region of PA/So.NJ/DE.

Additionally, we are honoring two dedicated Jewish communal professional “Women of Valor.” Linda Richman, is the recently retired Philly Director of the American Technion Society, and Vered Nohi, is Executive Director of the Philadelphia – Israel Chamber of Commerce. Since the Philly Consulate closed 3 years ago, Vered has acted as Philly’s unofficial and “De Facto” Israeli Consul General.

Waiting to see Dr. Ben-Ami, I took pictures, with permission, of parents and kids in the crowded reception room. The intake nurse, also named Vered, heard of our plans to create awareness and support among community leaders in Philly, and her face lit up with great joy and appreciation.

Then I met Adi, holding her beautiful daughter Hodaya. My heart melted as I later learned from husband Dany that:

Adi and daughter Hodaya “

Our little baby Hodaya was born premature at 27 weeks , we spent almost 2 month at the pediatric center. My wife was there most of those two months at the hospital with our baby. The pediatric center staff was very kind. They were professional, and most important, helped us get through this time, as we also have 2 ½ year old son Imri at home.”

Dany works in hi-tech and Adi with the DMV. Their grandparents immigrated from Ethiopia, and tragically Adi’s father’s life was taken in a terrorist attack in the 1990s.

I had my short meeting with Dr. Ben-Ami, thanked her, and thanked the father sitting patiently with his daughter, who graciously let me cut in before his appointment.

Dad with daught

Walking down the outdoor covered hallway connecting the pediatric clinic, at the farthest end of the hospital, I passed the Cardiac Center, also housed in the original hospital barracks from 1953. Strolling through the open interior campus, I arrived at the impressive and beautiful Beit Ida children’s center.

Nurse Ricki, 43 years as Kaplan Pediatric nurse

This is my third visit to Kaplan in the last four years and the challenge is near overwhelming. Last year our AFKMC partnered with Jewish Federations of North America as the exclusive sponsor to the JFNA Mission for the Israel 70 “GA.” Jewish leaders from throughout the US and Canada toured Kaplan as the last stop before the GA – General Assembly, began. They met in the beautiful Beit Ida building. Unfortunately, we did not have time to take them on a full tour of the building, to see the two floors fully operational serving and saving lives every day, like Hodaya’s. With no time, we did not show them the two floors that are still empty to the visible supporting beams.

AFKMC Board leaders walking through empty pediatric floors

With those two cavernous floors, there is plenty of room to put a new Pediatric Oncology Unit, and to move Dr. Ben-Ami’s cramped cubby hole of an office, along with her distant Pediatric Clinic, to where they are supposed to be.

Our challenge, though, is that America does not know about Kaplan … yet.

Actually, scores of individual community leaders know of AFKMC, and our Mission to support Kaplan. We have been attending the last five years of national conferences, GA’s, AIPAC, and next week again at IAC – the Israeli American Council national conference in Miami.

Building a stronger relationship with IAC is critical to our efforts. While 0.08% of non-Israeli American Jews know about Kaplan. 99.9% of Israeli Americans know about Kaplan. In Miami I expect to hear an all-to-often response. When I ask “Atah makker Kaplan b’Rehovot” – are you familiar with Kaplan hospital? Often I hear, “Mah atah omar, noladity shamah.” What the heck do you mean – I was born there!”

This Thanksgiving we will give thanks to dedicated Jewish community professionals devoted to Israel, have our spirits lofted into the heavens by the “Bat Kol” of Neshama Carlebach, and renew our efforts to build partnerships to save-lives in Israel, helping a significant number of Israelis, like Adi and Hodaya. – B’Vracha.

*Note: Kaplan has a sister property, Hartzfeld Geriatric Center in Gadera, 7 miles away with another 300 beds. This 1000 bed administrative operation makes Kaplan one of the largest hospitals in Israel. Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital had 700 beds until a 2012, when a $75 million contribution brought in 500 more beds.

About the Author
Lou Balcher served from 2004 - 2013 as Director of Academic Affairs to Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also served as Education Director for Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, PA, and as administrator and teacher for Gratz College's Jewish Community High School. He is a former Membership Director for the Philadelphia and Cincinnati regions of B'nai B'rith International. For three decades, he has coordinated post-college young leadership programs for Young Jewish Leadership Concepts. Additionally, he consults as National Director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot, Israel which serves more than one million Israeli citizens.