From Jerusalem to Buenos Aires: A Wake-Up Call

Stories build who we are. That building up goes beyond the narrative, it touches our emotions, our ideas of what is good and what is wrong.

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I am sitting in front of my computer screen. I can see his worried eyes and feel the tears that he is holding back. He is sharing the story of the Jewish Nursing Home he runs from his office in the traditional Flores neighborhood in Buenos Aires. He has just shared the tragedy of seeing many of the residents of the nursing home leaving the home sick, never to return.

The tragedy of death in times of a pandemic.

From my home office in Tel Aviv, several thousand miles away, I listen to him. I see pain and despair. The inner drive that has guided me throughout the last few months makes me think faster than ever. I share with him the simple and innovative policy of the Hadassah Hospitals in Jerusalem — the pooling testing for COVID-19 for senior adults living in nursing homes.

Surprised by the information I had just shared; he asks if there was any way they could learn more about what we do at Hadassah. Would they be able to implement the same technique? I told him that was the reason for our virtual meeting and that sharing this information could help him save lives.

And indeed, following that brief, dramatic encounter, lives were saved at the Jewish Nursing Home in Flores, Buenos Aires. That plea was followed by a series of virtual meetings with experts from the Hadassah Medical Organization who advised, trained and followed up on reorganizing the work at many nursing homes in South America.

In regular times, my work at Hadassah International requires traveling the world, connecting compassionate and generous people with, and in support of, the work of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem. An oasis of peace through health in the middle of one of the most conflicted zones in the globe, Hadassah has become my spiritual and ideological home, the place where I fulfill my purpose of changing the world one step at a time.

When the deadly new coronavirus started to hit hard, I had just ended a long trip. Although I did not know it at the time, it was going to be my last opportunity to travel for a long time.  The trip had been very fulfilling as we at Hadassah had started a program for genetic screening for the prevention of rare diseases in Mexico. Upon my return to Israel, I realized I had landed in a country that was waking up to a gradual but fast-moving lockdown policy.

Two days after landing I was told that somebody on my plane was COVID positive, so I had to stay in isolation until further notice. A short while after my isolation ended, the whole country went into total lockdown. Luckily, I did not get COVID-19, and have stayed healthy ever since.

Locked down in my house and rebuilding my international operation from my home office, I quickly realized that for me this was a moment to turn what I was doing into an extraordinary kind of action. Like everybody else, I was experiencing the trauma of being in this quasi-apocalyptic situation. Seeing the world collapsing and without knowing the magnitude of what was coming, I felt I could not just be a passive spectator of reality, as dramatic as it was.

I have always felt that I have to go the extra mile. I know that doing just the expected will not help me rebuild balance. The balance that is broken when there is social injustice, when people are discriminated against, when kids are bullied, when basic freedom is taken away. When a tiny virus paralyzes an entire world.

There are moments in our lives when we are called upon to fulfill a role. The call might be clear and sound like a siren going off in the middle of an emergency. At other times it can be subtle and go as deep as reaching for the basic values that inform our individual existence. I had my first call during my adolescence, when I led a high-school student union in an Argentina ran by a far-right military dictatorship. With all the naivete and idealism of my teen years, I was part of a fight for democracy, and took myself beyond the comfort zone.

Now, during the early months of the pandemic, I saw the world in front of me. Our outstanding medical professionals, nurses, and directors at our two Hadassah Hospitals in Jerusalem were fighting the battle on the medical front. Some of the most developed countries were seeing catastrophic crisis. Other countries were at the early stage of the crisis, looking at ways to prevent what was already happening elsewhere. The world was learning, researching, working around the clock to find immediate solutions to unsolved problems.

It was at that moment that, together with the committed and passionate leadership team of Hadassah International and Hadassah in Israel, we decided to create a Global Crisis Response Team. Our mission was to make sure that the know-how, experience, research and learning developed by the Hadassah medical experts in Jerusalem, could be shared and used in every possible way where it might help around the world.

Since then, over a hundred digital interventions have been done in more than thirty countries, including webinars, trainings, consultations and direct actions like the one at the Jewish Nursing Home in Argentina described above. We compiled all the protocols created at the Hadassah Medical Organization into one Manual that has been translated from Hebrew into English, Spanish and Russian.

Most of these actions have been a great and timely way of sharing best practices that ultimately could have an impact on the health of many people.  Some of these practices have saved lives.

Stories build who we are. That building up goes beyond the narrative, it touches our emotions, our ideas of what is good and what is wrong. My grandfather was a Polish Jew who immigrated to Argentina and lost all his close family during the Holocaust. Years before he passed away, when I was still very young, he gave me a very heavy book with the story of all the Jews of his little town in Poland, Tomaszow Mazowiecki. The book, IZKOR, contains tragic stories, the stories of heroism and of rebuilding life.

The book has been with me ever since. It inspired me to be who I am, to find my purpose in helping bring balance to a world that often is broken by nature or human hands. Occasionally, I hear a voice coming out of the book telling me this is the time I must do even more. Like today. Like now.

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