A busy week. Hanukkah begins Wednesday night; Thanksgiving is on Thursday, and then only a weekend before I leave for Israel. Every trip, I promise myself I’ll be ready early, and every trip there’s chaos before I go: buying presents, running to the bank, packing.
Once I’m in Israel, I can relax and concentrate on the volunteer work with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) that keeps me busy five days a week. On weekends I visit friends and family, travel a little, walk the beach, and eat great food in friends’ houses and in an eclectic assortment of ethnic restaurants. I just get a good dose of being in one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world.
The volunteer work I do is important to me. I want to help in a real way, in a country that does so much good in the world.
As I write this, 150 Israeli doctors and nurses from the IDF Home Front Command are at a field hospital in the small agricultural town of Bogo on Cebu Island, Phillipines. They are delivering babies, restoring sight to people blinded, treating diarrhea, fever, and respiratory problems in people suffering after the disaster of Typhoon Haiyan.
Like many other countries all over the world, Israelis send aid/personnel where it’s needed in times of disaster. They were among the first in Haiti, they were in Turkey after the earthquake, sent food during the drought in Ethiopia–the list goes on.
At home, the Israelis are making changes by leaps and bounds in the world of medicine. “Save a Child’s Heart” performs free open-heart surgery for underprivileged children from around the world, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Forty-nine percent of these patients are from Palestinian communities, Jordan, Iraq, and Morocco.
Israelis developed an AIDS treatment that targets and destroys 40 percent of HIV-infected cells without affecting healthy cells. Dr. Avram Hershko and Dr. Aaron Ciechanover won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research on the regulatory protein ubiquitin. There work will lead to finding new treatments and cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as genetic disorders. An Israeli company, Given Imaging, pioneered capsule endoscopy, now the gold standard for small bowel visualization. The PillCam is an ingestible video camera that allows pain-free, noninvasive visualization of the small intestine and esophagus to detect disease. There are many many other advances in the field of medicine in Israel; simply put, Israel exports more life-saving medical technology per capita than any other country.
Next time from Israel, I’ll be talking about gay rights, gender equality and other aspects of Israeli life, and after that, some interviews with other volunteers from countries around the world.