Recently, I had the honor of hearing Dr. Ofer Merin, Deputy Director-General of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and the Director of surgical operations for the IDF Field Hospital, at Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies' (CJP) Health Professions Group Annual Breakfast. Dr. Merin spoke passionately as he shared a moving slideshow of the hospital’s time in Haiti and Japan after these countries’ devastating earthquakes. He had 400 medical personnel in the ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel listening intently. The pride was palpable, as everyone understood the extent of Dr. Merin's efforts in the face of such calamity.
Coincidentally, while taking part in three annual winter trips to Israel, I became a friend of Dr. Merin's wife, Ora, who organizes trips from the Israel side for American Jewish federations (JFNA), of which CJP is one. At breakfast one morning, in the dining room of our hotel, here's what she told us (paraphrased) - 100 American women - about her husband's work. We were visiting at the end of the 2nd week of the Haiti recovery, February 2010:
Dr. Merin had been urging the IDF for many years to create a field hospital for humanitarian purposes. He felt that Israel knew disaster relief so well, of course, and this was an opportunity, nay, a duty, to help, which of course would also lend itself to positive feelings and PR from around the world. When he finally received the OK, it took Dr. Merin two years to assemble the appropriate staff and materials, culled from the full nation’s resources.
Not two weeks after the hospital was completed and personnel, procedures and protocols set, the earthquake in Haiti occurred. Israel was the first country, with the first hospital, within 48 hours, on the scene. During the long flight, the doctors and staff continued to prepare for what they might encounter, and included discussions of life and death decisions and self-support tactics they would all need. Many of us watched CNN during their non-stop coverage in the early days and weeks of this disaster.
One scene Ora described I will never forget:
Dr. Merin had brought along two incubators, knowing that women may have gone into pre-mature labor because of the earthquake’s tremors. At first, many of his colleagues and superiors had questioned their need and the use of such precious resources to secure them. Then, the first baby was born, and in front of the usually skeptical Anderson Cooper and the visibly moved medical reporter Elizabeth Cohen, the Haitian mother exclaimed the baby's name would be...Israel.
That morning in Tel Aviv, as Dr. Merin’s wife, Ora, recounted these and other efforts Dr. Merin and his colleagues’ were making for the people of Haiti, Ora’s phone rang. It was her husband, having just arrived in Israel after a two week stay in Haiti. The room exploded in applause, and there wasn’t a dry eye, including those of the multi-national hotel waitstaff.
Dr. Merin is considered an Israeli national treasure…but so too his fellow citizens, who help the world in so many ways. I am constantly amazed at what I witness in Israel….
Here is another story about Dr. Merin, from the New England Journal of Medicine. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1001693