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Where coexistence is a way of life

Posted on:
January 24, 2013
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At hospitals throughout Israel, handshakes and hugs between the country’s Arab and Jewish populations are the norm.

A young Arab woman in Jericho was bitten on her foot by a poisonous viper in 2008. When the local clinic was unable to treat her, an Israeli ambulance jeep drove the woman almost two hours through the Jordan Valley to Emek Medical Center, where the anti-venom serum was available. She was already unconscious at that point, but her life was saved  in the nick of time.

This is just one of many such stories that Larry Rich relates to an ever-widening audience, with the goal of demonstrating how Israel’s medical establishment serves as a paradigm for coexisting cultures in conflict.

“For years, I have considered Emek Medical Center and the human reality here as a shining example of sanity in a world going mad – literally a beacon of light and hope for anybody who cares to focus on something sane,” says Rich, the Detroit-born director of development and international public relations at the hospital.

Rich is a grassroots diplomat for Israel, speaking to multiethnic audiences in Europe and North America about everyday inspiring scenes at Israel’s hospitals that never make the news.

Many of these stories are recorded in his 2005 book, Voices from Armageddon, which relates how Arab and Jewish medical staff at Emek routinely treats “the other.”

“Jewish-Arab cooperation may be seen in every hospital from Eilat to Nahariya,” stresses Rich. “What is special about Emek is its unique 50-50 ratio. In the northeast, we are the primary healthcare provider for a population of 500,000, equally divided between Arabs and Jews. In no other place in Israel does this symbolic ratio exist.”

Saving lives in Armageddon

Emek Medical Center is situated in Afula, a Jezreel Valley municipality near Megiddo, the fabled site of the future Armageddon and a geographically strategic area that has seen many famous battles during the last 4,000 years.

The medical center’s professional staff mirrors the national ratio: 20 percent overall is Arab, and 20% of the heads of medical departments are Arab Muslims or Christians, Druse or Circassians.

Throughout the years, the medical staff has actively pursued international opportunities to share its expertise, as do many other Israeli hospitals.

In 2012 alone, the head of Emek’s intensive care unit traveled with two nurses, on behalf of the Foreign Ministry, to the Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, to open a new trauma center  and train the local medical staff. The director of Emek’s Pediatric Gastroenterology Clinic lectured at the European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition’s summer course in Madrid. And Prof. Hava Tabenkin, Emek’s chief of family medicine and chair of the National Council of Women’s Health, spearheaded a Family Medicine Fellowship program with Providence, Rhode Island’s Miriam Hospital and Memorial Hospital.

Arrif and Mohammed

In 1997, Rich was taken to Emek after suffering a heart attack. “When I woke up in the cardiac intensive care at Emek Medical Center, I saw Arab and Jewish physicians working together to save me. I had been in the country 25 years, but I still had stereotypes in my mind about Arabs. I never made the academic/professional connection,” he says.

Within two years, he had left his industrial job and created an office to market the hospital to overseas donors. Over the past 13 years, he has written up and shared the many experiences he and staffers witness at the facility – from a Jewish surgeon operating on a wounded Arab terrorist during the intifada to an Arab nurse assuring a wary mother that the Jewish hospital was indeed a safe place for her child sick with cancer.

“Today in Emek, I was leading a group of visitors from England on a tour of our School for Hospitalized Children,” he wrote in one email to supporters. “I introduced the group to Arrif and his fifteen-year-old-son, Mohammed. They come from Gaza. They have been ‘living’ in Emek for 10 months as young Mohammed is being treated for severe facial cancer. Arrif speaks fluent Hebrew and I conducted a simultaneously translated Q&A session between him and the British visitors …

“Q. How do you feel here, among the Jews of Israel?
“A. Perfectly normal and at ease. Grateful – so very grateful.
“Q. What does your family back in Gaza say about Mohammed’s treatment here?
“A. They are amazed and they send their sincere gratitude. They cannot believe what has and is being done for Mohammed and me.

Time for a positive message

Rich, who has a gift for public speaking with his radio-announcer voice, has long told of these episodes to international visitors to the medical center and on his fundraising trips abroad.

“After people heard the stories of the reality of what takes place here in Emek, they always asked why I am not speaking for Israel and only for the hospital,” he relates. The Foreign Ministry agreed, registering him as an official speaker in 2007.

Last year, Rich was invited to address an audience at Trinity College in Ireland, arranged through the parents of Emek’s director of ophthalmology Dr. Daniel Briscoe, an Irish Jew. The Israeli embassy in Dublin paid for his accommodations and the Dublin Jewish community covered his transportation costs.

“I created a lecture about Israel seen through the prism of a medical institution. I decided to present positive realities of human cooperation that take place daily and hourly here, not only in the hospital but in the immediate region,” says Rich. “I stayed away from terror, war and anything negative in our part of the world. It was time for a positive message.”

More than 50 Christians and Jews turned out, along with Israeli Ambassador Boaz Modai, to hear what Rich had to say. Later, he was interviewed on Irish national radio station RTE.

Intense curiosity among listeners

Based on the positive reactions to his appearances in Dublin, Rich was recruited by Noam Katz, the Minister of Public Diplomacy at Israel’s Embassy in Washington to give several lectures while he was in the United States on hospital business in April 2012.

“His office put together an itinerary for me to speak for four days in Washington, which I gladly accepted,” says Rich. “They intentionally arranged some challenging audiences because they were curious to see the impact of my talk.”

Rich was also invited by the Jewish Federation of Detroit to speak before a delegation of Arab leaders representing nearly a million Arabs in this region, which has the highest concentration of Muslims in the United States.

“These people came up to me afterward and said they had never heard such a message coming out of Israel,” Rich reports. “They wanted to hear more about this cooperation at ground level. They want me to speak in their communities.”

The ethnically mixed prep school Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island hosted Rich, as did the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, several groups in Connecticut, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

In Washington, he spoke to Georgetown University medical students and faculty, and a large organization of hospital owners. He found “intense curiosity” on the part of individuals and Jewish communities to hear his perspective.

Human behavior at its best

“I started each of my lectures by saying, ‘Let’s get something clear from the start: I am not a politician or a general in the army. I am just a guy from the street come to open a small window for you to peek in and visit Israel,’ and then I started telling real-life stories of cooperation, education and life-saving on a professional, patient and family level,” Rich says.

He finishes his presentations by stressing that he cannot dictate what anyone chooses to believe, but hopes to shift their focus.

“Every person has the choice to focus on positive examples or to focus on hate and divisiveness, and that is what you will perpetuate,” Rich says.

His final lecture was before leaders and members of a left-wing Israel advocacy organization.

“At the end of the lecture, someone asked if the stories I had told were the exception. I said, ‘These stories are the norm. They go on in Israel all across the spectrum, every hour of every day, north to south – except that is not what you’re hearing in the news.’

“I explained humbly that all of these stories are not the answer to the problem in the Middle East, but an example of human behavior at its best, of people making conscious decisions to live and work together. This is something people are hungry to hear, not about blame or excuses.”

via MFA

VIDEO: Virtual pilgrimage to Jerusalem

Posted on:
January 18, 2013
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Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

New website offers people all over the world the opportunity to visit holy city through series of videos without having to leave home

Many people all over the world dream of visiting Jerusalem and its holy sites once day to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. While some manage to go on a pilgrimage to the city, many others never have the opportunity to do so.

A new website, Jerusalem Experience, is now offering the opportunity to visit Jerusalem and its holy sites without having to leave home through a series of videos – a godsend for millions of Christians all over the world who cannot afford the time or the expense of flying all the way to Jerusalem.

The founder of JerusalemExperience.com, Eran Frenkel, came up with the idea for his website while taking visitors to the Old City of Jerusalem during his tenure as VP of Marketing and Business Development at an aerospace company in Israel.

“You should have seen the look on their faces when they entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” he says.

The videos on the site are organized not only according to major location but also according to theme, for example Christian feasts.

The site features many other videos that take each visitor on a private tour of Jerusalem and its famous holy sites, as well as of many other lesser known but equally fascinating sites in the Holy City.

Source: Ynetnews.com

On eve of 2013, Israel’s population stands at cusp of 8 million

Posted on:
December 30, 2012
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170,000 babies were born in 2012, and the country welcomed 16,500 new immigrants.

Israel’s population stands at 7,981,000 citizens, an increase of nearly 2 percent, according to an annual end of the year tally from the Central Bureau of Statistics, released on Sunday.

Of those nearly 8 million residents, 75.4 percent (6,015,000) are Jewish, 20.6% (1,648,000) are Arab (both Muslim and Christian) and the remaining 4% (319,000) are either non-Arab Christians or those who declined to state their religious affiliation to the Interior Ministry.

The year 2012 saw 170,000 babies born in the country, and Israel welcomed some 16,500 new immigrants, leading to a population growth of 1.8%, similar to previous years.

Story via Times of Israel

VIDEO: Haifa celebrates cultural diversity

Posted on:
December 26, 2012
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Annual festival aims to bring Arab and Jewish communities closer together, attracting some 200,000 people from across Israel and abroad

A parade of performers dressed in costumes representing the season’s various holidays gathered in the northern city of Haifa for a festive celebration of the region’s religiously diverse community.

The annual festival, known as the Holiday of the Holidays, celebrates Christian Christmas, Muslim Eid al-Adha and Jewish Hanukkah.

Organizers say the event is meant to promote the religious and cultural diversity of Haifa, one of the country’s few mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

Even President Shimon Peres found himself caught up in the Christmas spirit, joining a children’s choir for a classic holiday tune.

While the festival attracted plenty of Muslims residents this year, Eid al-Adha was not actually celebrated because it took place in October.

Still, the event was a success, with attendees lining up to chat with performers and take part in the celebration.

The annual festival, which aims to bring Arab and Jewish communities closer together, attracts some 200,000 people from across Israel and abroad.

Source: Ynetnews.com

Arab-Christian Hospital Receives Honor from Israeli Knesset

Posted on:
December 13, 2012
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The Nazareth Hospital has become the first non-Jewish hospital to receive the annual Chairman of the Knesset award for its service to the predominately Arab community in Northern Galilee region of Israel.

The 150-year-old hospital, which is run by the U.K. Christian charity, The Nazareth Trust, received the award for “demonstrating a positive, national impact on the country, its cross-community cultural sensitivity, educational outreach and contribution to Arab healthcare,” according to a press release.

“At a time when the world is focused on conflict and its aftermath in the Middle East, it is significant for an organisation such as ours—that is a Scottish Christian Charity, delivering the general hospital in an Arab city, in the Jewish State of Israel—and even older than the Modern State of Israel itself—to be honoured by the Israeli Parliamentary body in this way,” said Joseph R. Main, CEO, The Nazareth Trust.

The Chairman of the Knesset award is presented annually to recognize organizations that have made a contribution of national importance to communities and the wider society.

Source: Algemeiner.com

J’lem to rebuild iconic synagogue destroyed in 1948

Posted on:
November 28, 2012
History, Religion
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Anonymous donor donates money to rebuild Tifereth Israel, located near Western Wall.

The Jerusalem Municipality awarded initial approval to a plan to rebuild the iconic Tifereth Israel synagogue in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, a magnificent domed synagogue from the 19th century which was destroyed in the 1948 War of Independence.

The project will recreate the three-story-tall synagogue as well as the iconic dome on the top, with only minor changes to the original, such as the introduction of an elevator to make the building more accessible. On Tuesday, the municipality’s Local Planning and Building Committee approved the plan for the next step of the process, where it must receive the approval of the Interior Ministry. An anonymous donor who has been active in previous rebuilding projects in the Old City donated nearly NIS 50 million needed for reconstruction, said Shlomi Attias, the Old City project manager for The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem Ltd. (JQDC). The JQDC is a public company under the auspices of the Ministry of Construction and Housing. The synagogue is located just a few hundred meters from the Western Wall Plaza, in the same plaza as the Hurva.

Ashkenazi hassidim bought the land for Tifereth Israel Synagogue in 1843, though the building wasn’t inaugurated until 1872. The synagogue is also known as the Nissan Bek synagogue, after its founder. The prominent white dome on top of the building was informally known as “Franz Joseph’s cap,” after the Austrian emperor who visited Jerusalem in 1869. On a tour of Jewish sites, Franz Joseph inquired as to why the unfinished synagogue had no dome, to which one quick-thinking rabbi replied, ”Your majesty the Emperor, the synagogue has doffed its hat for you!” The emperor donated the sum needed to finish the roof.

During the Independence War in 1948, the building was used as a Haganah defense position, similar to the nearby Hurva synagogue. Arab League forces demolished the synagogue with explosives at 1 a.m. on May 21, just a few days before the Hurva met the same fate. Following the Six Day War, the city decided to leave the ruins of the synagogue as they were.
“The municipality sees great importance in preserving and rebuilding Jerusalem’s heritage sites,” Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement released by his office. “The Tifereth Israel synagogue was a symbol of the Jewish “Yishuv” (settlement) in Jerusalem and we are proud to bring it back and rebuild it anew.”

Attias of the JQDC, which is overseeing the project, said that the required archaeological excavations can begin soon, even before the project receives the final approval for construction. Actual construction will take at least three years as the site is difficult for construction vehicles to access.

The Jerusalem Post first reported plans to rebuild the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in June. A UNESCO report expressed apprehension over the project due to the possibility of wide-spread rioting. In March 2010, riots broke out across east Jerusalem and the Old City with the dedication of the Hurva Synagogue, located in the same plaza.

The Hurva synagogue, which stood since the early 18th century, was also destroyed in the 1948 Independence War.

As the dedication neared, Palestinians called for a “day of rage,” stoked by Muslim extremists who said the rededication was the first step towards building the Third Temple and destroying the Dome of the Rock. Police arrested sixty people, and more than 100 protesters were injured, as well as 15 policemen.

A municipality spokeswoman said the city is unconcerned about the possibility of a resurgence in violence sparked by the reconstruction project. “The synagogue is a symbol of the Jewish Quarter and is not controversial,” she said.