Canadian Friends travel to Israel and make Sheba Medical Center the focus of their emotional journey

On April 11th, Lynda and I, along with our good friends, Robyn and Saul Greenspan departed for Israel. We’ve traveled there together many times over the years, but we all knew that this time, things would be different: more urgent, more crucial, more personal than ever. We were about to experience Israel at war, and we would depart Canada at a time when she seemed darker and more foreign to us than ever.

Not in our lifetime have we felt the insidious grip of antisemitism like we’ve experienced it over the last 7 months. In our own shiny Canada, we’ve been shut down. We have been shut up. Our stores have been ransacked. Our schools have been threatened. Our places of worship have been desecrated. Insults, slurs and offensive rants have been hurled at us. It’s been a very grim and troubling time for Jews in Canada. It was time to be with our people.

We travel to Israel at least once a year, and while each trip is an exhilarating, emotional rollercoaster ride, this one promised to be different: more inspiring, more enlightening, more powerful. It would also be devastatingly sad, shockingly real and a bit frightening.

Before we left, we reached out to some of our Israeli friends & family, then built our itinerary to include several meaningful experiences. Our first full day was Shabbat and we started with a beautiful and peaceful lunch with Robyn’s sister and her family in Jerusalem – it was a truly Jewish way to start off our time together in Israel.

Saturday night – back in the bustle of Tel Aviv – we gathered anxiously around the trapdoor entrance to our apartment’s bomb shelter: the Iranian air raid was on. More than 300 missiles and drones, 100s of tonnes of explosives were on the way… Certainly not what we had in mind, but we were getting the full Israeli experience.

The next morning, we met with our good friend and expert guide, Michael Bauer. We headed south to tour the Gaza perimeter. We were shocked and eviscerated as we rounded kibbutz Kfar Aza; row after row of lifeless, burned-out homes where countless innocents were mutilated, raped and slaughtered.

We visited the car graveyard – an eerie, disturbing makeshift cemetery of more than 1,800 cars – burned out, broken, bullet-ridden and smashed in on October 7th.

We then made our way to the site of the Nova Music Festival where 100s of beautiful young Jewish men and women were massacred – cut down by savage, drug-fuelled psychopaths. We walked gingerly and soberly here… the atmosphere was heavy. Our hearts ached.

We spent the next day at the Sheba Medical Center. We met up with our good friend Yair Itzhar who guided us through this truly outstanding medical facility. We started with a walk through Sheba’s ER department – the largest and best equipped in the Middle East. On October 7th and for the following several days, this ER was surely the most active in the world… hundreds upon hundreds of terror victims were treated here, and as days turned to weeks, innovative, on-the-fly protocols and procedures became standard, and through the most chaotic and busiest period, Sheba’s operational schedule did not miss a beat.

We then met with Dr. Moshe Ashkenazi. Dr. Ashkenazi is the deputy director of the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba. After the October 7th attacks, The Children’s Hospital was wholly transformed to a hostage intake and care facility.
Those released from Gaza at the end of November arrived here. The hospital tailored each recovery room according to the specific needs of each hostage. Dr. Ashkenazi told us that if they learned a 10 year old boy who loved soccer was due to arrive, the staff would transform his room into a super-fan’s temple – replete with soccer balls, posters, signed jerseys and more.

“We wanted to do whatever we could to make the transition as painless and effective as possible”, says Ashkenazi. “If someone wanted McDonalds at 2:00 in the morning, we found a way to make it happen.” Just one more way Sheba and its staff embraced protocols and strategies that had never been used before. “We were flying by the seats of our pants, that’s for sure”, the doctor adds. “We even sent out urgent requests to more than a dozen countries and asked them for guidance on the particulars of our hostage situation… not a single country was able to help: none had ever had experience with hostages staying underground for long. We were in uncharted waters.”

Our real purpose in visiting Sheba was to meet with IDF soldiers injured in combat. While all the young women and men we met were more than gracious, some were better prepared to share their harrowing battlefield stories than others. Those not quite able to relay their personal accounts were undoubtedly still suffering the ravages of wartime trauma. While we all expressed our gratitude for their bravery and dedication in protecting our homeland, every last one of these brave souls asked us the same question: why are you here? Why did you come all the way from Canada to see us?

I’ll never forget the personal and intimate conversations we shared on the balcony and in the recovery ward at Sheba. Daniel, Mendel, Shai, Boris and many others… are all heroes. We can only hope that the extraordinary tenderness and care these courageous young people receive at Sheba will see them through their pain and heal their shattered lives. We were beyond impressed with the staff; their professionalism and personal patient care put Sheba at the top of the heap.

On our last day, we traveled to the west bank where we met with another old friend, Ofer Shaked. Ofer contacted his buddy (a commander on an army base in the West Bank). We wanted to sponsor, prep and serve a BBQ dinner to the IDF soldiers on the base. It could not have been more appreciated. We felt so honoured to serve these brave young soldiers who sacrifice so much in service to their country. It was a special day and evening we will never forget!

Lynda, Robyn, Saul and I feel so fortunate that we were able to visit Israel at such a crucial time…. and now that we are back in Canada, we are reminded just how fragile we are in this world. We remember that Antisemitism is ugly and real, but we remember also that we do have a home, a home where all Jews can go when they fear for their safety and security. We think also about those in Israel who have lost their lives, other poor souls still held in hellish captivity, and others still, who continue to fight for their precious land, their home, our home.

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