National Service: 'This is not glamorous'

National Service This

October 29, 2009 16:23
3 minute read.

Name -Merav Mendelbaum 52 Organisation -Reuth Medical Center Hours a Week - Many, every day. Family Status Married, five children, four grandchildren Residence - Tel-Aviv Profession - Organizational Counsellor Most Meaningful Moment - "The day I was appointed I sat with an old lady who had been chairperson many years before and still comes to all the meetings. She took me aside and said 'Don't forget why you are here'. In other words, it may seem high and mighty being chairperson but this is an organization to help the old, weak and helpless." Thirty years ago Merav Mandlebaum was a young 22-year-old wife and mother, newly arrived in Tel-Aviv from her Jerusalem home. She attended a lecture given by a charismatic woman, Gerda Ochs. The talk was about the work of the Women's Social Services - today called Reuth - and it was to change her life. "We desperately need volunteers,"the young woman was told. "Please come." "I told her that I didn't know what I could do. She told me I didn't have to do anything, just be there and hold the hand of some lonely old person. She said something that has stayed with me all my life - 'loneliness is the worst thing in the world.'" But loneliness is far from being the only problem treated at Reuth. The facility provides sheltered housing for 250 elderly people and also has a 400-bed hospital providing medical services for the chronically ill, rehabilitation for soldiers and accident victims and a home for chronic respiration sufferers and coma victims who may never wake up. "We have about 40 children we were asked by other hospitals to take in," says Merav who was recently appointed chairperson of the organization after nearly thirty years of involvement and 27 on the board. "We are well aware that a child taking up a bed in intensive care can upset the running of a normal medical ward, so we bring them here. It's the saddest thing I ever saw, knowing they will probably never wake up and never leave the hospital." Other patients will probably never leave for other reasons. They are simply abandoned by their families. "We don't judge," says Merav. "We have many young people with multiple sclerosis or people who have had strokes and we know that this is their home for the rest of their lives. Fortunately we have volunteers who come and visit them although never enough." But although the gardens and wards of Reuth are filled with very sick people in wheelchairs and many attached to breathing apparatus, it somehow contrives to be a cheerful sunny place. The children's departments are decorated in bright colors, the place is spotless and all the staff seem to be perpetually smiling. "We have 650 workers and all are imbued with the spirit of Reuth," says Merav proudly. "In this hospital no-one ever goes on strike and there is no such thing as the old woman in the corridor. They know that all the board members work long hours on a volunteer basis." Reuth started out life over 70 years ago as Women's Social Services, set up by a group of established German-born Jewish women who wanted to help their compatriots fleeing the Nazis and arriving at these shores often destitute. They set up a kosher soup kitchen called Mittelstands-Kueche - a kitchen for the middle class - and this gradually developed into residential help and medical services. In the sixties the Lichtenstaedter hospital, named after the first donors, was opened in the south Tel-Aviv location and gradually expanded, changing its name to Reuth Medical Center in 1986. In spite of what is clearly a passion for the work of Reuth, Merav also works as an organizational counselor, having studied psychology for a first degree at Bar-Ilan University and business management as a second. She has also managed to give birth to and raise five children. But being appointed chairperson of Reuth has strengthened her will to improve the hospital, bring in more volunteers, more money and more, much more publicity for the work Reuth is doing with soldiers, terror victims, the old and the infirm. While most of the running costs are borne by the government and the rest by donations, she is waiting for one big donor who will be able to realize the plans for the new building the hospital desperately needs. "The trouble is this is not glamorous, not sexy - it's old sick people with no voice, at the nether end of society. We need the new building - it's not megalomania. We have no doctor's rooms, no place for visiting family, no research facilities, no restaurant for visitors or dining room for the staff." With this amount of determination there is no doubt she will eventually get whatever Reuth needs. Box

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