The promise is ancient, given by God nearly 4,000 years ago. The recipient, a man from Ur of the Chaldeans from whose lineage the Almighty desired to birth a people for Himself.“Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you,” God instructs Abraham.Then came the promise: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great... And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3b).
Abraham heeded the directive, following the call of the Almighty to the land He showed. And God remained true to His promise. The man from Ur of the Chaldeans became the Father of the Jews, the patriarch of a great nation called Israel. God blessed Abraham in abundance – with sons and heirs, untold riches, long life and a great name that still echoes from generation to generation. And through the descendants of Abraham, the Almighty blessed all the families of the earth.
In fact, some four millennia after God gave this pledge, we continue to see its fulfillment in the numerous ways Israel blesses the nations. The Jewish Nation is tiny, its members less than 1/1000th of the world’s population. Yet its contribution to humanity is astounding; its footprints of blessing, innovation and aid etched into the areas of mankind’s greatest need.
Children injured in the Syrian civil war receive life-saving treatment in Israel. Developing nations feed their hungry using Israeli expertise. Countries caught in drought grow crops thanks to Israel’s innovations. The physically disabled in poverty-stricken areas, burn victims, the wheelchair-bound, those suffering from cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes or post-traumatic stress – all these and more have the prospect of a better life because of Israel.
The list of Jewish initiatives and inventions making the world a better place is certainly a long and impressive one. Yet perhaps the best practical proof of Abraham’s descendants blessing the nations is Israel’s emergency assistance missions to countries in the aftermath of natural disasters. Regardless of where catastrophe hits, the Jewish state is often the first on the frontlines, flying thousands of miles, to bring doctors and nurses, rescue workers, medical supplies, equipment and more to devastated areas. The tiny country’s huge heart of compassion and care is often most clearly visible in a nation far from home, helping a people who are not their own survive the rubble of their shattered lives.
Halfway Around the World
Six years ago, Israel’s international rescue efforts were thrust into the spotlight when a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged Haiti. Some 320,000 people were killed and more than a million left homeless. The quake struck late on a Tuesday night, Israeli time. Yet the next morning, an assessment crew from the Jewish state was already en route to the devastated Caribbean island. A 220-person delegation of medical personnel, search and rescue teams, construction crews and communications and logistics experts followed two days later. And by the end of the week, the team from tiny Israel had set up the first, largest and most advanced field hospital in the Port-au-Prince, while search and rescue missions scoured the debris for survivors.
The world media took notice, broadcasting praise reports on Israel’s fierce dedication and unparalleled skill to audiences across the globe. Located 6,500 miles from Haiti, Israel “came from the other side of the world” to deliver the fastest and most crucial medical care, reported CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen. ABC’s Diane Sawyer hailed the Israeli medical unit as “legendary.” And Time described its field hospital as “the paramount medical center operating in Haiti,” caring for the cases that “other hospitals find difficult and cannot manage.”
When the delegation returned home more than two weeks later, they had treated over 1,110 patients, conducted 319 successful surgeries and delivered 16 babies. The mother of the first baby named her son after the people who traveled thousands of miles to come to her rescue: Israel.
The Jewish State won international acclaim for its work amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince, yet Haiti is but one in a long list of numerous rescue missions with which Israel has blessed the peoples of the world. Over the last six decades, with little fanfare and minimal press coverage, the country has provided humanitarian aid to more than 140 disaster-stricken nations, a number of which still refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.
“Within a decade of Israel’s founding, the government and its people demonstrated a deep commitment to engage in humanitarian relief efforts,” the Foreign Ministry explains. And judging from its track record for dispatching aid and assistance to desperate countries over the last decade alone, the descendants of Abraham remained true to that vision.
In 2007, earthquake-hit Peru benefited from Israeli help. The year after that, it assisted Myanmar in the aftermath of a cyclone. In 2009, Israel sent help to Burkina Faso and the Philippines. March 2011 saw a mammoth 9.1 earthquake and subsequent tsunami shaking Japan. Within 48 hours, the Jewish state had dispatched medical personnel and equipment, setting up an advanced field hospital. And later that same year, when an earthquake hit Turkey, Israel was once again there to help. In November 2013, a super-typhoon tore through the Philippines. One of the first delegations on the ground – flying 12 hours over a distance of 6,000 miles – was the 148-member delegation from Israel. And in May 2014, when flood waters covered parts of Serbia and Bosnia, the Jewish state sent humanitarian relief.
Israel responded to each disaster almost instinctively, with an innate desire to help, to heal and to restore – blessing the nations of the world, just as God promised the father of the Jewish people some four millennia ago.
‘More Than 100%’
Last year, disaster struck in Nepal. A few minutes before noon on Saturday, April 26, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake cut a swath of death and destruction through the impoverished Himalayan nation. The worst quake to hit the country in nearly a century, the death toll quickly skyrocketed to some 8,000, with tens of thousands wounded and homeless.
Maj. (Res.) Yochay Manoff was enjoying Shabbat in Tel Aviv when his cell phone rang, bringing news of the Nepalese catastrophe. Israel, he learned, was preparing to send a rescue force – and he would serve as one of the delegation’s team leaders.
Manoff is not a full-time soldier. In fact, the young Israeli works for a hi-tech company as a mechanical engineer while earning his Master’s. Yet as a reserve rescue team leader in the National Rescue Unit (NRU), he is trained and ready to leave work, family and life at the drop of a hat when calamity strikes.
Once Manoff received orders for the relief mission deploying, things happened at lightning speed. “As the team leader, I picked the members of my own team – rescue engineers and doctors, all members of the NRU. I chose the strongest men whom I could trust to help strengthen others.”
Within hours, they were mobilized and ready, awaiting the IDF jet that would ferry them to the devastated nation. Less than two days after the earthquake hit, Manoff and his team took off as part of the 260-strong delegation of doctors, nurses, search and rescue squads, canine units and construction experts – the largest ever IDF rescue mission to be sent overseas. “We had not slept in days,” he remembers, “but the adrenaline flooded us with energy.”
Stepping off the plane in Kathmandu was like arriving at “the hottest spot in the world,” Manoff says. “We expected to encounter a massive tragedy; and we did.” Devastated communities, unthinkable injuries and fatalities, a disaster of horrific dimension and magnitude. “It was like the country itself was calling out in distress. And our work was the most urgent, the most important work to be done.”
The Israeli aid mission had two main objectives: set up a state-of-the-art field hospital to provide medical care to the injured and conduct search and rescue operations to find survivors and free anybody trapped within the wreckage of what used to be family homes, schools, offices and restaurants.
Manoff and his team participated in the latter. “Our purpose was to save trapped civilians from the ruins of destroyed buildings and search for the missing.” Their task demanded every ounce of physical strength. And when each passing minute might mean the difference between life and death, time to rest became a luxury nobody could afford. Yet despite the trials of exhaustion, fatigue and weariness, the mental challenges are etched most clearly into Manoff’s mind: the need to stay strong, to stand as a pillar of hope amid the onslaught of anguish, despair and heartbreak.
While the rescue squads scoured the rubble for any signs of life, the medical team assembled a hi-tech 60-bed hospital comprising 50 tons of medical equipment, equipped with surgical and obstetrics departments, emergency facilities, x-ray equipment, a laboratory and a number of different specialists. A mere 12 hours after arriving, the Israeli team opened the hospital doors. “We provided an incredible amount of people with immediate medical care and even began the rehabilitation process for some,” Manoff explains.
His statement is no exaggeration. When the Israeli delegation left Nepal two weeks later, they had treated 1,600 people, operated 85 successful surgeries and delivered eight babies.
Israel’s work among the rubble is clearly another shining example of the country’s fierce dedication and unequaled skill; one more success story to add to the list.
Yet the Jewish state’s care for those who suffer goes beyond rescue missions or emergency medical treatments. Doctors and nurses rejoice with families after pulling a patient through life-saving surgery; and aid workers help survivors give their loved ones a proper funeral. Amid the ruins of shattered lives, Israelis weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
Ask Manoff about the moment that most touched his heart, and you get a glimpse of the tender compassion the people of Israel bring those desperate for comfort. “We were asked to clear an orphanage building for possible entrance and occupation,” he remembers. Miraculously, the main structure survived the quake and the building was soon safe for occupation. His highlight for the mission was delivering the news to the principal that the orphans under her care could return to the only home they knew for shelter. “The relief and joy on her face when I gave her the news was indescribable.”
Manoff is fully aware that his delegation went well beyond the proverbial extra mile. “We gave more than 100%.” But that, he believes, is one of the things that characterize the Jewish state.
“Israel knows how to identify distress and then rushes to help – eagerly and with great courage. It is not obvious that a state would send a team of her best and brightest to help a foreign nation,” he muses. “Yet Israel does it time and time again.”
The young rescue team leader is right. It is certainly not a given that any country would commit its citizens, resources, expertise, funds and time to tend to the suffering of others. Especially not, one could argue, if that country has limited resources of its own, domestic matters that require its funds, manpower and expertise and borders that need constant protection from neighbors calling for its annihilation. Yet Israel is often the first, most experienced and best prepared on the scene of international disaster sites.
Some say the Jewish state is expertly equipped to respond to emergency situations. The argument certainly has merit. In the nearly 70 years since its rebirth, Israel has fought a significant war every decade. Aside from the major conflicts, the country also lived through two intifadas, rocket and missile barrages and waves of stabbings, kidnappings and bombings.
Tragic circumstances have forced Israelis to hone their emergency response procedures to a fine art. There was simply no other alternative. Israel had to evolve into one of the world’s leading experts in dealing with mass casualty situations. The lives of their people depended on it. And on the battlefields of their borders, in the charred shells of bombed-out buses and amidst city streets, they learned to do so with fierce dedication, unparalleled skill and tender compassion.
However, what their enemies meant for harm, the descendants of Abraham have used as yet another means to bless the nations. Israel is committed to take the experience and expertise forged from the most painful events in its history and share it by dispatching its trained men and women to the aid those who suffer.
Repairing the world
Yet external influences are possibly only part of the tiny country’s eager heart for help. Perhaps the driving force is more inherent, something rooted at the very core of Jewish belief. The age-old concept of tikkun olam, – literally “repairing the world” – entails the conviction that all people carry within them the divine obligation to heal, to repair and to transform the world for the better and for good. It is a belief so deeply interwoven into the essence of Jewish society that when disaster strikes, the Israel responds almost instinctively, with an innate desire to help, to repair and to transform for the better.
That is why Israel’s huge heart of compassion and care is often most clearly on display through its sons and daughters in devastated nations, helping the distressed cling to life and hope. These are actions that speak of a sense of identity – and of an ancient promise still being fulfilled. Israel helps – and blesses – because that is who Israel is.
“As I see it, [the aid missions are] part of the Jewish identity that obliges each and every one of us to aid people in time of need, anywhere in the world,” explained an air force commander responsible for rescue efforts abroad. “I have no doubt that whenever and wherever help will be needed, we will arrive.”