Reaching out and building bridges

Eight years ago, Aysin and her husband, Murat, eagerly awaited the birth of their first baby, Umut.

Turkish Muslim family (photo credit: Courtesy)
Turkish Muslim family
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Much has been reported about Israel’s growing medical tourism industry, as an increasingly large influx of patients arrives here annually to take advantage of various treatments. Many are attracted by the significant reduction in medical costs that treatment here represents, others by reports of Israel’s sophisticated and advanced medical treatment, and still others by an emotional or spiritual attachment to the Land of the Bible.
I recently found myself in the humbling position, as the conduit that helped to create a “match made in heaven” between a young, secular Muslim family from Istanbul, Turkey, and Beit Issie Shapiro in Ra’anana.
Due to extensive travel over the years in my work as a designer, I have come to value the human encounters I have enjoyed along the way almost as much as the work itself. For some years, I have worked with a talented and lovely designer in Istanbul and got to know her story. Eight years ago, Aysin and her husband, Murat, eagerly awaited the birth of their first baby, Umut.
The pregnancy went well until tragedy struck in the final weeks, when the baby was diagnosed in utero with a rare disease. A traumatic birth was followed by two years of treatments and hospitalization for Umut.
While no trace of the disease remains, Umut is severely disabled as a result and requires continuous specialized care. A lovable child with a happy disposition, he attends a private school with facilities for children with special needs, driven there daily for almost two hours in each direction by his father. It is the only school of its kind in Istanbul.
When I met with Aysin and Murat in Istanbul a few months ago, they presented me with a challenge.
They had exhausted all possible options of therapeutic treatment for their child in Turkey, and felt that Umut had reached a plateau. Did I know of any place in Israel that could assess his case and provide treatment facilities for non-Israeli residents? Did I? Call it divine providence or serendipity, but why was I in Istanbul if not to be the messenger who could connect this family to Beit Issie Shapiro in Ra’anana? This is an organization that I have been proudly affiliated with for nearly 30 years, witnessing its growth from modest beginnings that were inspired by one man’s vision into an organization whose driving force has significantly changed the world of disabilities in Israel. There can be no greater acknowledgment of the achievements of Beit Issie Shapiro than the accolades it received at the recent UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I returned to Israel and immediately contacted my long-time friend Naomi Stutchiner, the founding president, who confirmed that Beit Issie does indeed provide treatment facilities for non-residents. The rest, as they say, is history! Within a few weeks, the family arrived in Israel and treatment began. After studying Umut’s case history and following medical evaluation, a therapy program was formulated. Umut came daily to Beit Issie with great joy for nearly three weeks, and his carefully planned program included hydrotherapy, physical and occupational therapy, Snoezelen and dental treatment. In addition, a tailor-made support was constructed for his wheelchair.
His parents, for their part, filmed and documented his treatment sessions and have received a road map on how to implement the continuation of treatment on their return to Turkey. On a therapeutic level, what they gained from Beit Issie Shapiro and the devoted professionals who cared for Umut was way beyond their expectations, and has provided them with optimism and renewed energy.
It was gut-wrenching to hear of their sense of isolation, living in an environment in their home ground in which members of society with special needs are marginalized. For them, facilities such as the beach for the disabled in Herzliya or the inclusive, accessible Park Haverim in Ra’anana, which provide the disabled with dignity and integration into greater society, is only a dream. They were impressed by Israel’s abundance of parking areas for the disabled as well as user-friendly ramps and other facilities, and that their existence is in accordance with government regulations. It is a fact of life here that we have come to take for granted, while acknowledging that in many spheres there is still much room for improvement.
For Aysin and Murat, the value of their visit here has been worth far more than the sum of its parts. They have found in this great country a nation with a caring heart, and have been astounded by the many acts of kindness shown to them during their stay here – in many cases by total strangers. They have experienced “beautiful Israel” and our people at their best. Take for example Sara, an Israeli that they had met once fleetingly in Turkey, who took it upon herself and her husband to meet the family at the airport, safely install them in their new temporary home and accompany them on their first shopping trip to the supermarket to stock up their fridge. I was told how Avi, their landlord in Ra’anana, had sent several old-time residents of Ra’anana originally from Turkey to welcome the family soon after their arrival. They were likewise touched at the concern shown by the owner of the coffee shop, who gently reminded them to check that the brakes of Umut’s wheelchair were locked while we sat and drank our coffee on the sidewalk.
They have many other heartwarming tales to tell.
These are typical “only in Israel” vignettes of everyday life here, but to our visitors, these gestures of concern and warmth were as precious and of no less value than the professional treatment and care that they received during their stay here.
The enemies who vilify us conveniently forget Israel’s incredible devotion to humanitarian, causes even though we have habitually been the first country to spontaneously send rescue teams and aid to disaster- stricken areas from Haiti to Romania. We can now add to our portfolio the top medical care that Israeli hospitals have provided for an increasing number of Syrian casualties who have filtered across the northern border. These patients owe their lives to the unconditional medical care and treatment they received in this country, but most have stated categorically that they dare not acknowledge this when they return home for fear of the consequences.
Unlike them, Aysin, Murat and Umut have returned home to Turkey filled with praise and admiration, and are happy to spread the word about their positive visit to Israel on every level. They are not only enthusiastic about their own experiences, but are already brainstorming to find ways to connect others in their situation and allow them to benefit from Israeli expertise.
I am humbled. I may have been the messenger that was sent to link them with Beit Issie Shapiro, but they have gladly picked up the baton to become messengers with a far bigger mission. May they be blessed and rewarded for their selfless efforts.
The writer is a fashion designer and trend consultant who works with leading international companies, manufacturers and brands.