And now for some good news

Although Israel stays in the trouble spots for the long haul, there will always be those who have something astonishing to say.

Hadassah Medical Organization’s woes are far from over. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Hadassah Medical Organization’s woes are far from over.
What do you even make for lunch for someone who has dined regularly with everyone from the Obamas down? I took the cop-out way and got my daughter to cook.
“Mmm mmm mmm,” enthused Sally Oren, “this is great. Can I have some more?” It’s impossible not to love her at first sight.
That’s certainly how her husband felt.
Michael Oren decided to marry her on their first date, decades before he became ambassador to the US.
It’s not only that she’s beautiful, Sally is magnetic: a dancer who famously inspired Jefferson Airplane to write two songs about her, and who grew up clubbing with the likes of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin in San Francisco.
In Israel, where she has lived for more than 30 years, she has taught Tai Chi, movement, exercise and dance all over the country, and worked with injured soldiers at Beit Halohem. In Washington, as an embassy wife, she played tennis with a coach of presidents, did yoga with “wives of” from around the globe, and entertained congressmen and senators… all of which, she says, was “a lot of fun.”
And yet.
Beneath the socializing and the glittering Israeli designer gowns, representing this tiny part of the complicated Middle East is always a challenge. And Oren knows the problems all too personally.
Her sister Joanie, the first of four sisters, was killed in a bus bombing in Jerusalem during the first intifada. Yoav, the oldest of Michael and Sally’s three children, was wounded during the second intifada. (Happily, he’s fully recovered.) Add to this a bout of breast cancer during the Washington years and an appendix that burst almost concurrently, and life at the top was still just “life.”
The Iftar feasts that the Orens initiated, the holidays they celebrated with celebs, the daily drama on the Hill and the plethora of diplomatic meetings and minglings to ensure that no daylight peeked into the special relationship between Israel and the States is grippingly documented in Ally, by Michael Oren.
Both American-born and bred, both Zionists from a young age, both with a historical background (he’s a historian; she has a degree in Hebrew literature, Arabic and Near Eastern studies from Berkeley), the Orens were perfectly placed in Washington. But then it was time to come home.
“It was all a great experience,” recalls Sally, “and I really wanted to bring something back to Israel.”
Fortuitously she met Meira Abulafia of IsraAID, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that provides long-term life-saving disaster relief around the globe.
Did you know that IsraAID has volunteers on Lesbos in Greece, standing waist-deep in water to help refugees from the moment they approach the shore? Or that Sean Penn learned how to operate in Haiti from IsraAID? Have you heard about the eight teams of Israeli volunteers in America, helping with hurricane relief and superstorm Sandy? Or that Arabic-speaking Israelis in Jordan are teaching Syrian kids to read and write? From the Philippines to Sudan, from Peru to Malawi and beyond, Israeli professionals and laymen are volunteering with victims of earthquakes and malnutrition and floods.
And there are surreal moments. After the tsunami in Japan, Oren toured the devastated area with the wife of the Japanese ambassador to Washington.
“As a goodwill ambassador, I visited a school and decided to do a dance with the children. I started teaching them the steps to ‘Ushe’avtem mayim,’ with its connection to water… and to my amazement, the teachers all knew it!” Why it’s common for Japanese schools to include this particular Israeli dance in their curriculum is one of the stranger mysteries of life.
Here’s something less mysterious: Although Israel stays in the trouble spots for the long haul, turning field hospitals into community centers and providing therapy and education as well as training and social and economic empowerment, there will always be those who have something astonishing to say. “Pinkwashing” is what some of our detractors retort in answer to Tel Aviv’s gay-friendly reputation. As if Tel Avivians are good to gays to deflect how bad they are in every other way. “Rubble- washing” is what those same deep thinkers call IsraAID – art therapists, they claim, paint through the pain of women and children in South Sudan in order to smudge our own record here at home.
It’s enough to give one a heart attack.
But, never fear, partly thanks to Sally Oren, there is now a state-of-theart heart clinic in Hadassah University Medical Center, Jerusalem.
The backstory is crazy: at a “sister- to-sister” event for ambassadors’ wives in Washington to educate women about heart disease, Oren met Irene Pollin, a Jewish philanthropist, who had lost two children to this illness.
More women than men die of heart disease; more women die of heart disease than from all cancers combined.
But diet, medication and exercise can avert the evil decree; Pollin wanted to spread the word in Israel, to honor her first Sabra great-granddaughter.
Oren promised to find a suitable hospital, but in the middle of negotiations she found herself a patient in Hadassah, undergoing emergency surgery.
“I was visited by the president of Hadassah in my ward,” she explains, “and I connected her to Pollin.”
The next thing was that Pollin announced that because of Oren, she was donating $10 million to Hadassah, on condition that Oren would serve on the advisory board. The Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center for Women was duly set up; and not only does Oren sit on that board, but today she is also the president of Hadassah International Israel.
Unlike Hadassah in the States, with its 330,000 all-female members (Oren’s own mother and grandmother were past presidents), the international organization includes men and women and operates in 12 countries; each has its own project. Israel’s chapter has just acquired a PET CT scanner for Hadassah.
In these days of presidents offering to mentor prime ministers who land up in the same jail wing, it’s nice to hear some heartening news over lasagna. To gladden your heart even more, stop smoking, start walking, and google IsraAID.
Shabbat shalom. 
The writer lectures at Beit Berl Academic College and IDC Herzliya.