Grapevine: Named for life

“Women are the unsung heroes of Israeli Society”

Hadassah University Medical Center (photo credit: AVI HAYOUN)
Hadassah University Medical Center
(photo credit: AVI HAYOUN)
What’s in a name? Some people believe the name given to a child at birth determines the infant’s future. In the case of Haim Lev Tov, there’s every reason to believe that his name, meaning life of a good heart, was prophetic. While serving as an IDF soldier in Gaza, Lev Tov was critically wounded in an explosion that left him without the use of one arm and one leg. His face was also disfigured. Near death, he was evacuated to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem where physicians, nurses and therapists were determined that not only would he not die, but he would also regain the use of his arm and leg. It was a long process, during which Lev Tov spent painful periods in therapy, encouraged by therapists who had faith in his ability to discard his wheelchair and to walk again. That faith was not misplaced.
A film of Lev Tov’s progress produced by Barbara Sofer, the director of public relations and communications for Hadassah and a Jerusalem Post columnist, was screened this week at the Bible Lands Museum where Hadassah Israel was holding its annual Special Gifts event, the proceeds of which were earmarked for the provision of electric beds for the Rehabilitation Center for Wounded Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism at Hadassah University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus.
Following the video presentation, a handsome, bearded young man, with a slight limp crossed the room to stand in front of the microphone. He was the severely injured soldier whom everyone had just scene on the screen. Lev Tov is essentially shy until he opens his mouth to sing – and what a voice he has. His audience was transfixed, gave him a standing ovation and demanded an encore. The applause was spontaneous, but it was yet another important contribution to Lev Tov’s rehabilitation.
In addition to raising money for the electric beds, the purpose of the event was to honor several Hadassah Israel members, and to give special honor the family of the late Elie Borowski, whose vision for the Bible Lands Museum was realized by his wife Batya, whom he met in an elevator in Jerusalem’s King David hotel. That instant click led to great things. Also honored was former diplomat and MK Colette Avital who today heads the umbrella organization of Holocaust survivor organizations.
Avital was introduced by Pamela Loval, the honorary chair of the special gifts event and a friend of Avital’s of long standing.
After completing her army service Avital studied political science and English literature at the Hebrew University. To pay for her studies, she worked as a secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where she remained for many years in different roles. She led the effort to upgrade the status of women in the Foreign Ministry, and was consul general in New York and ambassador in Portugal. In 1999, she decided to run for Knesset on a Labor Party ticket. As an MK, she headed an investigative commission for the location, identification and restoration of assets of Holocaust victims. After losing her seat in the Knesset, Avital chaired the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies and was an executive member of several public entities. She still holds most of these positions in addition to heading the umbrella organization of Holocaust survivor organizations in Israel.
Avital spoke of Hadassah as a trailblazing organization, saying “What Hadassah is doing is more important than the elections ahead.”
Looking back at the genesis of Hadassah’s work in Israel, the establishment of its first hospital in 1918 and its School for Hygiene in 1919, Avital praised “the extraordinary women who were far sighted and came and built a health system when few people thought that there would ever be a State of Israel.”
During the Arab riots during the Mandate years, noted Avital, Hadassah cared for the wounded on both sides.
“Women are the unsung heroes of Israeli Society” and more should be done to make them known, she said.
Relating to Hadassah’s medical miracles, Avital made it clear that with all due respect to physicians and nursing staff, without state of the art equipment, there would be fewer miracles. “A facility like this always needs improvement,” she said.
Most of those present will be meeting again at Jerusalem’s Yehuda Hotel on Tuesday, January 8 for the Hadassah Israel Conference. There, in addition to Hadassah Israel president Nira Greenstein – herself a nurse, and Prof. Zeev Rothstein, director of the Hadassah Medical Center, speakers will include past and present chairmen of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky and Isaac Herzog.
Receiving the special honor on behalf of the Borowski family was Amanda Weiss, the dynamic director of the Bible Lands Museum, who is the daughter of Batya Borowski, and who in 1981 came to Israel with her two young sons, intending to stay for one year while helping her mother set up for the museum’s opening. It’s been a very elastic year. She’s still here, and has married off one of her sons.
Having inherited her mother’s energy, enthusiasm and efficiency, Weiss has overseen the openings of many exhibitions, and has also attended exhibitions at which the museum’s artifacts were on loan – most recently in the Sichuan University Museum in Chengdu, China.
In April, while Israel is focusing on the Knesset elections, Weiss will be focusing on Paris where the Bible Lands Museum will be participating in an exhibition at the Louvre.
Aware that Hadassah the Women’s Zionist Organization is mostly made up of volunteers, Weiss also referred to the volunteers at the museum, saying that they were “the backbone, heart and soul of the museum.”
They will be helping out again on Sunday at the opening of Finds Gone Astray, an exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum featuring dozens of artifacts seized from looters and unlicensed dealers in antiquities by the Civil Administration’s chief staff officer for archeology in Judea and Samaria between 1968 and the present time.
The collection of confiscated treasures contains includes pottery and stone vessels, figurines, clay tablets bearing inscriptions, coins, incantation bowls and more, constituting an assemblage of great importance that helps to enhance understanding of the history of the ancient Near East.
The exhibition will open in the presence of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, Deputy Minister of Defense Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, head of the Civil Administration Brig.-Gen. Ben-Hur Akhvat, staff officer of archeology of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria Area Hananya Hezmi, and director general of the Israel Antiquities Authority Israel Hasson.
■ IN THE titillating turnarounds in Israeli politics and popularity polls, whoever did not want Gal Hirsch as police commissioner might have to accept him as a government minister. Stranger things have happened in politics. As yet, we don’t know where the investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are going and who would assume the leadership of Likud if he was forced to step down. Likewise we don’t know what new parties may come to the fore, which dormant politicians will return to the fray, and which current politicians will quit their party to join another. There are at least four current legislators who will not be standing for reelection in the next Knesset and the number may be larger as this column goes to press.
■ THE ISRAELI public is not always aware of former public figures who come on aliyah after reaching retirement age. Some of these people take up new challenges here, and remain in the public eye. Some simply continue in the Israel branch of their organization or institution if such exist, and others literally retire and enjoy many of the things for which they had little or no time when they were working. Among the former public figures are many rabbis. One such rabbi was Rabbi Binyamin Walfish, who died in Jerusalem on December 14, at age 93. Prior to his aliyah in 1994, Walfish resided for several decades in Teaneck, New Jersey where he played an instrumental role in establishing the first Orthodox synagogue, Bnei Yeshurun. He was also a key figure in establishing the first group home in Bergen County for the developmentally disabled.
After serving as a pulpit rabbi for several years, Walfish worked for Yeshiva University’s community service division, helping to establish new Jewish communities throughout North America. From 1979 to 1994, he served as executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, and played a prominent role in many of the organization’s major projects, including drafting a prenuptial agreement to prevent situations of get (divorce) refusal and a living will containing halachically sound instructions regarding the administering or withholding of medical treatment in a broad variety of situations.
Following his aliyah, Walfish served as president of Otzar Haposkim and served as a visiting scholar at Eretz Hemdah Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies, while continuing as an active member of the Israeli branch of the Rabbinical Council of America.
He is survived by his wife, Hindy, who lives Jerusalem, his sons Joshua, who resides in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and Avraham, who lives in Tekoa, plus many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.