MILWAUKEE – When a community group from the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul visited Israel in November 2016, they visited the Kinneret College, a winery, a water management installation and a hospital, among other spots.
When the group of about a dozen from the St. Paul Jewish community visited Baruch Padeh Medical Center, also sometimes called Poriya hospital, they knew they’d stumbled onto a story that needed to be told.
Now, four medical professionals from this Israeli hospital that treats Syrian children – under a program that’s shrouded in some secrecy – are to visit the Midwest. In addition to St. Paul, they’ll come to Milwaukee and will hold a free talk on Monday, May 14, 7 p.m. at the Urban Ecology Center, 1500 E. Park Place. The local visit is sponsored by Partnership2Gether and the Israel Center of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
Syria has been ravaged by civil war, with millions displaced, injured or killed. Yet the Minnesota visitors stumbled onto a tiny bright spot nearby, in Israel. They met a devoted medical staff at Poriya hospital, made up of different religions and ethnicities, deeply interested in the care of children – all children.
Some of the Syrian efforts details are kept secret for security reasons, said Yiscah Bracha, the St. Paul volunteer who arranged the Midwest visit. But we do know this much: Under the Israel Defense Forces’ “Operation Good Neighbor,” Syrian children are brought to Poriya hospital, treated and returned, Bracha said.
In July of 2017, the Times of Israel reported that Operation Good Neighbor has included bringing 600 Syrian children with their mothers across the border for treatment at various Israeli medical centers, plus treatment for more than 3,000 Syrians wounded by war. The effort has included hundreds of tons of food, medical equipment and clothing sent across the border to Syria.
But Bracha didn’t know what she was walking into when she visited Poriya hospital in 2016. “You start to realize the people who are talking to us, they’re Jews, they’re Arabs, they’re Druze, they’re Christian, they’re Muslims, they’re Circassians,” she said. “They’re all there and you can see the warmth and camaraderie and respect they have for each other.”
They told her they leave politics at the door; they just treat everyone.
It is a coincidence of history that Milwaukee’s longtime partnership region – the partnership is a kind of sister-city relationship – is with a swath of Israel close to Syria. The four medical professionals visiting St. Paul and Milwaukee are coming from Poriya hospital in Israel’s Sovev Kinneret region. It’s the partnership region for both St. Paul and Milwaukee. “Sovev Kinneret” – in Hebrew, surrounding the Sea of Galilee, is a region with the city of Tiberias and other communities including kibbutzim, moshavim and more.
The four visitors – Dr. Erez Onn, Dr. Milad Qarawany, Dr. Batsheva Tzadok and nursing administrator Esam Mansour – will share ideas and experience on trauma management with other medical professionals here. They’ll visit with doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, in addition to their public event on May 14.
Onn is director general and specializes in orthopedic surgery. He holds a master’s degree in political science. Qarawany is a senior surgeon and leads the trauma unit; he’s a graduate of the nearby Galilee Christian High School. Tzadok, deputy chief of the emergency department, has voluntarily coordinated donations of toys, clothing and food to Syrians living in villages devastated by Syrian civil war. Mansour, who is Druze, has served as a combat medical technician and is a first sergeant in the reserves.
Susie Rosengarten, P2G coordinator with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Israel Center, is moved by the visitors’ reputed commitment to the Syrian children they treat. “This is a moral imperative … because they’re helpless and nobody else is doing it,” she said.
Beyond the work with Syrian children, the hospital is also known for its presence in a diverse region.
“Israel is made up of a diverse people,” Rosengarten said. “This is diverse staff treating a diverse group of patients.”
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How to go
What: Stories from Poriya Hospital: Treating Syrian Children Beyond Politics, Religion and Culture
When: Monday, May 14, 7 p.m.
Where: Urban Ecology Center, 1500 E. Park Place, Milwaukee