On Dec. 10, over 25 Hadassah members and friends met for a cozy potluck luncheon in a private home in Pawtucket to light the fourth Hanukkah candle together and discuss many “miracles.”
Moshe Herskovits played Hanukkah tunes on a keyboard and Hadassah board member Bonnie Houle-Piszcz lit the Hanukkah candles while guests joined her in singing. Elihay Skital, Rhode Island’s shaliach (Israeli emissary), sang the supplementary stanza to “Maoz Tzur,” about defeating Hamas, written by Israeli Dana Pearl.
The event also featured Rhode Islanders sharing their stories about the Israel Defense Forces and Hadassah “miracles.” Among them was an annual Sar-El volunteer in Israel; a former Forward Observer in the IDF, who wore a military dogtag necklace that read “My heart is captive in Gaza”; an Israeli couple who met during their service; veteran women of Hadassah doing crucial work; a participant of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces; and members of local Jewish organizations reporting about actions being taken in our community to combat antisemitism.
Here are some highlights:
Ken Schneider, a community activist and board member of the Rhode Island Coalition for Israel (RICI), told entertaining stories and experiences from his 16 consecutive years of volunteering for the IDF through Sar-El’s three-week army-service program.
Sar-El, an acronym for Sherut Le’Yisrael (Service for Israel), started in 1982 during the war with Lebanon. Schneider volunteers in January, when his ice cream business is slow. He has served on several IDF army bases, from the north to the south, wherever the IDF needed help.
Schneider said he made many friends, both Jews and Christians, ages 20 to 80, through this program.
“It’s like going back to camp,” he said.
Some 11,000 volunteers have traveled to Israel since Hamas’ deadly attack on Oct. 7, and the program is completely filled up through February, he said.
Alyse Teitelbaum, a R.I. educator and community activist, spoke about the Friends of the IDF (FIDF), a U.S. organization established by Holocaust survivors in 1981 to provide support for IDF soldiers, veterans and family members.
The mother of two former lone soldiers, Teitelbaum has been connected to the New England Chapter of FIDF, in Boston, for many years.
Lone soldiers, who come from all over the world, are assigned host families in Israel.
“They have somebody to come to, somebody to fill the refrigerator, do their laundry, provide hot meals and light the Shabbat candles with them. You become a part of the family,” she said.
Teitelbaum said FIDF provides emotional and psychological support beyond what the military offers, as well as plane tickets to visit their home country and family during furloughs, planned recreation, extra pay, and scholarships for colleges in Israel through the program IMPACT.
Amusingly, Teitelbaum said she was taken aback when her son put his host family as an emergency contact on IDF forms!
Sue Mayes, a 4 Generation Life Member of Hadassah, reported on some of the current happenings at Hadassah hospitals:
“Since October 7th, over 300 staff members of the Hadassah hospitals have been called up to serve in the military. The hospitals have eliminated all elective surgeries to accommodate the needs of the newest patients, as the hospitals have treated hundreds of both civilians and soldiers since the war began. An underground garage has been converted to add about 250 more beds for both trauma patients and emergencies.”
Mayes also spoke about the miracles of Hanukkah, “the oil, the defeat of the Greek emperor Antiochus, the supremacy of the Maccabees and their followers,” and the miracle of the state of Israel: “In the 20th and 21st centuries, the people of Eretz Yisrael became a light unto the nations, they made the desert bloom, and they created a democracy in the part of the world where there was and still is no other, in the midst of both autocratic and theocratic nations who work to defeat what we created.”
And Mayes spoke about “the miracle of Hadassah”: “The women of Hadassah established our medical center where there was none. In 1912, those earliest nurses treated blindness among the people, brought milk to hungry babies and healed the sick.
“They built clinics throughout the land, a medical school, a dental school, a school of nursing, and today, many of those graduates are working at both the Mount Scopus and Ein Kerem hospitals, treating the terrible diseases of today’s world. …
“We have developed systems and cures to care for those damaged by war by our neighbors, and at the same time, many of our staff come to work each day from some of those same neighboring villages and towns. This is truly a miracle.”
She referred to a few patients currently being treated in Hadassah facilities: a baby boy born with a deformed esophagus and a heart condition, a female soldier who needs to learn how to walk again by using an anti-gravity rehabilitation device, and a grandparent who is being treated for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
“Most likely, you and I will never need treatment there, but we may benefit from some of the research that’s been done at Hadassah,” she said.
Hadassah is now raising emergency funds for a campaign called Heal Israel Now. To donate, go to hadassah.gospringboard.com/secure/israelatwar.
YARDENA KAPACH WINKLER is the president of Rhode Island Hadassah.