May 22, 2024
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May 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The average American high school teen­ager who chooses to spend part of his or her summer vacation in Israel would certainly be forgiven if the threat of Kassam rockets en­couraged a quick exit and return stateside. If one thing has been proven during the course of the last three weeks, however, it is that a group of young girls from the New York area who came to do a summer internship at Reuth Medical Center, one of Israel’s most established and venerable health and rehabilitation cent­ers, are anything but average.

“Yesterday we were at the pool when the si­ren went off,” says Dara Shulman, 24, who came to Israel from New Jersey in order to serve as a guide and counselor for high school kids in­terning at Reuth. “The feeling of having so many people running with you—kids, adults, it doesn’t matter—and people are not panick­ing. They’re even joking around in the shelter, and then they go back out, and it’s fine. They go swimming. It doesn’t faze them. In Ameri­ca, I would probably be panicking and nervous about my cousins and about my friends, con­stantly worrying whether everyone is safe. But being here as a Jew, it’s great to be part of that, because we’re not going to let Hamas interrupt our daily routine.”

Rocket sirens, bomb shelters, Iron Dome explosions overhead, 24-hour-a-day news cov­erage of war, and all of the attendant anxiety aroused by the topsy-turvy security situation that has deteriorated significantly in the last three weeks have given these girls a summer experience like no other. Not only is the nature of their internship—one that entails being ex­posed to and interacting with chronically ill patients, some of whom are missing limbs or afflicted with various physical and mental disa­bilities—challenging enough, but they are also learning to cope with the everyday traumas of a people under fire.

Miriam Frankel is the deputy executive di­rector of Reuth Medical Center in south Tel Aviv. As a native of Perth, Australia who for years was active in Jewish and Zionist causes, Frankel knows the importance of having Di­aspora Jews engage local Israelis to deepen bonds and strengthen connections.

Reuth, the nonprofit foundation that in ad­dition to running one of three long-term re­habilitation centers in the country also offers housing and welfare services to elderly needy and Holocaust survivors, now offers a platform for young women from the New York metro­politan area who are not only interested in the medical field but who can also get a first-hand glimpse of the long-term therapeutic process­es that patients undergo, all while at the same time doing it in Israel.

Frankel and her staff have been pleasantly surprised at the willingness of the young Ameri­can interns to get close to patients whose medi­cal conditions may be too gut-wrenching to ob­serve on a daily basis.

“We were concerned whether the girls would find the hospital too difficult,” she said. “If it’s too hard, we can have them volunteer with the elderly or with the survivors. Not only didn’t they choose for that, but they took upon themselves things in the hospital that we didn’t think they would want to do. This year’s girls, let me tell you, are the most amazing bunch be­cause they have been the most challenged,” she said.

“They like making the patients become their own person, being an individual, not a pa­tient,” Shulman said of the staff at Reuth. “They encourage them to wear their own clothing, put pictures on the wall. Some of them even bring their own food. They encourage individ­uality. When you think of a hospital, you think of a place where everybody looks the same. You don’t look at the person by their disability or by their illness. You look at them as individ­uals. It’s very nice to be around an atmosphere like that.”

Israel’s more casual, informal approach has allowed the interns to get a close look at how therapists interact with patients. Unlike the United States, Reuth allows the interns to actively assist in so-called “soft therapies”—music therapy, drama thera­py, animal therapy, and jewelry crafting, leisure activities that allow patients to mo­mentarily take the focus off of their afflic­tions. “It’s like a family here. They want to learn from one another because they’re family. They want to push each other, to in­spire one another.”

“The first couple of days, we tried out different therapies in the hospital,” said an­other intern, Lauren Schechter. “Every day I get to sit for a couple of hours and watch various patients and therapists. The thera­pists are very nice. They will explain what’s going on with the patient. It’s an incredible learning experience for me. I never really had an interest in physical therapy before. Now it’s something that I’m definitely go­ing to keep on my horizon.”

“When I heard about Reuth, I knew that this was an opportunity to get hands-on ex­perience, and I get to do it in Israel,” said Dina Fleyshmakher. “I love Israel. I’m very Zionistic. I get to make new friends. I get to learn, but I also get to have fun. It’s my sum­mer. I want to spend it learning, but they’re also adding trips and games because they know it’s my summer. I’m gaining so much.”

“Being in a hospital made me appreci­ate the little things, like being able to see,” she said. “And the war has made me appre­ciate so much in life. After the summer, I get to go home where I feel safe, but people who made aliya and people who live here chose to live in an environment that is al­ways changing. That made me appreciate them more.”

By Ariel Zilber, Jerusalem Post (with permission to reproduce)

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