Israel’s global humanitarian efforts highlight of CRC Forum

by | Mar 6, 2015 | What’s Happening

Lt. Col. Dr. Ofer Merin attending to patients in Haiti following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

Lt. Col. Dr. Ofer Merin attending to patients in Haiti following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

Sunday, March 15, 7:30 pm
Sandler Family Campus

The past few months have proven challenging for Dr. Ofer Merin, the featured speaker in the Community Relation Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s upcoming Israel Today Forum.

“I’ve had to confront, more than once —treating not only victims of trauma, and victims of terror trauma, but also treating the terrorists themselves,” says Merin, Deputy Director General, director of Trauma Services, and a cardiac surgeon at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

“It has been difficult, but as a physician, you have to understand that you’re treating patients, no matter who they are.”

Merin keeps those words close, and he’s reminded of them constantly, not only in his work at Shaare Zedek, but also in his role of commander of the Israel Defense Forces Field Hospitals, a position he’s held as an Army reservist for over a decade.

From his unique perspective as a participant in numerous and life-changing Israeli humanitarian and medical missions, Merin will discuss the topic Global Disaster Relief: Israel, First on the Scene. The program is free and open to the community.

As the IDF Field Hospitals commander, Merin works with a team who responds quickly to crises, often mobilizing within hours of getting a call for help.

Merin and his team set up the first operational field hospital in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that left hundreds of thousands of people dead and injured. He oversaw the operation of one of the first field hospitals in Japan after an earthquake and tsunami hit in 2011, and he did the same in the Philippines, immediately after a typhoon struck in 2013.

Other countries and people, too, have been—and are being—helped by Israelis, including Ethiopian doctors who are receiving medical training, and civilians injured in the Syrian war, who view Israelis as their enemies.

“We feel that giving humanitarian assistance to people who are strangers is the great privilege of this work,” Merin says. “We’re doing the work not because we’re obligated, not because it’s our people, or the hospital where we’re working says this is part of our job—for us, it is a bridge between people, it is a bridge to peace, it is a bridge between countries.”

Mona Flax met Merin while on the UJFT mission trip to Israel last summer. She says she knew a little about Israel’s humanitarian efforts, but was deeply impacted by a conversation Merin had with the group over Shabbat dinner.

“I had no clue that Israel is always the first on the ground for any natural disaster regardless of political ideology. What struck all of us was how under the radar they are. The logical question was, ‘Why no PR, given Israel’s bad rap in the press?’” says Flax.

“What I learned and felt was that these efforts are true “tikkun olam,” she says. “And thus, PR is not an issue.”

“The community must hear Ofer Merin,” Flax adds. “I have always held the opinion that there are a lot of good doctors, but it is rare to come across a true healer. Ofer is a healer.”

Merin says it’s a fine balance between getting press coverage and helping in crises. For him, saving lives will always come first.

“Of course we would be happier if all the people in the world knew about the important work that we’re doing, but from the other side—we’re doing this work in order to assist people in need, at that time,” he says. “You come many times to small places around the world and you meet people who have no idea where Israel is or what Jewish people are, and they are just glad you are there. It’s really affirming.”

For more information about Ofer Merin, and to RSVP, visit or call 757-965-6107. RSVPs are requested for security and planning purposes.

by Laine M. Rutherford