Save one life, save a world

by | Apr 3, 2015 | Other News

Ofer Merin, Virginia State Delegate Joseph Lindsey and Miriam Seeherman.

Ofer Merin, Virginia State Delegate Joseph Lindsey and Miriam Seeherman.

Dr. Ofer Merin speaks to Tidewater community

Israel has long been known as a lone democracy in a region torn apart by ethnic and religious conflict. But what might be less known is Israel’s unparalleled efforts of sending medical rescue delegations to disaster zones. Dr. Ofer Merin, leader of such humanitarian efforts for Israel, recently spoke to a large crowd at the Sandler Family Campus as a part of Israel Today, a series presented by the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and community partners. Merin spoke on the topic of Global Disaster Relief.

Merin is the chief of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Field Hospital Unit and has led medical rescue teams to Haiti, Japan and the Philippines. By no means an underachiever, Merin’s “day job” is head of the trauma unit at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. He is also the head of the hospital’s emergency preparedness for the hospital’s mass casualty program.

Merin shared that Israel is unique in the size of its humanitarian assistance and its abilities to arrive very quickly to disaster areas. In Haiti, for example, within three days of the disaster, the Israeli team was operating in the field. After the tsunami in Japan, Merin said that Israel was the only country chosen to help because the Israeli experts did not require handholding or assistance to quickly get to work. A standard for the Field Hospital unit is that within six hours of arrival, medical personnel are treating patients. In the Philippines, Israel had the largest presence of all the medical teams who came to assist in the recovery efforts.

It was great for the audience to be reminded about the courageousness of Israeli volunteers. The IDF Field Hospital staff and patients are, explained Merin, “ambassadors for Israel.” Merin made clear that Israel helps in these humanitarian crises without a political agenda or in search of fanfare.

One of the most moving parts of Merin’s remarks was when he shared a personal story to illustrate his resolve. During the Holocaust, in a ghetto in Poland, all the Jews were rounded up and put on trains by the Nazis. One mother knew the final destination of the trains: Auschwitz. With one last look at her children, a son aged eight and a daughter aged six, this mother threw her children out of the train. The children ran to a small Polish village and there a young Christian lady hid these two children for the duration of the war. The war ended and the children survived. A few years after the war, with the founding of the State of Israel, the children made their way to Israel. The boy eventually married and had three children. Merin is the second son of this boy who was saved by the kindness of the young Christian woman. Merin believes the story embodies a principle of his, a familiar saying in Judaism: “To save one person’s life is to save the whole world.”

The IDF Field Hospital and the work of its volunteers resonates with people who might think a small country cannot make a difference.

by Brad Lerner