To Haiti: Heartfelt Wishes From Wise

Schools in Haiti were hugely affected after the earthquake

The evening before I boarded the airplane for Israel, my wife handed me a bulging envelope adorned with whimsical design and the words, “To Woodley: These are blessings from our hearts to yours. Please get well soon! From: The children of Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School.” Inside the envelope were hundreds of hand-made “get well” cards cut from brightly colored paper in the shape of a hamsa (hand of God); each one with words of hope, healing, and friendship, lovingly crafted by our children.

The messages were numerous and as diverse as the children who wrote them. A yellow card set against sunset orange said:

To Woodley, I am sorry that the people
of Haiti had the earthquake. That must
have been really scary. We sometimes have
earthquakes in Los Angeles, too, but they
are just little ones. Don’t worry. I hope you
feel better soon. Love, Sophie.

Another one, a masculine blue set against pine green, said

Dear Woodley, I am sorry that your heart
is broken. The doctors are really good and
they will fix you up as good as new. I am
drawing a soccer ball because I want you
to get strong again soon so that you can
play. From, Danny.”

A third, this one a jolting pink and green, pleaded:

Hi Woodley, I’m sorry that you are sick.
Does it hurt? Me and all my friends really
want you to get better soon, so that you can
write us back to let us know that you are
okay. Ok? From, your friend, Nima.

The story behind these cards, and how our children came to care for a Haitian boy now recovering from life-saving heart surgery in Israel is an amazing one. But, where do I begin? I suppose we could start with the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the Israeli “first response” team that arrived with a fully staffed field hospital within hours of the catastrophe. Before the dust had even settled, Israeli rescuers were pulling people from the rubble, while top Israeli doctors and nurses distributed medical aid and performed vital surgeries.

But, that is not really the beginning, as some of these very same doctors were pediatric heart surgeons from Wolfson Hospital in Holon, Israel; and, they were passionately dedicated to an organization called Save A Child’s Heart (SACH) ( SACH’s mission is to bring children from developing countries in need of life-saving heart operations to Israel, where the doctors and nurses perform the surgery pro-bono. While in Haiti, as part of that “first response” team, the Israeli doctors identified some of these kids who desperately needed cardiac surgery. One was a six-year-old boy named Woodley. And so, when the doctors returned to Israel, they brought little Woodley with them.

But, that is not really the beginning either. We have to ask ourselves, why is it that a group of Israeli pediatric heart surgeons would dedicate their lives to children, the vast majority of whom are not Israeli, and who are not even Jewish? The hundreds of kids who come through SACH to Israel for surgeries every year range from places as different from Israel as Angola and Uganda, Gaza and Iraq, Romania and China. The children they bring to Israel are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu with skin color that spans from Eastern European white to deep African black, and everything in between. Why do they do this? At the core, it is because they believe that saving children should transcend politics and all differences. They are driven by two of the highest biblical imperatives which demand that we, as Jews, are supposed to save lives (Pikuah Nefesh), and we, as Jews, are supposed to act as a beacon of light unto the world (Ohr LaGoyim). These Israeli doctors do both.

And, their efforts inspired us at Stephen S. Wise Temple, an ocean away, to try to help. From the moment the earthquake first devastated Haiti through months later when I was able to deliver the “get well” cards to Woodley himself, recovering in the Israeli hospital, Stephen S. Wise Temple and Schools sprung into action to help repair our world. From the bimah, we spoke of their plight, donated thousands of shoes, and dedicated a Shabbat Service in their honor. From the classrooms, our children sent their prayers and donated money to assist SACH’s efforts. And, from our souls, our hearts went out to theirs.

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