Hospital is a model of creativity and love
Last fall, I arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport and saw a massive line at border control. It seemed that Israel was being invaded by an army of foreign cyclists who were going to make me very late. Suddenly, like the biblical character Balaam, my curses turned to blessings. I realized that these people came for the ALYN Hospital bicycle ride, an annual fundraising event each fall since 2000.
I recently had the privilege of visiting ALYN with my wife, parents, and daughter Dina, who has taken the hospital on as her tzedakah project. We were amazed and inspired by the miracles occurring in this hospital, the only children’s rehabilitation facility in the Middle East that houses all the therapies and services physically-challenged kids need under one roof.
ALYN – which in Hebrew is the acronym for The Organization for Special Needs Children but was labelled by one Florida supporter as standing for All the Love You Need – is an officially registered non-profit hospital serving 3,250 inpatients annually while hosting over 20,000 outpatient visits and ambulatory treatments.
Under Israel’s health system, insurance providers and HMOs pay a certain amount per patient, per day. Given the intense staffing and equipment needs to provide the excellent, cutting-edge treatment it delivers, the hospital averages a deficit of $75 per inpatient, per day, which private donations must cover. Every special therapy, gadget, and program which ALYN’s doctors, nurses, social workers and physical therapists think of, requires 100 per cent fundraising.
ALYN thrives in that extraordinary intersection where Israeli creativity, Jewish generosity, and the human spirit reinforce one another. We saw one “patent” after another, special contraptions and therapies often improvised for the particular patient, dreamed up by the staffers, often brought to life by the hospital’s in-house bio-tech laboratory. ALYN makes their walkers as light as possible, and seeks respirators which are as small as possible, so kids can be as mobile as possible.
With the hospital’s mantra of “remember that these kids are kids,” staffers constantly seek ways to give children with sometimes daunting special needs the taste of normalcy they deserve. They hoist wheelchair-bound children up a tree, so the kids can experience looking down on the world when they spend most of their time looking up at the world. They hook up respirators in the swimming pool so the kids can enjoy the water’s buoyancy.
Such imaginative therapies and devices have attracted patients and supporters worldwide. Most, but not all the supporters, are Jewish. This worldwide web of love that has developed shows Israel’s power to serve as the focal point of Jewish generosity – not just in terms of donating money and time but generosity in the fullest sense of the word, meaning expansiveness, big-heartedness, far-sightedness.
The hospital proves that particular tribal loyalties can promote universal goods. As Zionists, we take pride in Israeli know-how and Jewish munificence as powerful vehicles for expressing and stirring the very best there is in humanity.
Our daughter, Dina, is volunteering and helping to raise money to support ALYN’s Challenging Sports Activities, which gets physically challenged, even immobile, kids, walking along tightropes, whooshing around on zip lines, and navigating obstacle courses. These activities build confidence and encourage teamwork.
When Dina visited, she perched on a rope with a non-Orthodox Israeli girl, an Arab boy, and two haredi kids, and they had to pour water from one kid’s cup to another, while staying balanced. Watching them work together, smile together, sweat together, I was reminded of our common humanity – and saw the vision of Middle East peace partially realized.
This is the real Israeli experience, as common, if less frequently reported, than the conflicts. If we could bottle the creativity, generosity and love permeating ALYN Hospital and mass-produce it; if we could get reporters to tell that story too, we would be on our way to fulfilling the Zionist dream of redeeming the Jewish people and humanity.