TORONTO — The Canadian Friends of the Meir Medical Center gathered at a Toronto synagogue over the weekend to present awards of merit to a trio of recipients, but one of those receiving the award, the one everybody wanted to see, was conspicuous by his absence.
Instead, the 200 supporters who had gathered at the Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue were treated to a 5-1/2-minute video in which Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau – the missing award-winner – expressed his regret for his absence, explaining he wanted to spend as much time as he could with his new baby. He praised the Israeli hospital for its commitment to equality and justice while pointing to the values shared by Canada and Israel – democracy, openness, tolerance, respect for the rule of law and, in particular, the desire for peace.
“In this regard, the Liberal Party of Canada will have Israel’s back. Not because it is in our political interests to do so at home, but because it is the right thing to do,” he stated.
He said support for Israel should cross party lines.
Coincidentally, just a week earlier Trudeau told a local Farsi language weekly newspaper, Salam Toronto, that “[Harper’s] stance in matters regarding Israel or the United Nations is highly focused on what will affect his position in the ballots,” according to a translation provided by journalist Jonathan Halevi on his blog, Alternative Angle.
In his message at the synagogue, Trudeau quoted former justice minister Irwin Cotler, saying that Canada must help stamp out the new anti-Semitism, which requires it to fully participate in international organizations such as the United Nations.
“We must be present in these institutions to make our case, lest we risk losing by default to the purveyors of hate,” he said.
Trudeau expressed support for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiatives. “Direct negotiations are the only path” toward a just and enduring peace, he said.
To the delight of many, he concluded his address by wishing everyone a sweet Passover, doing so passably in Hebrew and more clumsily in Yiddish. Be that as it may, the evening was one of celebration as he and other award winners were feted for their commitment to helping others.
Joining Trudeau as 2014 Medal of Merit recipients were Dr. Allan Abramovitch and his wife, Jacqueline, as well as Dr. Karen Mock, and her husband Dr. David Mock.
The Liberal party turned out in great numbers for the event. Headlining the Liberal lovefest was Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who brought greetings and praised the Meir Medical Center as “a worthy beacon of inclusion” that “helps human beings in need.”
Also present were several Liberal MPPs, former federal cabinet ministers Bill Graham and Joe Volpe, who also serves as the Canadian support group’s campaign chair, as well as municipal politicians, including mayoralty candidate David Soknacki.
If a bomb had gone off in Liberal party headquarters that evening, it’s likely there’d have been no one around to be hurt.
Which ties into recent developments at the Meir Medical Center itself. Arie Raif, vice-chair and CEO of the Canadian Friends group, noted that Israeli hospitals are on the front line of the country’s defence efforts.
As a result of indiscriminate missile attacks, there’s a trend developing in the design and construction of Israeli hospitals. Hospitals are going underground.
They are hardening their structures with extra concrete, and architects are putting emergency rooms, intensive care units and operating theatres below ground level, placing these vital facilities out of harm’s way – at least for the smaller missiles in their enemies’ arsenals – and providing a measure of reassurance to the doctors, nurses and other staff whose work can’t stop, even when an air raid warning sounds.
The Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba is set to become one of the new breed of hardened healing centres. Construction will begin on a new $130-million orthopedic and emergency hospital designed to the new specifications. But constructing underground facilities, with the extra cement, heavy doors, smaller rooms and other costs makes them very expensive – they can cost up to 50 per cent more than a ground-level hospital.
And so, supporters of the hospital are being asked to come forward with a contribution, name a wing, a room or a piece of equipment if they like, but help the hospital continue to serve the people of central Israel.
Last weekend’s dinner enabled the hospital to alert its supporters about the good work being done at the facility. Dr. Eytan Wirtheim, the Meir Medical’s CEO, was in town for the dinner and to promote the hospital.
Meir Medical is comparable in size to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Located in central Israel, the hospital has 700,000 people in its catchment area. The 863-bed hospital serves 58,400 inpatients a year and performs about 20,000 surgical procedures annually. It is one of the largest emergency hospitals in the country.
Its cardiac electro-physiology unit was funded, in part, with $1.2 million in contributions from Canadian supporters.
The unit is part of the hospital’s credo of providing excellent service – and of providing medical services regardless of religion or nationality. Twenty per cent of the hospital’s patients and staff are non-Jews. “Israelis, Palestinians, Muslims and Jews all work together at Meir,” Wirtheim said.
That has resonated among local supporters, Raif noted. Some 20 per cent of local supporters are not Jewish. They are attracted to the hospital because of its policy of treating all people alike, he said.
Connections between Meir Medical and Canada are also apparent in various research projects, he said. Several Israeli doctors are in Toronto working with colleagues thanks to a number of fellowships, funded by Canadian and Israeli supporters.
There are currently joint projects linking Meir Medical to Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and the University of Toronto.
In the last three years, Canadian supporters have raised more than $2.5 million for the hospital. “We think we will raise another $1 million in 2013-14,” said Raif.
Meir Medical operates on an annual budget equivalent to $330 million, Wirtheim said, adding that benefactors are free to designate how funds they provide to the hospital are employed.
Any hospital in Israel is on the front line in the case of war, Raif said. “In an attack, Meir is the focal point of support for the population. To volunteer for the hospital is like an extension of my military service. I feel I’m still on duty. This kind of civilian protection cannot be ignored.” n