Rambam Medical Center Conducts Live Simulation of Underground, Fortified Hospital

Rambam live simulation— by Jake Sharfman

Sirens and lights blazing, an ambulance raced into the underground parking lot of Rambam Medical Center where doctors, nurses and other staffers had already converted a portion of the 2,000-bed below grade fortified hospital for incoming wounded. The live simulation was held last week as part of Rambam 2015 Heath Care Summit that brought supporters from around the world and leading doctors and researchers to the facility to discuss innovations in healthcare.

The Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital, which is converted from the hospital’s parking garage into a 2,000-bed, full-service medical clinic in just 72 hours, is the largest of only three such structures in the world. The underground hospital is segmented for different wards of the hospital, including neurology, surgery, and OBGYN. Furthermore, the garage can also become a sealed bomb shelter against biological and chemical attacks for up to three days.

“This is the most sophisticated underground facility in the world and we take great pride in our responsibility to serve the 2 million people living in Northern Israel, as well as regional IDF troops should a crisis arrive,” said Rambam Medical Center Director General Prof. Rafael Beyar. “We are abreast of the increased threat from Israel’s enemies in the north and unfortunately need to stay fully prepared so that we do everything possible to keep patients of the hospital completely safe.”

A senior Home Front Command source recently stated that in just one northern town, situated near Rambam Hospital’s Haifa base, hundreds of rockets could strike, dozens would hit per day and hundreds of civilians may have to be evacuated. The army source went on to suggest that Hezbollah could fire as many as 1,500 rockets from Lebanon into Israel and that they are working tirelessly to prepare for such a scenario.

The live simulation was part of the annual Rambam Summit, this year themed “From Vision to Reality,” taking place June 7-9 at the hospital’s campus in Haifa and will see leading dignitaries, scientists and philanthropists from around the world attend and learn about Rambam’s vision and the hospital’s continuous advances in modern medicine. Former Israeli President Shimon Peres and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks will receive the 2015 Rambam Award on the morning of June 9 for their lifelong contributions to Israel and the Jewish people. The summit is also celebrating the opening of the Joseph Fishman Oncology Center, Israel’s most modern cancer center, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the gala event on the evening of June 9.

First Public Seder in Five Centuries on Portuguese Island Madeira

— by Jake Sharfman

Tomorrow, on an isolated island tucked away deep in the Atlantic Ocean, some 600 miles from the European continent and 300 miles away from Africa, a most unusual Passover Seder, sponsored by Shavei Israel, will be taking place. Thirteen Jews, many of them Bnei Anousim — descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism more than 500 years ago — will gather in Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira, to celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. It will be the first public Seder held in centuries in a region that once had a thriving Jewish population until the Inquisition arrived, even in this remote location, so far from the mainland.

More after the jump.
The Madeira Seder will be led by Marvin and Danby Meital, an American-Israeli couple with a keen interest in crypto-Jewish history. Shavei Israel is sponsoring the Seder, providing funding to make it possible and also supplying the participants with specially designed Portuguese-Hebrew Haggadot. The Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization aims to help descendants of Jews across the world reconnect with the people and State of Israel.

“The holding of a Seder in Madeira is truly historic,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund.

More than 500 years after the expulsion of Portugal’s Jews in 1497, the Bnei Anousim are returning to our people. Since Passover commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from bondage, we feel it is especially symbolic to be holding a Seder for the Bnei Anousim in Madeira, for they too are now emerging from the spiritual captivity of the Inquisition.

Freund added that, “It is incumbent upon Israel and the Jewish people to reach out to the Bnei Anousim and facilitate their return. Through no fault of their own, their ancestors were torn away from the Jewish people. Our task now must be to bring them back.”

Marvin Meital, who will be leading the Seder together with his wife Danby, is originally from Boston and has had a passion for Portuguese ever since he came on a junior year abroad program in Israel in 1958. He had the choice to room with the other Americans on the course or with a separate group from South America. He figured he’d learn more Hebrew by hooking up with the non-English speakers. Instead, he fell in love with their language. He went on to teach Portuguese literature and language at the University of Wisconsin and, after making aliyah in 1974, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as well. The Meitals were sent several times to Portuguese-speaking Brazil as representatives of the Jewish Agency.

Marvin and Danby made a connection with the Bnei Anousim community several years ago when the couple was invited to Palma de Mallorca in Spain to help lead a group Seder for Spanish Chuetas, as descendants of Mallorcan Jews are known. (Marvin is also a trained Cantor.) This year, the Meitals wanted to do it again and they set their eyes on Madeira, a popular resort which sees about a million tourists a year and is an important stopover for commercial and trans-Atlantic passenger cruises.

But they had no guests. So they contacted Shavei Israel’s emissary to the Bnei Anousim in Portugal, Rabbi Elisha Salas. “We asked him if he knew of any Jews in Madeira,” Marvin explains. Rabbi Salas replied that he knew exactly the dinner guest who’d be perfect for the Meitals Seder table: a Bnei Anousim woman who has been studying with him in Belmonte. She jumped at the chance to join in and signed up, along with her three children. She then recommended another family. And another. “It kind of snowballed from there,” Marvin says.

The Meitals rented a hotel room with its own kitchen. The facility’s management has proved particularly hospitable. “They stocked our room with all new utensils; with pots and pans, and extra chairs for the guests,” Marvin says. “We’re bringing in the matza and wine from Israel, and all the plastic goods. We’ll go shopping for fruits and vegetables when we arrive.” (There’s no kosher food available on the island).

While Madeira has no real Jewish community to speak of today, there are traces of a more recent Jewish past. Attracted by the city’s wealth and natural advantages, Jews from Morocco arrived in 1819 and set themselves up in the cloth trade. More arrived as refugees from the First and Second World Wars. A synagogue was built in 1836, but it has long been closed and today houses a laundry and a café. A Jewish cemetery dating back to 1861 remains, perched on the edge of a cliff; it has fallen into disrepair and some graves have actually fallen into the sea.

True to Madeira’s prosperous past, the expected guests at the Meital’s Seder table come from their own impressive backgrounds. Danby Meital relates that in attendance will be a shipping magnate, a cartographer, a food and beverage industry executive, and one man who is actively studying Kabbalah “but doesn’t admit to being Jewish himself.”

With such a diverse group flying in from the mainland — Madeira is an hour and a half flight from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon — Marvin expects discussion around the Seder table to be lively. The narrative of the Exodus — which aims to bring alive “in every generation” the physical and spiritual transformation from constriction and slavery to joyous freedom — is one that is highly relevant for Bnei Anousim rediscovering their roots today.

“Pesach is a night of questioning,” Marvin says. “A time to ask. When anything goes and everything is new. We ask, why is this night different from all others? There’s a sense of wonderment here.”

And that is a fitting description for the 13 participants in Madeira’s first Seder in half a millennia.

U.S already preparing for day after Palestinian UN Vote

— by Jake Sharman

Newly-appointed American Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, implied Tuesday evening that the Obama Administration is already preparing for the ramifications following the UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood, expected later this month.

“Even as we try to dissuade the Palestinians from going to the United Nations, we are working with our Quartet partners and the parties to try to preserve a path back to negotiations,” Ambassador Shapiro said at a dinner held in his honor at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) in Jerusalem.

Tuesday marked Ambassador Shapiro’s first public appearance at an Israeli think tank since taking office in early August. Throughout his speech, he described in detail his deep and impassioned connection to Israel, which began when he was a child. During Ambassador Shapiro’s first visit to Israel, the Yom Kippur war broke out, an emotional experience he still carries.

Analysis after the jump.
Full text at JPPI website.
Ambassador Shapiro referred to the peace process and to the impending Palestinian bid at the UN for statehood.

“We need to deal with the current challenge of a possible Palestinian appeal to the United Nations, which the United States will oppose,” said Ambassador Shapiro, who cited what President Obama indicated in his speech on May 19: that the issues regarding territories and security can be “the base for productive discussions.” Shapiro was referring to the speech in which Obama also mentioned “67 borders,” leading to a public dispute between with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ambassador Shapiro stressed more than once that the US and President Obama are committed to a strong Jewish and democratic State of Israel.

In his opening remarks, Avinoam Bar-Yosef, President of the JPPI, emphasized how highly the Israelis regard and appreciate the special relationship with the United States and its continuing as the global leader in economics, science, technology, and culture.

Bar-Yosef noted that in the JPPI annual assessment, which was presented to the Israeli government recently, it was recommended to avoid using Israel and the Jewish community as a partisan wedge issue in the US. Bar-Yosef also recommended that Israel and the Jewish people put forth its strongest efforts to consider the diplomatic and economic needs of the United States as long as it does not impact Israel’s security.

Bar-Yosef added that the JPPI went one step further in the annual assessment by recommending a ‘Buy America’ campaign, encouraging Israelis and the Israeli government to buy American-made products, expressing that creating jobs in New York and Detroit also affects Tel Aviv and Dimona. “There is no reason why Israelis can’t prefer American-made vehicles, and why the fleets of the State of Israel and the IDF cannot be replaced by such in order to at least show symbolic support for the recovery of the American economy”, he said.

First Ever Bnai Menashe Officer in IDF Makes History

Second Lieutenant Shalem Gin: “I hope more officers from the community will follow”

— Jake Sharfman

History was made yesterday when Shalem Gin became the first IDF officer from the Bnei Menashe community, who are descended from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Gin received the rank of Second Lieutenant in front of friends and family at a ceremony held at the Bahad 1 military base in the Negev.

More after the jump.

Gin, 20, was born in Mizoram, a state in northeastern India. He and his family made Aliyah to Israel in 1995. Gin joined the IDF in 2009 and enlisted in the Combat Engineering Corps, where he finished near the top of his class in his commanders course.

After completing the course with honors, Gin was then sent to officer training, which he officially completed yesterday. He will now return to his unit as a platoon commander.

“This is a dream come true. It brings great joy and pride to me and my family,” Gin said. “As the first Bnei Menashe officer in the IDF, I hope that more from the community will follow.”

“Shalem is a very talented young man with extraordinary ambition,” said Michael Freund, Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel, the organization responsible for the Aliyah of the Bnei Menashe. “When I met Shalem a few years ago, he told me that even as a child in India he always dreamt of becoming an Israeli combat soldier. Nonetheless, I’m sure that Shalem himself did not imagine that he would become the first Bnei Menashe officer in the IDF, but today he has achieved that goal and we are all very proud of him.”

“Shalem Gin made history today,” Freund added, “He is a pioneer in his community who has paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps.”

Freund also called on the Israeli government to allow the remaining 7,232 Bnei Menashe in India to make Aliyah as soon as possible. “Shalem Gin’s success story underlines the contribution that the Bnei Menashe wish to make to the State of Israel. It is time to bring about an end to the community’s waiting, and to enable them to come home to Israel as soon as possible,” he said.

About the Bnei Menashe (Hebrew for “sons of Manasseh”): They claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago, and they currently live in India’s northeastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram. Throughout their exile, the Bnei Menashe nonetheless continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity. And they continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel. In recent years, Shavei Israel has brought some 1,700 Bnei Menashe back home to Zion. Another 7,232 still remain in India, waiting for the day when they too will be able to return to Israel and the Jewish people.

About Shavei Israel: a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of reaching out to descendants of Jews around the world and strengthening their connection with the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, the “Hidden Jews” of Poland from the Holocaust era and others. For more information visit: www.shavei.org.

Photos courtesy of Micahl Fattal.