How Together We Make Things Happen

There are so many women I met on the Heart 2 Heart Mission last month that I still have to tell you about – young women studying for their MBA degrees in a new one-year intensive program at Tel Aviv University, the fabulous Ethnic Empowerment women from our Partnership 2000 community of Ofakim, who have their own restaurant after only four years of working together and made us an amazing lunch, young Druse women who envision a bright future for themselves, Ethiopian women who work together to make sure there are afternoon programs for their teenagers, women members of the Knesset – that I could go on and on. And that doesn’t even touch on the wonderful women from across North America who participated in this mission, all of whom left behind families, jobs, and all of the myriad obligations of daily life to participate – and I mean really participate, not merely observe – in connecting with the land of Israel and its people.

On our very last morning, we heard from two more women, Ora Merrin and Judy Amit, who really brought together the meaning of the mission and what we, as part of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), do as part of the Jewish people. Let me explain who Ora and Judy are, their connection to each other and to each of us.

Ora and Ofer Merrin
Ora and Ofer Merrin
Missions like Heart 2 Heart are planned and produced by the amazing, superb, tireless staff of JFNA in conjunction with inspired and driven lay leadership, but all of this still requires a presence on the ground of a tour operator to hire the buses, make the restaurant arrangements, and so on. For this mission, JFNA worked with a company called Giant Leaps, a woman-owned and woman-staffed Israeli company. Ora Merrin is the owner of Giant Leaps and she was with us every step of the way. A tall, striking figure, Ora seemed to be everywhere at once, making sure everything was going smoothly. Even in the middle of our “treasure hunt” through the muddy Galilee, while we were running around like crazy people (and seeing wonderful sights), Ora kept up with us, unfailingly cheerful and encouraging us to the finish line. What we found out on our last morning was that, while Ora was busy running around with us, her physician husband Ofer was commanding the Israel Defense Force field hospital in Haiti. In fact, the field hospital was Ofer’s idea. When the IDF is defending Israel, wounded soldiers are brought to hospitals in Israel, either by ground transport or by airlift. So there is no need for Israel itself to have a field hospital. But, because the IDF has responded so often to disasters around the world, Ofer saw the need for a field hospital that could be a part of Israel’s disaster response, and helped make the field hospital a reality.

And the connection between the IDF field hospital and Judy Amit? The first thing to know is that Judy is the chief operating officer for program and budgets for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). As the JDC operates in more than 70 countries around the world and in Israel, Judy’s job is a big one. If I had known more when I was younger – okay, MUCH younger – I would have gone to work for the JDC. You need to be young, because these men and women work in very difficult, demanding circumstances, dealing first-hand with the emergencies and ongoing needs of Jews around the world. I’ve met JDC staffers in every corner of the globe, from Gondar in Ethiopia to Cherkassy in the Ukraine to Beersheva in Israel. In their hands rests the work we do of rescuing Jews in need or at risk. The JDC staff also represents the Jewish people to the rest of the world, in non-sectarian efforts that range from the Agohozo-Shalom Youth Village for teenage orphans of the Rwandan genocide to the current Haitian relief effort. It is the JDC’s Haitian relief work that connects Ora, Judy Amit and us.

Part of Judy’s global responsibility includes overseeing the JDC’ non-sectarian programs (and Will Recant, who was our speaker at last year’s Women’s Awareness Day, is the direct supervisor for disaster relief). Judy came to speak to us that Thursday morning to tell us the other half of the Haiti story. While the IDF created the field hospital and funded the IDF personnel who went to Haiti, it’s the JDC who provided the incubators and other life-saving equipment for the field hospital. In fact, it was Ofer Merrin who called Judy Amit to tell her what was needed. And, as you will see and hear Ofer say in the video, within 12 hours of his request, the necessary equipment was on the ground, in the IDF field hospital. And where did Judy and the JDC get the money to buy that equipment? From me and from you, through our responses to the online mailboxes set up on our UJC MetroWest website, and similar mailboxes throughout the federations across North America. As of a few days ago, this system has raised $4.8 million dollars for aid to Haiti. This is one person at a time, clicking on an online mailbox, writing a check, making a difference. We can’t all be on the ground, saving lives and making miraculous rescues. But we do stand behind Dr. Ofer Merrin and Judy Amit and the work they do. We hold them up and they hold up the world.

Thanks for making a world of difference –
Leslie

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