Beyond the Spiritual

From the sparkling stone walls of Jerusalem to the dramatic rock formations of the Negev, Israel never ceases to satiate my desire for adventures in my other homeland. The passion to be there exerts a force on me like nothing else.
Although I was 7,200 miles from my “permanent address,” I was home. In the midst of the most multicultural country in the world, I experienced incomparable serenity. Saying “Slicha?” (Excuse me?), “Anglit?” (Do you speak English?), “Ayfo sherutim?” (Where is the bathroom?) and a few other choice words got me pretty far. In Jerusalem I visited Hadassah Hospital, prayed at the Western Wall, walked through the Cardo and shopped on Ben Yehuda Street and in the Mahane Yehuda.
I navigated by bus and train, one time with the help of an Arabic woman. I only knew that because I tried to communicate with her sons in Hebrew. I even went into the uncharted areas of East Jerusalem and beyond the Green Line and witnessed real Israelis in areas where other people live – without incident.
I got rejuvenated at the Dead Sea (thanks to writer Andrea Simantov, who truly made her home in Jerusalem my home) and walked the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv. I also connected with several Israel residents who work with this magazine – Pepe Fainberg, Teddy Weinberger and Susie Lubell.
On this Israel trip, my third, I got to feed my intellectual hunger as well as my spiritual hunger. Thanks to American Associates of Ben Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev, I learned why and how the dream of David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, to make the expansive desert a viable population center, is being realized.
According to Alon Friedman, M.D., Ph.D., of the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience at BGU, “We’re a small group in the middle of nowhere and have to compete, but there is no dispute about this part of the land of Israel, and there is a lot to develop. It took 60 years to understand Ben Gurion’s vision that this was the place to develop. The southern part of Israel has lots of space and less than 1 million inhabitants, and there is a role for the university to cultivate it. BGU is not an ivory tower, but it has a role in developing the area.”
Relating that most people in the 21st century will die of brain disorders, Dr. Friedman said that 30 percent of the population will suffer from some type of brain disorder – stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other such problems – at a huge cost to themselves and society. For five days, we learned about the bench-to-bedside approach of Ben Gurion University and Soroka Hospital on campus while discovering the nature and character of the region.
Where some of the world’s media see apartheid and oppression, I saw people living side by side and making it work. In both Hadassah Hospital and Soroka Hospital, there are Jews served and serving alongside other populations. While I heard about great advances in medicine and watched every driver navigating with a Waze®, I knew there were pockets of poverty. I was convinced that the Israelis are working on that.
After all, as the Israeli national anthem says, there is hope.

Ilene Schneider

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