The light of the Golden City pours into the room at an altogether unholy hour… We have a meeting at 8 o’clock (6.00 AM for us technically), so we fight the urge to not wake up and struggle down the stairs to reception for the first meeting of the day.
We are meeting with Natan Shapira and we talk through ways to bring a Love Hope Strength contingent to the Holy Land next year. Maps are laid out on the table and ideas to walk the 62km Gospel Trail are discussed along with ways to transport a LHS team between all the potential sites that would make up an lide-changing expedition to experience all the wonders of the Holy Land.
At 9am our driver Shlomo Mor (who works for the Associated Press), arrives to take us to Hadassah Medical Center. Shlomo is not only a driver but our cameraman and guide. We pass through the hospital security gates and are soon outside the impressive Sara Weitsman Tower and there to meet us is Dr. Shoshana Israel who is the head of the Bone Marrow and Tissue Typing department. Also, with Dr. Shosh (as she is now known to us), is Shanna from the Director General’s office who will guide us through the dynamics of how this facility works.
Shosh and Shanna lead us into the main reception and walking towards us are Dr. Amal and Prof. Chaim Brautbar. It is beyond emotional to meet these people who I have come to know through email only. Dr. Amal is exactly as I expected her to be, humble, slightly shy but with a warmth of spirit that is communicated the instant you look into her eyes. Prof Brautbar gives me a huge hug as if greeting a family member. Chaim, as I know him, has become close to me through the communication of the last months. He even called me when I was struggling through my last round of chemo and was very supportive and understanding. There was not one second of awkwardness at having finally met, everyone was so welcoming and open with us and soon we were walking the corridors chatting excitedly and always on the surface; the dream of what we hope to achieve together.
The dream is driven by the site of a young 5 year old Arab girl who comes out of the Marrow transplantation ward to greet us with her mother. She is lucky, she has found a donor and is being prepared for a transplant in the coming days. She has beautiful eyes and does not seem at all afraid, just quiet and trying to take it all in with a small wave of the hand to the strangers before her. The ward itself teems with humanity as nurses, doctors and patients of all ages are glimpsed through doors and in rooms dedicated to saving lives. There is sadness and joy here as depicted in the pictures and drawings that decorate the walls and you know that some of these pictures represent loss as well as victory. The leader of the transplant unit talks us through the dynamics of this medical battleground and you can literally touch her dedication, care and professionalism. The emotion in her voice is tangible as she introduces us to Palestinian children who have crossed the divide of history to be treated here with love and care. There are patients here from Russia who have found a way to Hadassah to be treated. We are taken into one of the side wards past a children’s entertainer who calls me ‘guitar man’ and inside we meet a young Arab patient who is recovering from a transplant having found a donor within her own community. The depth of respect shown to Dr. Amal and the medical team is beyond expression and the gratitude from the mother is extended to all of us in the room. It is humbling to the core to witness such scenes as this and my drive and determination to bring Love Hope and Strength to the Holy Land is strengthened in the knowledge that only good can come of this mission to support the Hadassah Donor Registry.
My eyes have been truly opened to the work that is going on here. Picking up on their inspirational and humane work from emails is one thing, but being here and seeing and experiencing it first hand is another thing all together. I learn to my astonishment, that in 2005, Hadassah was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in acknowledgment of it’s equal treatment of ‘all’ patients, regardless of ethnic and religious differences, and efforts to build bridges to peace. I can see all of this now as I am guided through the hospital and meeting people of all persuasion, faith and denomination.
I am taken into a haematology ward and one of the Arab nurses wants to take a picture of me with my guitar. The appearance of the Mission to Israel guitar sends a buzz through the ward and soon I am surrounded by Christians, Jewish & Arab patients, nurses and doctors. I insist that Dr. Amal Bishara be the first person to sign the guitar. Dr. Amal is a Christian Arab and her name in arabic translates as ‘Hope’ in English (or as Dr. Amal says – ‘Hopes’ which is even better). It seems like the entire ward wants to sign the guitar and the writings are in Hebrew, Arabic, Graffiti and English. All life is represented on this guitar just as all life is cared for by Hadassah.
The tour continues and we are taken to the lab where Dr. Amal does her work and all the while we hear the stories of the drives and the history of the Arab registry which is the first and only Arab donor registry in the world (there is word coming through of a registry starting up in Kuwait that has just 800 names and Dr. Amal is trying to speak with them). Due to this work, lives have been saved in the USA, UK, Australia, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, all across the middle east and beyond, building the bridge of peace all the while.
Dr. Amal shows me the poster for the drive in Nazareth planned for Sunday and the heartbreak and desperation is intensely felt as she tells me the story behind the need for this drive. The lymphoma patient who needs a transplant is a doctor in Nazareth who has done great deeds in the community and despite having ten brothers and sisters, cannot find a match. The drive is being organised by the local community who have all benefited form the doctors care. Dr. Amal has managed to find the funds to sign up a hundred people to the list but expects some 800 to show on the day. “How do you tell 700 people who want to help and become a life saving match that I cannot sign them to the registry. As you well know Mike, it is the one who gets away that will probably be the match”. I have to fight back my emotions at this point especially when I know that back home in my world, Love Hope Strength has the funds (and the partnership with Delete Blood Cancer), to sign everyone that we can find. “This has to change”, I say to Dr. Amal and I resolve with every effort of will I can summon that I will try with all my might to – make that change.
With the guiding hand of Professor Chaim Brautbar we are shown to the cafeteria for refreshments and more conversation. Prof. Brautbar gets serious and delivers an impassioned speech about the impartial and neutral stance of the Hadassah Medical centre and the work and ideals of the Arab Registry. Chaim is careful to stress the need for independence and freedom from political influence that they need to do their work. All are welcome here inside Hadassah and there are no borders or barriers for people to cross. Every individual who needs help gets help. I am very taken with all that Chaim has to say and my admiration grows further.
At 12:30 we are taken to the offices of the Director Gerenral of Hadassah Medical Center to meet with Dr.Weiss. Pleasantries are exchanged and I am offered the opportunity to tell the story of Love Hope Strength and outline the plans I have to bring support to the Holy Land in order to benefit the Hadassah Donor Registry. Before we left the UK, Jules and I prepared 12 ‘Mission To Israel’ / Love Hope Strength T-shirts and Jules hands these out around the table and invites everyone to wear their T shirt around the table. I explain the significance of our own ‘Get On The List’ campaign and invite Dr. Weiss to sign the guitar. Dr. Weiss gives his own speech about the work of Hadassah and the benefits of peace that are at the core of all the hospital’s efforts to serve humanity. It is a special moment as we all take a photograph dressed in our LHS attire.
It is soon time for us to move on and plans are made to meet in Nazareth on Sunday. We take a last visit to the synagogue inside the Ein Carem Medical Centre which is decorated with twelve pieces of stained glass art created by Marc Chagall depicting the twelve tribes of Israel and biblical passages. Goodbyes are said and we are soon inside the car, bound for Masada which is two hours from Jerusalem.
On the way, we pass through the desert and as we are heading for the Dead Sea area, we pass the famous ‘Sea Level’ sign and descend below towards the lowest point on earth. On our passage through the desert, we pass camels, shepherds and in the distance we can see a Bedouin Camp. Soon we are at Masada and have to rush because we know it will close at 4.00PM. We have already arranged our visit through the National Parks Of Israel offices and are greeted by Eitan Campbell who is a very friendly man and writes out the passes for us to ascend the mountain by cable car. Masada is a very historic place here in Israel. It is a mountain that has at its summit, the site of a palace that was built by King Herod and overlooks the dead sea. A tragic and historic tale is told here. When we come back with Love Hope Strength in 2014, we will hike to the summit via the Snake Path that zig zags up the mountain and experience the sun rise over the Dead Sea. Upon arrival at the top, we are exposed to a most beautiful vantage point over looking the Dead Sea to Jordan in the distance. Shlomo captures some footage and I play some guitar. From somewhere an idea forms that I should sing the song ‘Peace Agreement’ and so I do.
Its lyrical content and chord structures seem at home in this landscape. We are called to the cable car to make the last ride to the bottom or risk spending the night up here. On the way down we see that a private event is being arranged at the visitor centre. A P.A. and stage is being rigged and tables arranged for an evening dinner and drinks.There is a breeze and the white linen billows as it catches in the wind. It feels very evocative and also reminds me of the Vail Rocks end of hike finale summit building and I think an acoustic concert and dinner here could be another great addition to next year’s proposed event in the Holy Land.
We grab some drinks from the visitor centre store and Shlomo has plans for Jules and I to touch the Dead Sea. He makes some calls and we are soon meeting with Tabor who is the PR for the spa hotel that has a private beach for experiencing the Dead Sea. The smell of the sulphur is strong as we are driven to the beach area. It is the lowest place on earth below sea level and the water is thick with salt.
I put my hand into the spiritual waters and can feel the properties in the water which bring people from all over the world to experience it’s healing powers. I sing a song by the water and cover my face in the sulphurous mud. We stay until dark, chatting with the spa’s owners who are so friendly towards us and give us a slab of salt to take home. I have them sign the guitar and we are soon on our way back to Tel Aviv.
It’s late when we arrive at the hotel but Jules and I decide to go out for a drink and something to eat. I am struck by how friendly everybody is and it reminds me of New York in the summertime…all the bars and restaurants are dimly lit and the people sit outside, engaged in conversation. It is a fascinating and insightful place full of stimulating individuals and a place to be experienced in the flesh to truly understand. I have been overwhelmed today and realise how fortunate I am to have come here. It feels good to be alive.
Mike Peters 2013