A swift and massive Jewish response followed the 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, that caused more than 250,000 deaths and at least as many injuries in Haiti.
The Jewish Federations of North America partnered with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to funnel millions of dollars of contributions to help in the relief work. Israel was among the first of many countries to send humanitarian aid.
The 236 military, security, rescue, and medical personnel sent by Israel’s Foreign Ministry arrived at Port-Au-Prince on two Boeing 747 jets leased from El Al by Tzahal (the hebrew acronym that stands for Israel Defense Forces, or IDF). A Tzahal field hospital was set up in a soccer field near the airport just four hours after landing on Jan. 15, the first such treatment facility to be up and running after the devastating earthquake.
|In 2010 Dr. Howard Zucker examined one of the children in an orphanage. COURTESY DR. ZUCKER|
The delegation included a medical team of 12 from IsraAID, an early-response relief group. The government also sent Yehuda Pilosof, a renowned prosthetics technician from Rishon LeZion. Among the 15 Haitians whom Pilosof eventually fitted with artificial limbs, one was a professional dancer flown to Israel for treatment after losing his right leg during the earthquake.
There was also a six-man crew from ZAKA, an Israel-based international voluntary emergency response and victim identification organization. These men, along with Jewish volunteers from Mexico, spent 38 hours working to extract students trapped under a collapsed eight-story university building. They succeeded in rescuing eight people and only then took the time to recite Shabbat prayers on the spot.
Bergen County resident Cathi Goldfischer, head nurse of a 35-person medical team sent to Haiti through the state-sponsored New Jersey-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, told The Jewish Standard after returning from her 17-day mission that she was “absolutely in awe” of what the Israelis accomplished there.
In less than two weeks, the Israeli delegation treated more than 1,110 patients, conducted 319 surgeries, delivered 16 babies and rescued or assisted in the rescue of four people trapped in the rubble. They returned to Israel bringing with them a five-year-old child needing complicated heart surgery, and left 30 tons of medical equipment behind – including bandaging and surgery equipment, two incubators, 1,150 blankets, 30 large tents, 500 mattresses, 200 sleeping bags and kitchen equipment for Haitians living in tent cities.
Israel and Israeli organizations continue providing personnel, training, and equipment to Haiti.
Another ongoing Jewish effort was mounted by Sam Davis of Tenafly, founding director of Burn Advocates Network. Davis discovered that the earthquake caused hundreds of serious burns when portable hibachi stoves (common in Haitian homes) went flying, along with hot oil cooking on top of them.
The biggest burn facility in Port-au-Prince was destroyed, so Davis launched a campaign to upgrade and equip the remaining burn clinic. Two months after the earthquake, he shipped close to 50 tons of food and medical supplies out of Bayonne, made possible by the generosity of the Israeli-owned Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and Cooper University Hospital in Camden, as well as donors from the Jewish Center of Teaneck. BAN also arranged for Royal Caribbean to ship a new $155,000 life-saving oxygen processor from Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck.
Davis returned another three times. In April 2010, he established a physical and occupational therapy clinic at a Haitian hospital along with Jim Ressler of Medical Angels and Premier Home Health Care in Fort Lee; Karen Canellos, a physical therapist from Englewood Hospital and Medical Center; and Dr. Thomas Bojko, the Israeli director of medical services and clinical operations at Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
In August 2011, Davis launched a burn prevention campaign to the 600,000 or so tent city dwellers, and announced the construction of a major burn center in Haiti.
On that trip, he told The Jewish Standard, he visited a 250-square-meter prefab trauma center that the Israeli international aid agency MASHAV built to provide comprehensive emergency medical services.
“Everything inside it, from toilet tissue holders to chairs to sophisticated oxygen apparatus, were all made in Israel. It was wonderful to see how quietly Israel was still making a major difference filling some of the holes in the Haitian trauma safety net,” said Davis.