Nearly 77 years ago, after World War II and the Holocaust had engulfed all of Europe, my grandparents, who had experienced the evils of war first-hand, left Ukraine barefoot, carrying all of their possessions in their hands.
This week, with the country once again mired in the horrors of war, I myself will head back to Ukraine to lead the State of Israel’s civilian field-hospital team, led by Sheba Medical Center and organized with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health and other hospitals and medical institutions from across the country.
Like many in the delegation, I will return to the land of my grandparents and ancestors, where my mother was also born, to offer a people in dire need of help the small assistance I can, as a Jew, as an Israeli and, primarily, as a medical professional.
I grew up with the awareness that my Jewish family, my people, suffered at the hands of the worst evil imaginable to man. Chased from their homes, rounded up and killed—in many cases, with the blessing and even participation of their neighbors. Despite this, we must commit to never again allowing another people—any people—to face destruction on their own.
That sense of responsibility was drilled into me from a young age, not only as a Jew but also as an Israeli. In many ways, Israel and I, have been preparing for this mission for a long time. Throughout my 26-year service in the army, I had the honor of joining and helping lead many of Israel’s previous humanitarian missions to war zones (in Rwanda and the Balkans) and natural disasters (in India and Nepal).
Setting up a field hospital is no easy task. But with agility, dedication and professionalism, Israel has honed its skills in providing the highest level of medical care in the toughest of places. It is ready to do so again in Ukraine. Israeli civilians, leaving the comfort of their own homes will be helping others being forced to flee from theirs.
While my heritage and citizenship have played a role, the brazen determination to help those in need comes, more than anything, from my oath to do “all that is required for the benefit of the sick.” As a health professional, I have committed myself to providing care where others cannot.
During the past few weeks, we have brought the wonders of the start-up nation to Moldova, where dozens of pregnant refugees from Ukraine have been treated with telehealth technologies from our Sheba Beyond virtual hospital. We are now taking that same vision into Ukraine.
In the 2020 book, Field Hospitals: A Comprehensive Guide to Preparation and Operation, to which I had the pleasure of contributing, I explained that a clear vision of why the team is there is the driving force behind a successful field hospital. “The clearer the vision is, the stronger the values are, and the more they are shared, the more it will be understood that the numbers are not the only thing that counts, but rather the value of saving lives and the role of bringing hope,” I wrote.
We go knowing that we, unfortunately, cannot help everyone. Indeed, we can only help a tiny fraction of those in need.
This terrible war will take countless more lives than we will ever be able to save. But as the Jewish sages write in Ethics of the Fathers, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”
Medicine provides hope without boundaries or borders. With the memory of my grandparents in my mind, I’m heading to Ukraine to do just that.
Yoel Har-Even is the director of International Division and Resource Development, Sheba Global, at Sheba Medical Center. Having started out his army career as a front-line combat nurse, he became a veteran of Israel Defense Forces humanitarian-relief missions, helping to establish several field hospitals in disaster and war zones around the world.
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