Serving more than 1 million Israeli citizens, the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot boasts a 60-acre campus and 700 medical beds, and is home to 1,000 nurses and 600 doctors.

According to Lou Balcher, national director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center (AFKMC), Kaplan’s “strategic importance to the state must not be underestimated.”

Because of its location in the center of Israel, Kaplan is able to serve more than 11 percent of the Israeli population, making it central to the people of Israel’s safety and health.

Lou Balcher

“Israel has to be constantly prepared for the unthinkable—a war upon the homeland, a sustained missile barrage, or other means of attack,” said Balcher. “With Gaza a short 25 miles from Kaplan’s Hertzfeld Geriatric Center in Gedera, and 30 miles from the main Kaplan campus, I have heard from top doctors at Kaplan that the center will need to be ready 24/7 in case of a national emergency and for immediate trauma response in mass casualty preparedness,” he told JNS.

The medical center also plays an important role beyond the country’s borders, said Balcher.

“I recently met officers of the Israel Defense Forces [Airborne Combat Rescue And Evacuation] Unit 669,” said Balcher, “who confirmed the role that Kaplan doctors play in Israeli international medical rescues.”

Balcher went on to say that an IDF officer has also shared with him “the gripping story of one of her new recruits who, on day one of her induction, had a severe negative reaction to an inoculation and would have died if Kaplan weren’t three miles and a few minutes away from the Tel Nof air-force base, where Kaplan doctors stabilized her.”

Additionally, Kaplan’s cardiac center has created one of the most advanced cardiac catheterization labs in the world, discovered cures for heart diseases and, several years back, introduced 3D-imaging to Israel.

Despite its life-saving work, according to Balcher only 0.08 percent of non-Israeli American Jews know about the hospital. Further, “even the 99.99 percent of Israelis who know about Kaplan don’t appreciate how critically important it is,” he said. Getting the word out about Kaplan has therefore become a project that will increase the strategic value of the hospital to the state and people of Israel.

With 42 years of professional service in the Jewish community, Balcher decided that his efforts to raise donations from the United States and market Kaplan’s life-saving must also include a commitment to educating and connecting young Jews to Israel.

“We work in a different manner from most other Jewish organizations, making connections utilizing my personal support of Israel and young leadership programs that build the future of the American Jewish community with young leadership programs,” said Balcher, who has developed fiercely creative programs for young professionals in Jewish institutions, college campuses and even grocery stores.

Mother and baby at Kaplan Medical Center. Photo courtesy of Lou Balcher.

For AFKMC, Balcher has not only raised awareness for Kaplan, but also enhanced the Jewish identity of young adults through creative strategies for engagement, including the “Heart and Sole” campaign, which places large shoe-collecting boxes in synagogues, supermarkets, churches and college campuses along with a poster promoting Kaplan’s “largest high-tech cardiac center in the Middle East” and Israel’s high-tech medicine saving lives.

With the support of 17 partnering Jewish organizations, shoe donations are sent to 50 countries around the world, with an additional donation going to the continued building of the world-renowned cardiac research center.

Twice a year, for Passover and Rosh Hashanah, Balcher recruits young adults as “foot soldiers” for the “Heart and Sole” campaign.

On Passover, young Jewish adults stand in the matzah isles of supermarkets, handing out free boxes of matzah and inviting young adults to participate in outreach on their campus.

During Rosh Hashanah, Balcher arranges 10-minute meet-ups during breaks for young professionals next to the shoe boxes.

“Along with the congregational rabbi, they say blessings for apples and honey, meet each other and talk about Israel saving lives through medical miracles,” he said. Doing so not only “strengthens awareness and literacy about the innovations coming out of the miraculous Jewish state,” but in addition, the young adults “will be making new friends, new life partners, and we will be identifying, encouraging, facilitating and directing them onto a path of leadership in the community.”

Balcher expressed his belief that as these marketing strategies develop, not only will funds be raised for the life-saving work at Kaplan Medical Center, but such programs might just “be the next step after Birthright” to increase engagement among young Jews, as well as connect them to Israel and to one another.

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