Author: Luxner, Larry
Date published: May 6, 2010
Amir Kashi, a 34-year-old social worker from Ma'ale Adumim, and Yehonatan Abraham, a 30-year-old medic from Beersheva, knew nothing about Haiti before the huge earthquake in January.
But both Israelis felt compelled to act after disaster struck.
"I felt impotent in Israel, sitting in front of my big-screen Ty" said Abraham. "I said to myself, I have to help them."
So he and Kashi joined Natan - the Israeli Coalition for International Humanitarian Aid, a Tel Aviv-based relief organization founded by the late Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan.
Abraham now spends his mornings vaccinating quake survivors in Haiti against infectious diseases at a clinic in the sprawling tent city of St. Marie. In the afternoons, he helps the World Food Program hand out meals to 1,000 children a day.
"My mom didn't want me to come here because of all the diseases," said Abraham, "but I've done some amazing things in Haiti. Last week, I saved a person's life, a 29-year-old man with severe pneumonia."
Natan is one of several Israeli groups working in postearthquake Haiti. Its volunteers come for three-week stints, living as a group at the Park Hotel in Port-au-Prince, but fanning out all over the devastated city on specific medical and educational missions. Natan has already sent five groups to Haiti since the quake; 11 more are planned over the next year.
Daniel Kedar, an Israeli businessman who's lived in Haiti for many years, helped Amos Radian, Israel's ambassador to the neighboring Dominican Republic, coordinate Israel's rapid initial response to the January earthquake.
Within 48 hours of the quake, two El Al cargo jets, a Boeing 777 and a Boeing 747, touched down at Port-au-Prince's international airport. They were filled with 250 doctors and nurses, food, water, tents, medical equipment and essential supplies.
"The IDF landed on Thursday, and by Friday, they were already the first fully functioning field hospital in Haiti," said Kedar. "They did over 1,000 operations, from amputations to delivering babies."
Admiration for Israel ran so high here that many Haitian parents whose children were born right after the quake gave them Israeli names, said Kedar.
The field hospital shut down after two weeks, but Natan has remained in Haiti, along with another NGO called IsraAid.
Natan has already opened several schools in the city's squalid refugee camps, using military tents left behind from the IDF field hospital.
At one of those camps, Route de Batimat, not far from the airport, 500 homeless adults and children gathered on a recent Friday morning to thank Israel for building a tent school.
In a ceremony that lasted more than^wo hours, kids in T-shirts emblazoned with the Haitian and Israeli flags made speeches in French and Creole, read poetry and sang the countries' national anthems.
Kedar noted that the hardest part of Haiti's reconstruction is only now beginning. The foundation Kedar runs, ProDev, is partnering with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to provide clean drinking water. The JDC has financed 120 water tanks to provide Haitians with about 300,000 gallons of drinking water every day, and is partnering with the ProDev Foundation to operate 10 temporary schools for some 2,000 displaced children, including the one at Route de Batimat.
"We don't have the ambition to replace the national education system, but there's a big gap between what is announced on the radio and TV, and what's actually happening on the ground," said Kedar. "I spend a lot of time in the camps, and the reality is that kids psychologically will not go back to concrete buildings, even if they're intact. I just don't see it happening."
Other Jewish support for Haiti includes federations throughout North America, which have raised more then $5.5 million. That money is going toward the work of partners on the ground, including the IDF field hospital that operated after the quake, IsraAID and the JDC projects.
Several North American synagogues have sent aid and volunteers, and the Union for Reform Judaism has raised $12 million.
The American Jewish World Service has raised $5.2 million, and works through entities it's been supporting for a decade.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency