Weapons recovered from a Hamas tunnel. (photo from IDF/FLICKR)
“One hundred Israeli schoolchildren killed in Hamas attack.” Israelis say this would have been just one of many similar headlines announcing untold loss of civilian life had Operation Protective Edge not been launched last month. The goal of the operation was to silence the seemingly endless barrages of Gaza rockets aimed at Israeli cities and towns, and to detect and destroy the vast network of underground tunnels dug beneath Gaza and into Israel by the Islamist Hamas terror organization.
As details of the tunnel system became public, Israelis were at once fascinated and infuriated to learn specifics of the intricate Trojan-horse-like network lurking beneath their communities; an engineering feat so potentially lethal that the national discussion is rife with unsubstantiated worries about terrorist plans for the execution of “an Israeli 9/11.”
Frequently heard were comments like, “Surely the high-tech nation should have the ability to detect tunnels!” while others ask how such an elaborate feat of engineering and construction could have proceeded right under the noses of the military in a security-savvy country with vast counter-terrorism experience.
In October 2013, Israeli army intelligence located entrances to one such tunnel just a couple of hundred metres from the entrance to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, a collective community in southern Israel near the border with Gaza.
On a tour of that network, standing at ground level, one can see the tunnel split in the middle, its branches extending deep into the earth, with one entrance/exit nearly a mile away – through Israeli territory and into the Gaza Strip – and the other a mere 600 metres (almost 2,000 feet) to the right: exiting into Israeli territory.
Moving closer required man- oeuvring through a steep downward 46-foot trek, assisted by the steadying hand of an IDF officer to navigate the distance from the surface to the underground passageway itself. Crawling through the deceptively small opening and out of the desert’s summer heat into the coolness of the subterranean concrete-encased structure, it was surprising to find myself standing upright, able to see far enough to sense the vast distance it covers. Though visibility was limited by the dearth of ambient light, helped only slightly by the lighting unit attached to our camera, the immense dimension of the tunnel was perceptible, the elaborate nature of the structure striking. From the sophisticated construction to the array of cables, conduits, finished ceilings, communication lines and pulley systems, it made sense that each tunnel was estimated to have required several years and millions of dollars to build – mostly by hand, with jackhammers and shovels.
Also discovered in many of the recently destroyed tunnels was a variety of weapons, army uniforms, motorcycles, chloroform and handcuffs: macabre “kidnapping kits.”
Fact: There are 200 Christian Arab Israelis serving in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Fact: There are 200 Muslim Arab Israelis serving in the IDF. Fact: There are 1,400 Bedouin serving in the IDF. Fact: There are 4,000 Druze serving in the IDF. Fact: There are 100 Circassians serving in the IDF.
Why don’t journalists write about them? Perhaps because most might find it hard to believe that these 5,900 view their citizenship to mean they have a role to play in defending their country. How do these minority members of the IDF come to the decision to serve their country?
A recent meeting with parents of minority soldiers in the IDF presented some context. The visit was organized by MediaCentral, an independent Jerusalem-based nongovernmental organization that provides support services for journalists based in or visiting Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the region.
Anett Haskia is an attractive, fashionably dressed blond with long, manicured fingernails. She is an Israeli Muslim Arab and outspoken. Growing up, she said, “It was not acceptable for our kids to join the army. Everyone [who wanted to join the army was] considered to be a traitor, but I didn’t see it as [being] a traitor. I saw it as taking responsibility like every other citizen.”
Twenty-two years ago, after a divorce, she and her three children moved to a kibbutz and she went to enrol them in a Jewish school, the first time that school had been approached to enrol an Arab child. He was accepted in three days.
As her children grew up, her older son decided to volunteer to serve in the IDF infantry; her daughter volunteered to serve in an education unit and became one of the first Arab Israeli women to serve in the IDF. Haskia’s youngest son is part of the Golani Brigade (an infantry brigade) currently serving in Gaza.
“The aim was not to integrate into Israeli society,” she said. “They [already] are Israeli. They want to live in the present and future as Israelis. They never suffered from being Arab and they never hid their heritage.” Haskia said she didn’t tell them to join the IDF, rather, it was a choice the children made as individuals.
Speaking to reporters, Yusuf Jahja said proudly, “I am a Muslim Arab citizen of the state of Israel.” A blue-collar worker most of his life, Jahja comes from an Arab village up north and has six sons and two daughters. His was the first family from his village to send their children to the Israeli army.
Three of the sons went to serve in the IDF together – two served in combat units and one in border patrol. In 2004, one of the sons was killed in an explosion in Gaza. The family’s home community initially boycotted the funeral. Today, two of Jahja’s sons are still serving their country.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, foreign correspondent, lecturer, food writer and book reviewer who lives in Jerusalem. She also does the restaurant features for janglo.net and leads weekly Shuk Walks in English in Jerusalem’s Jewish food market.
The Babani family at New York’s JFK airport, moments before they boarded the plane to Israel. (photo by Shahar Azran via Nefesh b’Nefesh)
Despite tensions surrounding the war in Gaza, 338 new olim (immigrants) from the United States and Canada departed on an aliyah charter flight to Israel on Aug. 11. The special flight is a joint venture of Nefesh b’Nefesh, the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, and Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel, JNF-USA and Tzofim Garin Tzabar.
Among the olim are Nir Babani and Luz Arroyave with their daughter Antonia from Vancouver. “We’re going to miss our family and the peaceful environment of Vancouver. We’ll miss the quality life there,” said Arroyave.
The large group of olim includes 37 families with 107 children. The passenger list also includes 65 olim moving to the Galilee and the Negev as part of the Nefesh b’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth L’Israel Go North and Go South programs. Altogether, the olim will be settling in every part of Israel, from Ma’alot in the north to Eilat in the south. Included in the group of olim are 109 young men and women who will be serving in the Israel Defence Forces.
The olim hail from 27 states and three Canadian provinces, from Arizona to Quebec, and range in age from a six-week-old baby to a 93-year-old great-grandparent in a family of four generations making aliyah together.
“I find it profoundly inspiring that we have a 747 jumbo jet filled to capacity with people from the North American Jewish community making aliyah, especially at such a challenging time,” said co-founder and executive director of Nefesh b’Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass. “To see that Jews everywhere, young and old, religious and secular, are determined to fulfil the dream of helping to build the Jewish state is truly amazing.”
This summer, 2,000 olim are expected to have made aliyah with Nefesh b’Nefesh on eight different flights. Since the beginning of the year, about 1,600 olim have made aliyah with the organization. Since 2002, Nefesh b’Nefesh has brought nearly 40,000 olim to Israel from the United States, Canada and England.
A group of Herzliya Science Centre students working on Duchifat 1 in the clean room with Dr. Ana Heller. (photo from Herzliya Science Centre)
In Israel, high school students helped launch a satellite into space – something typically reserved for university students.
“The Herzliya Science Centre (HSC) is the science campus for Herzliya’s middle and high schools,” explained Dr. Meir Ariel, the director general of the centre, which opened in 2007.
Some 1,500 students attend HSC advanced labs, studying and experimenting in physics, chemistry, electronics, biotechnology, computer science and robotics. “The jewel of the crown is our space and satellite lab, the only lab in Israel where high school students can design and build satellites and send them into space,” said Ariel.
This lab is attended by 40-50 of the brightest, most dedicated students from various schools in Herzliya and beyond.
“Duchifat 1, the first Israeli nano-satellite, weighing less than one kilogram, required multidisciplinary knowledge – from electronics to software, communications, thermodynamics and astrophysics – to construct,” he said.
Students wanting to participate began in Grade 9, with a two-year training period that provided the basic scientific knowledge needed to become candidates for membership in the space and satellite lab.
“Teenagers aren’t intimidated by technology and have little fear of failure,” said Ariel. “The success of the team relies on the ability of its members to be creative, innovative, disciplined and, most importantly, highly motivated.”
Collaboration with the Israel Aerospace Industry was crucial for the project’s success. Each team was led by an experienced engineer. Students not only learned from their mentors, but they were also exposed to state-of-the-art technology, tools and developmental procedures.
“Duchifat 1 served as a pedagogical platform, allowing high school kids from all over Israel to communicate, send commands, receive telemetry and experiment with a real satellite,” said Ariel. “Its other mission was search and rescue from space via its APRS transponder.”
Duchifat 1 was successfully launched into space aboard the Dnepr launcher a couple of months ago, on June 19.
“To reduce costs, Duchifat 1 was actually a ‘hitchhiker’ aboard a rocket that carried bigger satellites into the same orbit,” said Ariel. “Since then, Duchifat 1 has been orbiting around earth and is being tracked from the ground station at HSC by the same high school students who built it.”
Shenhav Lazarovich, 19, was one of the students who helped build Duchifat 1. She heard about the opportunity during an open day at Handasaim Herzliya High School, when learning about HSC.
“The first meeting with Dr. Anna Heller was something I won’t forget,” said Lazarovich. “She entered the room and said she’s leading a project with a goal to build a Pico satellite that will be totally designed and programmed by high school students. In that moment, I decided I want to be one of the team.”
Lazarovich had two major responsibilities in building Duchifat 1 – buying and upgrading the lab equipment (including satellite parts) and serving as the programming team’s EPS (electronic power system) programmer.
The other student on Lazarovich’s team was Ori Opher, who was responsible for finding solutions to various battery-related problems, like low battery discharge time and battery thermal issues.
“The battery is the heart of the satellite and needs to work at its best to fulfil the main goal of the satellite – saving lives (as an SOS signal transmitter),” said Lazarovich.
The satellite was launched by Dnepr 1, a Russian missile converted for space launching use. At this launch, it had 37 satellites from countries around the world.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Lazarovich. “We gathered around with 37 teams all over the world and watched how our ‘baby’ made its way to fulfil its destiny. Anna [Dr. Heller] has been working on this project for more than 10 years and I was there for the last four.
“When we got signals from space, all of us started crying and laughing. We’re one of the first teams to receive satellites signals from space, not to mention the youngest team in the launching program. The excitement, the energy, is something I can’t describe with words.”
Yarden Carmel, 17, decided to take part in the Duchifat 1 project about three years ago, after switching to a different high school, where one of the mandatory classes was Satellites and Space.
“We were having our guided tour and, in one of the stops, they had Dr. Anna Heller, the project lead, talking about the project,” said Carmel. “She said something I’ll always remember, that she ‘isn’t looking for mathematicians or science geniuses, but for students with fire in their eyes.’”
Carmel and his team worked on the memory management of the satellite. “Duchifat 1 got some kilobytes flash memory, like those used in the portable flash drives, but with much less memory capacity,” he said. “Our mission was to find an algorithm that would hold the information the satellites generate (like life status) and receive (like stress signals from earth) for the longest time without being overwritten by new information.
“It had to be enough time for it to be able to fly above our ground station in Israel, so we could download all the data. It might sound easy, but remember we’re dealing with much less memory capacity than in a normal PC or a Mac. We have less than one megabyte to work with and it took us a few times to get the best algorithm.”
Carmel, who also will help build Duchifat 2, still recalls being rendered speechless when seeing the live footage of the missile going up. “It even rocked the HQ building we were in,” he said. “We were all either crying with happiness, staying stressed and silent, or just repeating, ‘Here’s Duchifat!’ and ‘We made history!’”
Duchifat 2 is one of a network of 50 miniature satellites built by university teams all over the world. “The satellites will be launched in 2016, with a mission to perform atmospheric research within the lower atmosphere (between 200 and 380 kilometres altitude), which is the least explored layer of the atmosphere,” said Ariel. “Duchifat 2 is the only satellite in this network built by high school students. All [the] other 49 satellites were built by universities.”
“During these difficult times in Israel,” said Lazarovich. “I’ve wanted to say that the key for a better future is science and education. Combining these on both sides will result only in good to the whole region and the entire world. Science is an endless source for development and making the world a better place.
“When adults are asked to do a big task, they always think about why it’s not possible to do [so].… When children [are] asked to do a big task, they just do it. They don’t see the limits that adults do. And, even if they do, they are not afraid to just try it anyway.”
The launch video, and other Duchifat 1 videos, can be seen on YouTube.
The 2014 Davidson School group on Vision and Voices, the 10-day trip that precedes Kesher Hadash. The goal of this day in January was to explore the connection to the land and visit Ben-Gurion’s Desert Home in Sde Boker. The conversation there focused on David Ben-Gurion’s vision for Israel in general and for the desert in particular, as he wanted to make the desert bloom. (photo from Davidson School)
Growing up attending Jewish day school in Vancouver from nursery until Grade 12 gave Elana Wenner a strong connection to Judaism and Israel, but not a full understanding of the realities and complexities of Israeli society. With the goal of one day becoming a teacher in Jewish day schools in Canada, and eventually Israel, Wenner wanted a more comprehensive education – and went about getting one.
“I wanted to learn for myself and to be able to teach a more nuanced version of what’s going on in Israel,” said Wenner, 26.
To do so, she participated in Kesher Hadash from January to May 2014. The immersive, semester-long program is offered by the Jewish Theological Seminary’s William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education in Israel, although you do not need to be a student of the Davidson School’s master program to participate. Kesher Hadash strives to give the cohort of Canadian and American students a deeper understanding of Israeli politics and society, a chance to go beyond the picture students are taught in Jewish day school education.
“We had regular history classes teaching … history not just from the Israeli perspective but from other perspectives, from all sides of the political spectrum,” said Wenner. “We took classes at the [Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and the Arts] where we watched movies made by religious filmmakers expressing political views through film.”
“The goal is to explore the Israel-Diaspora relationship, to look at the educational vision of Israel and how we are going to teach Israel: what are we going to do, what are different ways to teach [about] Israel, what is the Israel we want to expose our students to?” explained Ofra Backenroth, dean of the Davidson School. “We believe you can’t be a Jewish educator if you don’t understand Israel and all its complexities.”
The program’s name articulates the two core aspects of the program: kesher, meaning connection, shows the goal of creating a deep connection with Israel, and hadash, which means new, expressing the desire to re-imagine the contours of the Israel-Diaspora relationship and suggesting new approaches to contemporary Jewish education.
The program’s name articulates the two core aspects of the program: kesher, meaning connection, shows the goal of creating a deep connection with Israel, and hadash, which means new, expressing the desire to re-imagine the contours of the Israel-Diaspora relationship and suggesting new approaches to contemporary Jewish education.
The program, said Backenroth, is life-transforming, as the students interact with different segments of the Israeli population: secular and religious, Israeli Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and others.
“We learned the nuances between lots of different aspects of Israeli society that are often not brought up in day school, that go beyond just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also the conflict between religious and secular Jews and the differences between Arab Israeli citizens and Palestinians,” said Wenner.
One of their weekly classes was made up of nine North American Jews, nine Israeli Jews and nine Israeli Arabs, where they discussed tough questions about Israel’s existence, history and politics.
“We often got into big disagreements and really had to experience for ourselves what it’s like to be faced with someone who has an opposite opinion and learn how to be respectful of their opinion,” said Wenner.
The journey for students is not easy, she noted. On the school’s website, however, many say that it opened their eyes to the realities of the difficulties and benefits of Israeli life.
“We need to be able to understand that there are not just Jews living in Israel but other people living there and it’s their country, too.”
“It was really difficult,” acknowledged Wenner, “but it wasn’t supposed to be easy. We need to be able to understand that there are not just Jews living in Israel but other people living there and it’s their country, too. During one program, we went on a guided tour of Bethlehem and met Palestinian families and talked to them about what goes on a daily basis. For a lot of people, it was a very challenging experience because it’s so contrary to what we’re used to hearing and knowing about the conflict.”
Wenner, who is currently pursuing of master’s of arts in Jewish studies at Concordia University in Montreal – and who is doing an internship this summer at the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia – hopes to take the knowledge she learned during this program and apply it as a Jewish educator in the future.
“A lot of people don’t want to teach about any of the difficult or bad things going on in Israel because they think then we won’t love Israel. I was raised believing you should love Israel like you love a baby – you want to give it everything and, no matter what, love it anyways.
“But we want to love Israel like we love a teenager, where you help it grow and change and try to show it the right way,” she continued. “And that, to me, is the role of educators in North America. That’s the kind of love we should be teaching.”
Vicky Tobianahis a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. Connect with her on Twitter, @vicktob, or at [email protected].
Smoke rises in Gaza after an Israeli airstrike on the second day of Operation Protective Edge, July 9, 2014. (photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
With the launch of the Israeli army’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, much of the public’s attention has focused on Hamas, which has escalated its rocket fire on Israel. But the threats the Jewish state faces from Gaza may not be as clear-cut as they seem.
While Hamas is still extremely deadly, it has seen a weakening of its grip on the coastal enclave over the past few years, due to challenges from other Islamic terror groups and isolation from its former patrons in the Muslim world.
“Hamas has been on the brink of collapse,” explained Jonathan Schanzer, vice-president for research at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies. “It has become very isolated politically and economically.
“It is very difficult to figure out what Hamas’ calculus is [in its current escalation with Israel],” Schanzer added. “Hamas may have nothing to lose but, on the other hand, they could have really overplayed their hand, which could lead to complete devastation of their assets.”
Since taking control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has seen a steady decline in its support from the
Palestinian people and the rise of other Islamic terrorist groups there, including its main Palestinian rival, Islamic Jihad, as well as al-Qaeda-inspired Salafi global jihadist groups.
In February, leaders of the Salafist factions known as the Al-Quds Mujahideen Shura Council in Gaza issued a statement pledging allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which has made global headlines for its brutality and swift victories in the Syrian civil war and in Iraq. These Gaza-based Salafi jihadist groups have often been at odds with Hamas and have been targeted by Hamas’ internal security forces. At the same time, these groups have been responsible for rocket fire on Israel, both from Gaza and Salafi groups operating in the Sinai Peninsula. This includes rockets fired on the southern Israeli city of Eilat in January 2014.
Meanwhile, recent reports indicate that jihadists from ISIS – now also known simply as “Isamic State” – have attempted to infiltrate Gaza from Egypt, the Gatestone Institute reported.
Motorists in Tel Aviv take cover from an incoming terrorist rocket. (photo from IDF Spokesperson’s Unit via Ashernet)
In Sderot, Simone Mizrachi wearily follows her two-year-old grandson as he happily jumps on the bouncy castle in a large indoor playground. A balloon pops and she jumps. The playground has four large underground bomb shelters in case of rocket attacks.
“Enough already,” said Mizrachi about the dozens of rockets fired at this small town in recent days. “My grandson is the second generation already living through these rockets. When we see smoke from the rockets, I try to tell him, ‘Look at the clouds up there,’ but he knows it’s not clouds. At age 2, he already knows what’s going on.”
Mizrachi has lived in this lower-middle-class town of 24,000 for 32 years and has raised her four children here. For the past 13 years, she said, Sderot has been under constant rocket fire. Because it is less than a mile to the border with the Gaza Strip, there are only 15 seconds to get to a shelter after the siren sounds. The Israeli government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build bomb shelters here – at bus stops, schools and in private homes.
Now, for the first time, rockets are hitting Tel Aviv. Mizrachi said she hopes Israel can end the rocket fire all over the country. But, she added, there is a certain satisfaction in the idea that Israelis in bourgeois Tel Aviv now understand what Sderot has been living with all this time.
“Where have they been for the past 13 years?” she asks angrily. “Now, they are finally getting a taste of what it is like to live here. There are times that we get 60 rockets a day. Maybe now that they feel it, the government will finally do something.”
To some, it was a (peace) camp reunion. To others, it served notice that peace with the Palestinians has returned to its place atop the agenda of Israel’s political left following its dalliance with socioeconomic issues. To the more than 2,000 participants in Haaretz newspaper’s Israel Peace Conference held last week at Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental Hotel, it was an elegant opportunity to mingle with the iconic stewardship of days past – topped by Shimon Peres – while honing the movement’s agenda among those poised to embrace the next wave of leadership, such as opposition head and Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and activist-turned-politician Stav Shaffir, who personifies the bridge from social activism to the politics of peace.
The history of the Israeli Peace Conference was itself microcosmic of the fortunes of the movement it supports. The idea began amid optimism born of word of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace mission, according to conference chief executive officer, journalist Akiva Eldar. “The original idea was to push [Israeli] Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to say ‘yes’ to Kerry but, around April, everything came to a halt,” he told this reporter.
“We kept pushing it off, finally setting it for July,” said Eldar, senior columnist for Al-Monitor. But, by the time the date rolled around, a new set of obstacles had presented themselves in the form of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens followed by the killing of a Palestinian youth. The atmosphere became more toxic to the point where key Palestinian participants, chief negotiator Sa’ib Erakat and businessman Munib Al-Masri, pulled out of the conference. Yet, the decision was made to continue as planned. According to Eldar, “We decided we don’t give veto power to terrorists on both sides.”
Nof Atamna-Ismaeel reacts to her win. (photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 from israel21c.org)
“This is the most exciting night of my life,” said a grinning, teary-eyed Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, upon her selection as winner of the fourth season of Master Chef Israel.
The April 5 broadcast had more than a third of Israel staying at home on a Saturday night to see who among the remaining three finalists would be crowned this year’s culinary champion of the most popular show on local television, even beating its close competition, Chef Games, which debuted this fall.
Israeli-Arab Atamna-Ismaeel ended up besting competitors Ido Kronenberg, a businessman from Savyon, and Meseret Woldimikhal, an Ethiopian-born immigrant in the process of converting from Catholicism to Judaism, who lives in Rishpon.
Atamna-Ismaeel was a judges’ favorite from the get-go. This year’s auditions for the show, based on the British reality program of the same name, involved two steps: a blind tasting of a sandwich prepared behind the scenes by a wannabe contestant, and a second dish cooked on screen by those whose sandwiches met with the judges’ approval.
Talia Safra and Nimrod Eisenberd of Hadassah Mt. Scopus Hospital in Jerusalem interact with a patient. (photo from Dream Doctors Project)
While clowns have brought smiles to the faces of many children, both healthy and sick, the latter clowning generally has been done on a volunteer basis and without the presence of a medical team. Recently, however, Israel became the first place in the world to recognize the medical benefits associated with positive attitude and laughter. Most Israeli hospitals now offer clown therapy and, due to its growing acceptance and success, the University of Haifa will be the first to offer a clown degree.
This all started with Jacob Shriqui, an Israeli shaliach to Geneva who went on to work in Israel’s health-care industry. Once he retired, Shriqui returned to visit some friends in Geneva and was invited to a meeting in a hospital in Lausanne. When he entered the hospital, he got lost and, in his wandering, he happened to walk by the pediatric department. To his surprise, he saw a giggling child out of the corner of his eye. Upon further investigation, he noticed the clown who was making the child smile.
“The idea came to him that if there is a thing like that, it should also be in Israel, because, until then, there was no medical clowning in Israel,” said Daniel Shriqui, Jacob’s son and past director of the Dream Doctor Project.
When he returned to Israel, Jacob Shriqui used his connections from the time he was stationed in Geneva to create the Magi Foundation, with its main function being the Dream Doctors Project in Israel. Built with the help of philanthropic members of the Jewish community in Geneva, in September 2001, the project started off with three clowns. After a year of experiments and positive feedback, he went from hospital to hospital proposing the concept.
“This is how we grew from three clowns to 127 today, in nearly every hospital in Israel,” said his son. “The main thing was, when my father came to the hospital, he said, ‘Look, we have a tool. It’s called a medical clown. We’re going to give him all the best training we can, and you’re going to try this tool like any other medical device. We don’t know exactly what it does or whether or not it will be effective. If it’s not, you can end the project whenever you want. If it is, you have to take on the responsibility of operating it.’”
From the start, the medical clowns in the hospitals were part of the medical team, a situation desired both by the hospitals and by the clowns.
“We work as part of the medical team because we believe that medical clowning is a medical profession, just like any other, and that it can be very successful,” said Daniel Shriqui. “But first, we had to convince the doctors and nurses of the benefits of having a clown when you take blood from the veins of a child. The child doesn’t cry because the clown is acting and playing with him.
“Another example is when a child is taken for a repair surgery after being sexually abused. Typically, the first test after that is done by the doctor, and by the clown paralleling, and everything is recorded.
“We see it really facilitating the work, and being able to work more smoothly with the children, [and] with the parents, too.”
Another part of the hospital-clown agreement is that the hospital gets the clowns’ services for one year for free with no obligation and no contract. If after one year, the hospital is happy with the results and wants to continue with the project, the hospital needs to start participating in the payment for the clown services.
“We knew we were here to stay when, last year, the head of the Ministry of Health in Israel called and said, ‘I need your clowns immediately,’” explained Shriqui. “‘We’re going to vaccinate all the children in Israel under nine years old for polio. We’re going to open almost 1,000 vaccination stations and I need all your staff, more than 100 clowns, to be present in the station to help us to do this.’” For the first three months, most of the clowns went from station to station and helped the nurses vaccinate the children.
“I suggested to one of the biggest hospitals in Israel, two years ago, that they use a clown in the oncology department for adults,” said Shriqui. “A few months ago, there was a budget problem and the hospital told the department we have to stop the clown service. A week later, the hospital manager received a letter signed by 70 patients, doctors and nurses, protesting against no longer having the clowns come to the unit twice a week. They explained why it is so very important, that the clowns transform the unit from a sad [one] to more positive.”
The increasing demand for hospital clowns is coming from within the medical field. The project works to fill the requests for services, but sometimes hospital budgets do get in the way.
“Especially in the oncology department, the children often are in the hospital for a really long time,” said Shriqui. “Unfortunately, many times it ends by the death of the child. But, during these months, sometimes years, there is a special relationship formed between the clown and the child, because our clowns work at the same place for years.
“In Israel, it’s a bit different…. The clown gives their own private cellphone numbers to the parents. I remember one case where the parents called a clown when he was off duty, at home, and said, ‘Listen, tomorrow we have to go to chemo and we’d like you to come assist, because the child asked that you to be there.’”
The project held a conference in October 2011, where clowns from around the world came to Israel.
“We help many clowns that come from all over the world and work with us to learn how to do this work better with medical teams, and then to be really involved in the processes and the medical treatments,” said Shriqui. “My philosophy is that a clown has to work freely. To get the best from the clown, you have to free him to be part of the team – and we have proof that if you free the clown, even to be in the operating room, you get unbelievable results.”