Sutures, stitches, and other ties that bind

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From left: Project Rozana’s Dr. Khadra Salami and Dr. Adi Leiba admire Chicago’s skyline while braced for its weather, colder than what they are used to at home in Israel.

Two doctors-Adi Leiba, who is Israeli, and Khadra Salami, who is Palestinian-visited Chicago in February. They were on tour to promote Project Rozana.

When a medical case becomes too difficult for a hospital in the West Bank or Gaza to handle, the patient must be transferred to an Israeli hospital. This requires transportation, paperwork, and many expenses.

Enter Project Rozana. This effort, established in 2013, seeks to ease this transfer process on the one hand, and make it less necessary on the other. To do so, Project Rozana focuses on what it calls "The Three Ts:" Training, Treatment, and Transportation.

The lack of subspecialists in Palestinian hospitals is one major reason these transfers are necessary. In response, Palestinian doctors and nurses have begun training at Israeli hospitals; they will then take their new knowledge back to their own facilities. Additionally, Israeli therapists are training their Palestinian counterparts in mental healthcare, with a focus on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Until enough subspecialists can be trained, however, some Palestinian patients will still have to come to Israeli hospitals for treatment, with their families. Project Rozana raises funds to help hospitals and families cover those costs. Professional medical translators are also being hired to help streamline the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli facilities.

Even getting from their homes to the Israeli hospitals is a challenge for many. First, there is the trip from their homes to the nearest checkpoint, then another to the hospitals inside Israel. A cab ride from a checkpoint to a hospital can cost a Palestinian worker an entire month's salary.

As Dr. Salami pointed out, "Navigating checkpoints is a major challenge. Time is key for treatment, but a 15-minute drive can turn into an hour-and-a-half at a checkpoint." To address this challenge, Project Rozana works with a non-profit called Road to Recovery, which organizes volunteers to take patients from checkpoints to Israeli hospitals.

While in Chicago, Leiba and Salami made a presentation at JUF for local activists and clergy from several denominations. They also spoke to some 75 healthcare providers at Mt. Sinai Hospital. They were escorted on their North American tour by Mark Anshan, an attorney who serves as the director of Project Rozana's Canadian arm.

Rabbi Steven Bob, the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Etz Chaim of DuPage County, helped bring the Rozana doctors to Chicago. His brother, Kenneth Bob, serves on Project Rozana's board of directors, as well as the Jewish Agency for Israel's International Board of Governors. After attending their presentation at JUF, Rabbi Bob said, "This is the definition of 'grassroots' organizing."

"Sinai Health System was thrilled to be asked by JUF to host the Rozana Project at Mount Sinai Hospital," said Karen Teitelbaum, Sinai Health System President and CEO. "Consistent with JUF's mission, Sinai Health System stands for inclusion, diversity, and tikkun olam , as do these physicians.  Our medical professionals, caregivers, and guests were inspired by the way in which Rozana's doctors stood unified in healing those in need."

Over 12 days, the Rozana delegates visited Toronto and seven American cities-ending with Chicago. They spoke to nearly 1,000 medical professionals, clergy of all stripes, and other leaders. They spoke in houses of worship, hospitals, universities, community centers, and homes, even on Capitol Hill.

Project Rozana was named for a Palestinian 4-year-old, Rozana Salawhi, who needed to be transferred to an Israeli hospital for treatment in 2013 after she fell off a balcony. Thanks to cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, she lived. Her story touched an Australian doctor, Ron Finkel, who started the project to help ease such transfers for those in Rozana's situation.

"People recognize that healthcare can build bridges to peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians," said Finkel. "This initiative-which emerged from the leadership of Hadassah Australia- provides the Palestinian community with the best training and treatment available in Israel, so Palestinian society can provide it for its people. Project Rozana has been fully endorsed by the Palestinian Authority, and has the support of the Israeli Government."

Salami, a pediatric oncologist, attended Al Quds Medical School and studied in hospitals in Israel and Jordan. She now practices at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem. Her main focus is bone marrow transplants, which she had to go to Israel to study.

"[Project Rozana] is a very good chance for our doctors to get training to help our own health infrastructure. Through medicine, we build bridges," Salami said. She became involved after Project Rozana visited her hospital only a few months prior to representing it in the United States.

Leiba agrees.  "You can connect to experts in other places in other ways. But if we do it together, we understand each other better. When you meet people, you become friends with them." 

Leiba, who was born in Romania, practices at Assuta Ashdod, Israel's the first new hospital in 40 years. He studied at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Michael Reese Hospital and practiced in Boston. Leiba served with the Israel Defense Forces as a doctor for decades, on the peaceful borders with Egypt and Jordan. Just before he completed his service, however, he began working on the borders in the West Bank.

"We treat everyone," Leiba concluded. "Medical care is universal, above everything."

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