Area Hadassah delegates see Israels grim reality of terror

Pop-up showerheads that can instantly rinse victims of a chemical or biological attack. A newly opened post-traumatic stress clinic for children. An airy hospital lobby that transforms, thanks to a drop-down ceiling, into a spillover emergency room.

On a recent trip to Israel, a Bay Area contingent of Hadassah leaders-in-training got an eye-opening tour of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Ein Kerem. Many of its dazzling innovations seen during their visit were spurred by the grim reality of regular violence from the intifada.

"The technology blew me away," said Judith Klinger, 42, who participated on the nine-day trip along with other local members of a Hadassah Leadership Academy.

But for Klinger, an Oakland resident who teaches English at Alameda High School, one of the most poignant encounters took place on a short cab ride from Ben Yehuda Street back to her Jerusalem hotel.

Stepping into the taxi with another Hadassah member, Klinger noticed that the meter was switched off and asked the elderly cab driver why.

"He knew we were tourists. He said, 'You'll be my guests. You're brave enough to be here, you'll be my guests,'" recounted Klinger. "He simply was expressing his appreciation for mishpoche."

When they pulled up to the Dan Panorama Hotel, the taxi driver "opened the door of the cab for us and gave me a hug."

Such experiences, Klinger said, reminded her "why I love this little country so much. It really is a feeling that this is home, this is family."

The local group was part of a tour by 120 Hadassah members from throughout the United States participating in a three-year leadership academy. The goal of the program is to train new leaders for the 91-year-old women's Zionist organization.

Besides touring the Hadassah hospital, the delegation visited a local school and heard a panel of women discussing the problem of obtaining a divorce in religious communities. They also traveled to Tel Aviv and to northern Israel.

"Overall the program was to sort of educate us and open our eyes to issues facing Israeli society," particularly affecting women, explained Roxanne Cohen, a 34-year-old San Carlos resident.

Several delegates described the stop at the Hadassah hospital as a highlight of the trip.

Marla Kolman, a Hadassah staff member, said she was amazed to see "the work we're funding in action. What an incredible place."

The eight-member group got a first-hand peek at new services and technology for dealing with the consequences of the intifada and natural disasters.

Two terror victims and the mother of a third told the group what it's like to be a critically ill patient at the hospital.

The group also listened to a talk by Dr. Estie Galili, the psychiatrist who directs the new Center for the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children and Adolescents. The clinic was opened in response to terror attacks.

They walked through an outdoor courtyard installed with hidden showers that can pop up and hose down victims of chemical or biological attacks.

They stopped in the new lobby of the women and children's clinic that, despite its cheerful design features, can be converted into an emergency room.

Denise Crevin, a 33-year-old Hadassah member from Lafayette, said that ceiling panels can be removed, exposing outlets for electricity, oxygen and other services. "They want to be better prepared," she said, noting that hospital officials specifically mentioned the impact of large-scale disasters like the 2001 wedding-hall collapse in Jerusalem.

The group also saw construction under way for a new emergency and trauma room.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation has helped finance several of the improvements, including equipment that converts regular hospital beds into specialized intensive-care beds during emergencies.

"What they really impressed on us is the hospital is busy to begin with," said Cohen, the director of the south Peninsula office of the JCF. That volume has jumped, "sadly, because of ongoing terrorism," she said.

"It was definitely a moving experience," Cohen said. "I felt and I think all of us felt proud to go to Israel at this time."