An atmosphere of pride filled Hadassah International’s annual conference in Nice from March 31-April 3, as humanitarians, physicians, politicians, and government dignitaries saluted the Hadassah Medical Center and Hadassah International with great admiration.

Each lauded the Hadassah Medical Organization for being an extraordinary role model in transcending ethnic and religious differences to provide excellent medical care to all in need. They congratulated HMO for its Nobel Peace Prize nomination and for being a powerful bridge to worldwide harmony through medicine.

Hadassah International, in turn, honored humanitarians and visionaries with its “Volunteer of Distinction” award and presented its “Citizen of the World” award to Richard Gere. In addition, a gala fundraising dinner brought in almost $1 million (USD) for the Center for Children with Chronic Diseases, with more funds yet to come.

During the course of the four enlightening and inspiring days, delegates were updated on the latest ways HMO’s clinical expertise, medical research, and compassionate outreach have improved lives the world over. By the same token, speakers provided an overview of some of the crucial challenges facing us, from the world AIDS crises to anti-semitism to the quest for peace in the Middle East.

Opening Evening
At a kick-off festive cocktail party, Conference delegates from 17 countries had the opportunity to greet one another and meet Hadassah physicians, as a violinist provided beautiful background music. When participants entered the Conference ballroom, they were treated to the video, “Israel and Hadassah: a Partnership of Distinction,” which set the stage for reflection on the wonderful relationship forged between HMO and Hadassah over nine decades. “All peoples come together under the aegis of Hadassah International,” President Marlene Post noted in her opening remarks.

A highlight of the evening was the “March of the Flags,” during which Hadassah International’s presence in over 30 countries was celebrated as the respective flags were carried down the aisles. Participants applauded Hadassah International’s diversity and unity as presidents and directors from Argentina, Austria, Australia, Luxembourg, France, Holland, Mexico, and the United Kingdom introduced themselves.

Delegates were embraced by the warmth of Hadassah Nice President Doctor Alain Salimpour who, along with his Nice committee, were clearly overjoyed to be hosting this Conference. Dr. Salimpour spoke about HMO as a “symbolic place where borders disappear.” He noted, too, that Hadassah Nice sponsors cultural events which feature the performing arts—another phenomenon that knows no borders. “We’ve got the Hadassah bug,” he said. “Hadassah is a marvelous adventure!”

The evening continued with praise from various dignitaries—including June Walker, president of our parent organization, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA) and Mayor of Nice Jacques Peyrat, who noted that “You give our city much honor by coming.” Mayor Peyrat stressed how much he respects Israel and HMO and how meaningful his trip to Israel and Hadassah had been. “I saw and learned what the television does not show,” he said.

Keynoter Professor Jacques Michel, former Director of Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, presented a historical perspective on HMO, noting that Hadassah International “shares our ideals and makes our mission possible.” HMO, he said, with its quality of health care and extensive medical research “is ready to face the 21st century.”

Friday Morning
Conference Chair Barbara Sabin, also Medical and Scientific Relations Chair for Hadassah International, opened Friday’s first session, thanking delegates for being part of medical progress in Israel and around the world. Then, everyone watched with admiration as a video brought to life the opening day of the New Center for Emergency Medicine. As Hadassah International Deputy Coordinator Belle Simon noted, we raised 50 million dollars in three years to make this awesome Center a reality. In introducing Director General Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Simon noted that Professor Mor-Yosef is a visionary and “we made it possible for him to accomplish his goal to keep HMO in the forefront of quality medicine.”

In his presentation, Prof. Mor-Yosef, noting that HMO is “committed to excellence,”
reviewed the hospital’s recent accomplishments, including the opening of the Center for Emergency Medicine and the establishment of five “Centers of Excellence”– Invasive Angiology , Immune Mediated Disorders, Cell Therapy, Molecular Medicine, and Minimal Invasive Surgery and Computer-Assisted Surgery. The centers deal with cutting-edge treatments and research concerning blood vessel disease, diabetes and arthritis, gene therapy, stem cells, and innovative surgery, just to name a few medical challenges addressed by these centers of excellence. He noted, too, that in 2004, HMO had an occupancy rate of 101.3%, with 30,000 surgeries performed, and 9,700 babies delivered. In addition, HMO physicians reached out to help in Southeast Asia, Guyana, and Ethiopia. Looking to the future, Prof. Mor-Yosef related that on the short-term horizon are the addition of three floors to the Bloomberg Mother and Child Center; the opening of a biotechnology park, a hotel, and a commercial center; new homes for the nursing school and the Center for Children with Chronic Diseases; as well as a day hospital at the Sharett Institute of Oncology. On the longer-term horizon is the new Tower of Healing at Ein Kerem.

Addressing HMO’s outreach to Southeast Asia, Professor Esti Galili, Head of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit at Hadassah, described her work in Sri Lanka. “We empowered their health system,” she explained. She and her Israeli colleagues gave lectures and small workshops to the country’s mental health professionals in an effort to help them deal with the aftermath of the tsunami’s devastation, particularly post-traumatic stress. Dr. Galili noted that officials in Colombo, Sri Lanka asked Israel to provide an ongoing mission of mental health professionals to teach psychiatric courses, particularly pediatric psychiatry. In addition, Dr. Galili maintains an ongoing e-mail correspondence with her Sri Lanka colleagues and answers questions relating to individual cases that arise. Recently, she related, she was asked how to help a child who now is afraid to drink or one who fears the sea.

Professor Benjamin Reubinoff, Director of the Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center, educated delegates about this cutting-edge field of medicine and reported on his latest research which revealed that human embryonic stem cells can improve the functioning of a laboratory rat with Parkinson’s disease. His research team, he said, has shown that we can definitely get embryonic stem cells to produce functional nerve cells. Clearly illustrating that HMO is in the forefront of stem cell research in the world, he related that of the 22 lines of embryonic stem cells that exist today, the Hadassah Medical Organization owns 6.

Providing a perfect example of a bridge to peace through medicine, HMO physicians Dr. Eli Milgalter, Director of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery, and Dr. Bisher Marzouqa, of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, described their partnership as cardiac surgeons. The two physicians operate on Palestinian children at HMO through a special program of the Peres Center for Peace. Entitled “Save the Children,” the project is funded by the Tuscany Regional Council of Italy and HMO. As Dr. Milgalter reported, a baby comes into the hospital blue in color, on a ventilator, and leaves 10 days later, “pink, happy, and healthy.” To date, about 110 Palestinian children with heart problems have received operations at Hadassah. As Dr. Marzouqa commented, “Some dreams can become reality.”

Friday Afternoon
Friday’s afternoon session featured a prestigious group of physicians from both HMO and France addressing the topics of neurosurgery and psychiatry. Dr. Ricardo Segal, a senior neurosurgeon at HMO, described his miraculous work in treating victims of terror, whose bodies are often filled with metal fragments that were embedded in the bombs. Dr. Esti Galili-Weisstub spoke about the various psychological needs of HIV-positive children and those suffering from cancer, as well as the psychological ramifications of living in a society under the constant shadow of terror. Professor Marcel Chatel, Head of Neurosurgery and Professor Martine Myquel, Head of Child Psychiatry, both at the Nice University Medical Center, complemented the HMO physicians’ presentations by offering their perspectives on these medical specialties and the challenges they share. Dr. Myquel echoed Dr. Galili’s comment that it is often difficult to get funding for the psychological care of children, despite the fact that it is so important in preserving children’s quality of life. The Nice physicians expressed their eagerness for professional interchange between HMO and the Nice University Medical Center.

Young Hadassah International
An inspiring Young Hadassah International session followed, featuring Dr. Enrique Bassat, the Spanish physician who received the first Bernice S. Tannenbaum Young International Volunteer of Distinction Award in 2004. Dr. Bassat reported that since last year, he has finished his specialty in pediatrics and a master’s degree in tropical medicine and is currently working in Mozambique, Africa. Initially, he did clinical pediatric work, but is now engaged in research into the main causes of illness in Mozambique, such as HIV, tuberculosis, measles, and gastroenteritis. He is also conducting clinical trials for a malaria vaccine. He noted that his findings, published in the medical journal, Lancet, prove that malaria vaccine can be successful in Mozambique.

Amos Attali, Chair of Young Hadassah International (YHI) and Young Hadassah Holland, introduced the newly formed Young Hadassah International Board. Members are Sandrine Asseraf and Marc Gourvitch from France, Vicki Jossel and Stacey Plax from the United Kingdom, Josh Schroeder from Israel, and Melissa Kaplan of the United States. Amos serves as the chair of the board and German Chullmir of Argentina as advisor. The plan is for YHI volunteers in various countries to work more closely with one another and “cross inspire each other,” as Amos explains. Their goals include enhancing their Young Hadassah web site, increasing fundraising worldwide, and fostering medical student exchanges between HMO and medical institutions in other countries.

The session concluded with the touching presentation of a certificate to Hadassah International Founder Bernice S. Tannenbaum for being such a magnificent mentor
to Young Hadassah International. The certificate represented a donation in her honor to the HMO Center for Children with Chronic Diseases.

“One of the most beautiful things we’ve done,” Mrs. Tannenbaum noted, “is to bring
youth and elders together to work for Hadassah International.”

After a full day of sessions, the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner which followed provided relaxation time, as well as musical entertainment from the French vocal ensemble, Renanim. During the Shabbat respite on Saturday, unit leaders and presidents had a chance to share ideas and success stories and to get better acquainted over an informal lunch.

At the conclusion of Shabbat, on Saturday evening following an elegant cocktail party, Ra’anan Gissin, Senior Advisor to Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, addressed the audience. He noted that HMO’s message is one of hope—a message that echoes Israel’s anthem, Hatikvah, which is the Hebrew word for “hope.” Mr. Gissin described the Hadassah Medical Center as not only an “island of sanity,” but also “an island of strength.” He commented also that Hadassah’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize was well deserved.

Sunday Morning
Sunday morning was devoted to an exploration of global challenges and featured Roger Cukierman, President of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France, the umbrella group of major Jewish organizations. Mr. Cukierman presented a perspective on “The Jewish Community in Today’s Society.”

Dr. Keith Sabin, Adjunct Professor of the University of Georgia (U.S.A.) School of Public Health, enlightened the audience about the global AIDS crisis and what the world health community is doing to combat this tremendous health challenge. He noted that there are 39 million HIV carriers in the world today and that Asia is positioned to experience the largest increase in HIV infection; however, he also brought out that the world health community is providing extensive treatment and prevention programs, and that indigenous health professionals are being trained to stem the crisis. As a result, many lives are being saved.

We are proud that HMO is making a major contribution to this effort. Dr. Shlomo Maayan, Director of HMO’s AIDS Center, working in cooperation with the Black Lion Hospital’s Tekel Hymanot Clinic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is researching the effect of antibiotic treatment on patients who are infected with the HIV/AIDS virus as well as sexually transmitted diseases (STD). In addition, the goal is to develop a short-term training course at the Hadassah AIDS Center for Ethiopian medical personnel so they can return to their home communities and introduce effective treatments for STD and HIV. Initial research reveals that the medical team has been able to reduce the level of HIV/AIDS virus in patients’ genital secretions by administering antibiotic treatment to them, thereby reducing the potential of HIV transmission.

Regarding the situation in the Middle East, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, H.E. Itzhak Levanon, expressed “cautious expectations” that we now have a window of opportunity to achieve peace with the Palestinians. He asked that Hadassah “go inland” and bring others with us into our “island of sanity.”

The Conference also paid tribute to the work of individual units around the world through a Power Point presentation highlighting fundraising and outreach events, as well as the collaborations facilitated by Hadassah International units between local medical institutions and HMO.

Volunteers of Distinction
The elegant Volunteer of Distinction session on Sunday afternoon, presided over by Hadassah International Founder Bernice S. Tannenbaum, honored five special humanitarians who, as Mrs. Tannenbaum noted, “with clear goals and unwavering commitment effect meaningful change.” A video salute to past honorees of Hadassah International set a celebratory tone, reminding the audience of the distinguished humanitarians who have received awards throughout the years. A special tribute to Jean-Jacques Roboh, founder of the Hadassah European Development Board, led the 2005 presentations. Next came the four distinguished Volunteers of Distinction: Professor Massimo Toschi, humanitarian and pacifist, and Advisor to the President for Peace, Cooperation, and Human Rights, Tuscany Region, Italy (The Tuscany Regional Council financially supports the “Medicine in the Service of Peace” project of the Peres Center for Peace, which brings Palestinian children to HMO for life-enhancing heart surgery); Valerie Wertheimer, Founder and President of Action Innocence, which fights abuse of children via the internet; Michel Leeb, Patron of Action Innocence and worldwide performer who has donated his talents at fundraising events in France; and Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, Founders of Fils et Filles des Déportés Juifs de France (Sons and Daughters of Deported Jews from France), and long-time activists against injustice who devoted themselves to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.

Gala Fundraising Dinner
The culmination of this comprehensive conference was the gala dinner at the Palais de la Méditerraneé, presided over by Hadassah France President, Doctor Sydney Ohana. Funds raised were earmarked for HMO’s new Center for Children with Chronic Diseases. Eitan Kerem, Director of the Center and Head of HMO’s Department of Pediatrics, brought the Center to life with a video and described the ways this new multidisciplinary entity enhances his young patients’ quality of life.

Then, the time for the exciting closing event of the evening came: Richard Gere, global social activist, philanthropist, and renowned film star, was presented with Hadassah International’s “Citizen of the World” award by President Marlene Post. The award paid tribute to the work of Gere’s private foundation and its public arm, Healing the Divide, in seeking innovative solutions to world problems of injustice and intolerance. Gere was also honored for his support of the Peres Center for Peace. His personal connection to Hadassah Hospital made the presentation all the more meaningful for the audience of over 500 people.

In accepting the award, Gere spoke warmly of his visit to the Hadassah Medical Center and noted that “Hadassah’s doctors and nurses are the green berets of compassion and healing.” He emphasized that financial support for Hadassah gives us all the chance to be part “of a movement for good” and urged those who had not been to HMO to visit and see what our money has accomplished.

All in all, it was an evening filled with highlights, exhilaration, generosity, and dancing well into the early hours of the morning.

Participants left Conference 2005 rejuvenated by a vibrant reminder: they have linked themselves to an organization that is truly a bridge to nations; they give their time and energy to a medical center that is respected around the globe as an island of sanity, strength, and innovation. Together, Hadassah International and the Hadassah Medical Organization reach out and add quality, empathy, and compassion to our world.