September 1st is the beginning of the school year in Israel and we at Hadassah are quite aware that the children hospitalized in our Medical Center will not be joining their companions on that important first day. Keenly conscious of what they are missing, we provide mobile computers and computer stations to help them connect with their classrooms and keep up with their friends. This is as essential to their wellbeing as the medical care we provide.
Because their education is important to us, some years ago, we established the Hadassah Schools at our hospitals in Ein Kerem and on Mt. Scopus and at the Hadassah Child and Family Mental Health Center in downtown Jerusalem. The School’s 60 teachers and therapists do more than educate according to the Ministry of Education’s requirements for 11 grades from kindergarten up. They provide many beneficial and enjoyable forms of therapy – among them music, dance, art, gardening, cooking and sandbox therapy. These specialized activities help the children express their innermost fears and feelings, which in turn provide the therapists with additional insight in how to allay our young patients’ anxieties.
The students reflect our patient population and Jerusalem’s. Jews, Christians and Moslems – the secular and religious of each community – study in Hebrew and Arabic and they play together in the common language children always manage to establish. “The children don’t have to come to class, but they like to,” says Edna Pinchover, Principal of the Hadassah Schools, “and we are there for them, whether they are hospitalized for one day or long term.”
Being ‘there for them’ especially means helping them adjust to the hospital setting and all that hospitalization entails, so Hadassah conceived and developed a special program to help young patients deal with their new reality. “We teach children about the medical procedures they will face.” Ms. Pinchover said. “We have a program on blood tests, one on preparation for surgery and one on treatments for cancer, among others.”
Because of this initiative, for the second year in a row, the Ministry of Education has given the Hadassah School the special designation of an experimental school. “The program is a great success,” Ms. Pinchover says, “one that every hospital in the country plans to incorporate.”
Our concern for children extends far beyond the confines of our campuses. Knowing that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are disproportionately responsible for the 10,000 victims of motor vehicle accidents that Hadassah treats every year, we initiated a special project for high school seniors eagerly awaiting the day they receive their driver’s license. “Hadassah and Teenagers Fight Motor Vehicle Accidents” is designed to expose these teenagers to the serious and often fatal consequences of motor vehicle accidents and reinforce their responsibilities once they acquire a driving license.
Every year we invite 12th-graders to spend half a day at Hadassah where staff members provide informative data and graphic illustrations of the impact of immature behavior behind the wheel. A Hadassah orthopedist describes the various injuries that can occur, explains the importance of seat belts and presents actual examples of the disabling and disastrous after effects of motor vehicle accidents. A Hadassah surgeon presents important information about the relationship between speed, collisions and the types of injuries that occur. A Hadassah social worker details how accidents affect family and friends, the physical, emotional and esthetic injuries and the difficulties of daily living.
Perhaps the most meaningful of the day’s experiences is introducing an accident victim who talks about the accident itself, the physical injuries and psychological trauma – and the long journey through rehabilitation. Then the students tour the Shock Trauma Unit where they are challenged to catch a ball while wearing special glasses that distort vision, replicating the effect of drinking alcohol or using drugs. That is perhaps the most personal and telling moment of all – one we hope will leave a lasting impression. In 2006, a year after the program began, Hadassah received a Certificate of Commendation from the Municipality of Jerusalem for this innovative effort.
As you can see, children are very important to us. This includes the children of our staff members, our Hadassah children. We who work at the Medical Center spend a good portion of our lives caring for others. Whether we work in management or security, in the Intensive Care Unit or in the kitchen, our common experiences create a special bond. Our Hadassah lives overlap with our personal ones. We share our joys and sorrows and celebrate significant milestones together.
This summer, as we have for the past ten years, we held our very special party for incoming first-graders – the First Grade Happening. Varda Schwartz, Hadassah’s Events Coordinator for the Division of Human Resources, sent invitations and tickets to all Hadassah workers whose children had reached this important age. Fortunately, we were able to also include grandparents.
Picture this. It’s an early evening in July and about 250 six-year-old Hadassah offspring, their parents and some grandparents are gathered in Gan Miriam, Miriam’s Garden, named in memory of Hadassah National President Miriam Freund Rosenthal. Appropriate for the occasion, the garden is behind the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Mother and Child Center at Hadassah-Ein Kerem with its famous Chaim Gross statue of a mother and her child. As always, I was delighted to be there among the Hadassah family, but this time was extra-special because my six-year-old grandson, Amos, was with me.
You and I know how emotional parents feel when sending their children off to school for the very first time – and we know the excitement and ambivalence our children and grandchildren feel as they anticipate the first day of school. Our First Grade Happening celebrates the joyous occasion with something for everyone.
When they arrived, the children received a sticker that read “I am going into first grade” and a large ‘goody bag’ filled with treats, school supplies and a surprise gift. This year we gave them a water bottle embossed with the Hadassah logo. Music filled the air as the children played on the large inflatable games and awaited the stage show that featured TV personality Michal Tsafrir from HOP! – an Israeli cable children’s channel.
Parents wandered among the informational booths, collecting information, asking questions and receiving advice. At one booth, Volunteers at the Safe Kids Israel (Be’terem) explained how to instruct children to get to and from school safely and the importance of wearing a helmet when bike riding. At another, members of our Department of Physiotherapy described the best shoes and backpacks to buy, how to arrange a backpack so the contents won’t injure the children and how to sit at a computer.
All of our departments gave freely of their time and energy for this family event. One of the highlights is always the enormous cake the kitchen staff prepares – and they are given the honor of handing out pieces to the children. I don’t know who had a better time, the parents and grandparents or the children – my grandson or I.
Our children are our future. Whether they are entering the first grade or the last, hospitalized at Hadassah or simply being treating as outpatients, their education, physical health and emotional happiness are our highest priority.
At Hadassah we show our children – all children – how important they are to us. And as they grow from toddlers to teens and into adulthood, they understand that they can rely on us, that Hadassah was, is – and always will be – a constant and caring presence in their lives.