Hunter College student Wesly Gagerie, who is also a native of Haiti, said he was deeply moved as he stood before a photograph of a 3-year-old Haitian earthquake victim whose broken bones had been mended by an Israeli doctor.

“I know that child could have died without the help of fellow Haitians and the Israeli medical team,” said Gagerie, who was visiting a Scenes from Haiti exhibit at Hunter and whose family still lives in Port-au-Prince.

Members of Israel’s team in Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake. Photo: Joe Shalmoni©2010, courtesy of StandWithUS

Members of Israel’s team in Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake.
Photo: Joe Shalmoni©2010, courtesy of StandWithUS

Hunter College Hillel — part of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, a beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation — brought the exhibit to campus from January 30th to February 4th through the efforts of the Consulate General of Israel in New York, with the support of UJA-Federation, Israel on Campus Coalition, StandWithUs, and the Avi Chai Foundation.

StandWithUs said more than 30 photographs documented the relief work carried out by Israeli medical teams that set up a fully operational field hospital within four days of the earthquake in January 2010. The photos were taken by Joe Shalmoni, a volunteer with Magen David Adom, an Israeli group of trained medical responders, and with military personnel who participated in the aid mission.

“Israel sent a plane loaded with 75 tons of equipment,” explained Ambassador Danny Biran from the Consulate General of Israel in New York at a reception for the exhibit held on campus on February 3rd.

Biran noted that he also served on the ground in Haiti as chief administrator of Israel’s immediate aid mission and coordinated the Israeli team of army doctors and rescue experts, as well as the field hospital set up to help the earthquake’s victims.

“Our workers struggled for 10 hours to rescue someone who had been under the rubble for four days,” Biran said. “It reflected the Jewish value that if you save one person, it is as if you saved the world.”

In the three weeks the Israeli team served in Haiti, the team rescued four survivors, treated 1,100 people in the field hospital, performed 370 lifesaving operations, and delivered 16 babies, noted Biran.

“I think it is important to put a positive outlook on Israel on our campus and to know about Israel’s many contributions since people are often only hearing about Israel in the context of conflict,” said Janet Izrailova, Hunter College Hillel student president.

In addition to helping to show Israel’s dedication to humanitarian causes, said Hunter College Hillel Executive Director Lisa Pollack, the exhibit also allowed Hillel to collaborate with other campus organizations, including the Black Male Initiative, Haitian Student Association, and the Medical Club.

At a Crossroads of Despair and Hope

Nicole Titus, a writer born in Port-au-Prince, also spoke at the reception about the challenges that faced Haiti before the earthquake and what needs to be done now, including noting that Haiti has a 53 percent illiteracy rate.

“The challenges now are compounded, and we are at a crossroads of despair and hope,” Titus said, and she spoke movingly of the need to heal the trauma and build a better Haiti. She also thanked Ambassador Biran and the Israeli people for their aid.

The current dire situation in Haiti was further addressed by Margarette Tropnas, executive director of Dwa Fanm, a Haitian women’s rights organization. Tropnas is also a New York-Haitian Leadership fellow, a project of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York that is supported by UJA-Federation.

“Over 1 million Haitians are still living in tents in unsanitary conditions with no privacy,” Tropnas said. “Only 5 percent of the rubble is cleared.”

“We are asking our Jewish partners to continue to work with us in Haiti,” she added. “The work is not over. It is only beginning.”