By Rolene Marks
“It’s amazing when you stop for a moment and consider that this woman is not an Israeli and is not Jewish. She is a foreigner. She has no family or roots here. She has been through terrible physical abuse for a year. Yet together, WIZO, the hospital, all the good people in our community came together and reached into their pockets and hearts during this difficult Coronavirus period to save her life. It’s like it says in the Torah, “And you shall love the stranger,”– (Deuteronomy chapter 10, verses 17-20. Leviticus chapter 19, verse 34).
It is never easy to be a stranger in a strange land. It is difficult to adapt to a culture completely different to your own and when a global pandemic spreads and brings with it seemingly insurmountable challenges, it feels like a battle that cannot be won. But this is a story with a difference. This story is proof that even in the most difficult and uncertain of times, there are always people that are willing to help.
Meet “S” a 26-year-old Eritrean woman, who left her home to come to Israel – at great personal risk. Many Eritreans seek work in Israel and are not Jewish and “S” was no exception. “S” life has been full of hardships. She began her long walk towards a better life in a strange land at 16 and was forced into an arranged marriage while staying at a refugee camp en route at 17. Her husband was already living in Israel and paid for her to come to Israel.
Shortly after arriving, she became a mother to two gorgeous little ones, a girl and a boy, now aged 7 and 4. But the marriage was fraught with violence. Both “S” and her daughter suffered severe abuse at the hands of her husband and eventually fled for their lives, along with “S”’s small son.
“S” was referred to a WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation’s) shelter by Israel’s welfare services and “Mesila” (assistance and information center for the foreign community), an NPO (non-Profit) serving the rights and needs of the tens of thousands of legal and illegal migrant workers and refugees living in and around Tel Aviv.
At this safe haven, WIZO provided loving arms, therapy and shelter from the constant blows and abuse “S” and her small charges faced. At last, she could begin to heal physically – and maybe emotionally. But this was not the end of her story – and her remarkable journey.
In June 2015, before her arrival at the shelter, “S” was rushed to Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva after fainting at work. Pregnant at the time, she was later diagnosed with a heart defect. This required her needing a catheterization and the doctors decided that in order to survive, she would need to abort. In the four years that followed she had no medical follow up – and the violence meted out by her husband continued.
When “S” arrived at the shelter in 2019, she began a process of medical checkups with the help of a refugee clinic in Jerusalem that works in cooperation with Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital. She had a series of cardiological examinations, and began medical treatment. “S” needed a procedure that could potentially save her life.
On April 30th, 2020, “S” met with Dr. Amit Korach, a cardiologist who took care of her at Sha’arei Tzedek. He recommended a procedure which would switch her mitral valve and fix her tricuspid valve. While not life threatening, this procedure was considered critical for her improvement of quality of life.
The staff at the WIZO shelter wanted to do everything in their power to help “S” not only have a second chance at life where she could provide for her children but to ensure that she received the best possible medical care. With the Coronavirus pandemic spreading around the world and limited resources available, these caretakers needed to figure out a way to move mountains.
Funds would be needed to be raised. The surgery cost 90,000 NIS. The medical staff at the hospital generously agreed to cover part of the procedure and Physicians for Human Rights helped file a request to the Ministry of Health, asking for further funding options and Mesila in Tel Aviv also assisted. Through WIZO and the local congregation, a crowdfunding campaign was started and additional funds were raised. This is an extraordinary feat – especially at a time when most organisations are stretched to the limit financially.
“It’s important to remember that “S” is the sole caretaker of her two children,” Rinat Leon-Lange, Director of the WIZO shelter said. “She is currently living at the shelter, but can stay only for a limited period of time. Since she is an Eritrean refugee, her occupational options are limited and consist mainly of work that demands physical effort like cleaning or working in a kitchen. Her current medical condition does not enable her to engage in such physical work. Without income, she is doomed to either live in poverty or be dependent on another person, which could lead to yet another dangerous and abusive relationship. Due to her lack of legal status in Israel she is not eligible to receive any kind of government stipend for financial support.”
” “S” is still a young woman, so the success rate of this surgery is high,” says Yael Zimran, a social worker at the WIZO shelter. “This surgery would not only improve her quality of life physically, but would also enable her to be financially independent without having to rely on someone else. So for S, this really would be a life-saving procedure.”
The surgery was finally performed at Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital in June 2020 – at the height of the Corona pandemic. Dr. Korach and Dr. Hila Elinav, who had been treating “S” at the refugee clinic advocated for “S” to receive the best care and throughout the procedure she was treated by medical staff who knew her well. The staff looked after her in the hospital and took care of her children who remained at the shelter. The children were therefore able to be in constant contact with their mother while she was hospitalized via the shelter’s dedicated staff.
“The surgery was a success,” Leon-Lange proudly reported. “She is recovering slowly, but surely.”
Throughout the Corona crisis in Israel, WIZO has been on the frontline. “S”’s journey from Eritrea to a shelter and then life-saving surgery is proof of her remarkable courage and this has been recognized and honoured by WIZO who apart from providing an embrace of safety against abuse, also ensured the mending of a broken heart.
Thanks to the joint efforts of WIZO, Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital and other welfare organizations a young Eritrean mother living in a WIZO women’s shelter is on the road to recovery and independence.
Our gratitude to all WIZO Federations for their generous support in helping to provide shelter for women and children suffering from domestic violence in Israel.