Over spring break last year, then first-year medical students Cheryl Vinograd (on left) and Sharon Lewin took a weeklong whirlwind tour of Israel – no, not on a Tel Aviv beach vacation, but on a volunteer mission shadowing doctors at hospitals and clinics all over the country.
Eager to expand their medical knowledge while exploring their Jewish roots, Vinograd and Lewin founded a student group at Stony Brook University Medical School called Kesher Refuah (Medical Connection). With funding from the Zionist House in Boston and Hillel International’s Shusterman Foundation, they led a pilot trip of five students last year. "We started off hoping to put together a spring break medical mission trip, which a lot of other medical schools have," says Lewin, who would like to become an oncologist. "Israel represents this huge opportunity for growth — expanding our careers, expanding our lives."
One of their favorite parts of the trip was their visit to Save a Child’s Heart, an organization that brings children to Israel from developing countries, like Iraq and Tanzania. There, they shadowed cardiologists and played with the patients, 40 percent of whom were Palestinians, many of them from Gaza, according to Lewin. "We had brought our stethoscopes with us so the kids started playing with them," Lewin says. "They started listening to their own hearts and our hearts. They were listening to what keeps you alive."
The students also visited Jerusalem, where they met with the director generals of the city’s two principal hospitals — Shaare Tzedek and Hadassah Medical Center — and learned about Israel’s universal healthcare system, says Vinograd, who hopes to become a pediatric hematologist or oncologist. In addition to developing their medical skills, the students also visited religious sites and Jewish cultural venues, to deepen their appreciation for Israel.
This year’s trip will take place in June, in an extended two-week itinerary that includes more Stony Brook first-year students, as well as two of their Ben Gurion University peers. One addition will be a visit to a Bedouin clinic with the Israeli minister of health for the Southern/Negev region. "I am grateful that Kesher Refuah has enabled me to help others to develop this appreciation, while empowering them to make life-long connections to the country," says Vinograd.
Both Lewin and Vinograd are Russian-Jewish New Yorkers — Lewin hails from Brooklyn, while Vinograd grew up in Staten Island.
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