S.F. students stint as Voluntour exposes her to Israels injured

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The patient was an ex-New Yorker who had moved to Israel with her husband and family. Their goal was to give their children a more Jewish upbringing.

"She was in a car accident three weeks before I got there," said Brodsky, a 20-year-old San Franciscan who spent part of her summer vacation caring for patients at Hadassah's Hebrew University Hospital in Jerusalem.

All seven of the patient's children received serious injuries. Her husband, a well-known rabbi and author, was killed.

"After I fed her, she would say the after-dinner prayer. I couldn't believe she'd use her last energy to give thanks for the disgusting hospital food and mushy mystery meat," said Brodsky, who is a sociology student at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

As part of a five-week Hadassah's Young Judaea Voluntour program, Brodsky spent three weeks serving in the hospital on Mount Scopus and two weeks at leisure.

While Brodsky was excited by the opportunity to tour Israel, the hospital work offered other rewards

"An experience like this would mature anyone. You see a lot of blood and stuff but can't run away and say, `Eeeeewwwwww — gross,'" she said.

Brodsky, who speaks no Hebrew, worked in the hospital's rehabilitation unit. One of her new friends was a man who had lost his leg.

"He'd wait by the elevator for me and whenever he saw me he'd be waving and smiling, saying, `Shalom,' she said.

Yael Kaniel, 20, of San Jose, was the only Hebrew-speaking member of the Voluntour group. Kaniel is a microbiology and molecular genetics student at UCLA.

Despite language barriers, Brodsky found a way to make herself understood — not only with patients but with other workers, who included two emigres from Ethiopia and one from Morocco. The three were serving in the Israeli army and were working toward citizenship.

"I could not communicate with them at all, but they took me under their wing and treated me like their sister and best friend," Brodsky said.

Outside the hospital, Brodsky and eight other American college students from the program received free lodgings in Jerusalem and during the weekends they traveled and made many friends.

"I'm used to being the only Jewish person and all of a sudden I'm surrounded by tons of Jewish people," Brodsky said.

She discovered that Jews in Israel don't necessarily share the same practices.

"What's weird in Israel is that there's so many different sects in the Jewish religion, so it's like a whole bunch of different religions," she said. "What made me feel detached from the Jewish religion was when Jews threw rocks at other Jews at the Western Wall."

Although Brodsky was disturbed by the incidents at the Wall, she had fun sightseeing and learned much about Israel's history.

"On the top of every mountain I climbed, I met people discovering their Jewish heritage and culture," she said. "All the ruins I saw made me think of people from all over the world who visited here to appreciate the same ruins, and what the Jewish people went through to create a Jewish state."