“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” – Psalm 133

On Shabbat I shared a message with the Narkis Street congregation in Jerusalem, starting with the good news that our son Josh and his wife Madelyn just had their fourth child, Ezra Jonathan (our third grandson born in 2022!).
But by the end of the message many were in tears, as I also shared that on Friday afternoon 20-year-old Haitham from Gaza suddenly collapsed from internal bleeding at our home in Ashdod, ten days after his heart surgery:

A big change for our community tonight as we welcomed five new volunteers, bringing our number from 10 to 15 all at once! Elise, Luisa, Jakob, Lena, and Simona traveled together from Germany and are joining us for 10 months. We all sat down for a late-night dinner together tonight at 10:30 PM, and even after a challenging and tiring day, we found ourselves sharing stories from the day, encouraging one another, and laughing until we cried. Truly, how beautiful it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity:

As soon as I saw our eight coworkers squeezed into our kitchen pantry I opened a news site. Sure enough, rockets from Gaza were landing across southern Israel and hundreds of thousands of Israelis were welcoming the Sabbath in their reinforced rooms.
Most of our community members are newly-arrived in the land. What’s more they had just welcomed three new Kurdish families to Israel a few days before. What must they all be thinking as hundreds of rockets were coming in, and the sirens sounded again and again as they raced for shelter?

One-year-old Ahmed from Kurdistan had his first evaluation in Israel yesterday. Like many children with Down Syndrome, Ahmed has a complete AV canal.
Ahmed is a sweet little guy with the most beautiful smile, and was delighted to show off his driving skills in the waiting room at the hospital:

When coworker Lucia and I visited Somaia at Sheba Medical today, she was awake and looking around. At one point, she started crying and this nearly broke my heart. To see this little girl wanting to cry, but there is no sound coming out of her tiny body is so hard to see. She wants to cry, to tell us that she is not okay, but she just can’t because of her tracheostomy.
This reminded me so much of the verses in Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Handsome little Yazidi refugee Sohaib is at last extubated and breathing on his own in the ICU after his third surgery in Israel. He turned two on Saturday, and his mother was eager to tell me all about the day. “For his birthday, I prayed and prayed that he’d wake up,” she told me excitedly in Kurdish, “and then he opened his eyes and moved his arms!”

The battle goes on for the Yazidi refugee Sohaib from Kurdistan, who’s now been through three major heart surgeries in rapid succession in Israel. Our coworkers sought to lovingly encourage his worried mother today by celebrating with her his second birthday:

The ICU doctor was gentle but honest in her report to Kinan’s grandmother after his surgery: his prognosis is difficult, and the doctors are unsure whether he will live longer than a few months.
Nonetheless, Kinan’s doctors are refusing to give up. Faced with a challenging path and no guarantee of success, they are tirelessly giving their all to meet this precious little boy’s needs. What a beautiful example of faithful love and commitment!

One of the newest and littlest lambs from Gaza was taken to heart surgery in Israel today. Tiny newborn Kinan not only has multiple heart defects, but a severely cleft lip and palate. It even appears that a portion of his brain is missing. At this stage no one but God really knows his prognosis.
I honor Sheba for accepting Kinan. Another hospital in Israel turned him away, probably over concerns that his quality of life won’t justify the intense investment of resources he’ll need. Let’s ask our Father to bless our partners at Sheba with faith and courage and resources to keep treating every child as created in the image of God:

Yazidi refugee Sohaib went into surgery in Israel early Thursday morning. The surgeon explained the process to Sohaib’s mother along with a gentle warning that he may come out of surgery on the ECMO heart-lung support machine. She took all of this with remarkable grace and strength. Together with the doctors we walked Sohaib to the OR entrance, where she kissed his little hands and waved goodbye before he was wheeled through the doors:

I walked down the hall to the pediatric cardiac ICU, where the Israeli medical staff are in a round-the-clock battle for the lives of the Gaza children Hassan, Somaia, Liya and Ibrahim. Despite the lack of any evident improvement in her child’s condition, one of the mothers was beaming with happiness which she wanted to share with us. In the ICU room she opened her Quran and read from the first sura, the Fatihah, which is prayed five times a day:

It was just after dinner on Sunday evening when coworker Quinlan texted me that one-year-old Sohaib’s oxygen saturation, normally in the upper 90s, was 65%. “Are you sure?” I asked a minute later when I arrived. Sohaib was his usual content and relaxed self, rosy-cheeked and happily munching on a banana.
But sure enough, when we checked again his oxygen level was in the low 60s and dropping rapidly. Within minutes, it had plummeted to 30%. We immediately put him on oxygen support and called an ambulance, and Sohaib was rushed to the emergency room at Sheba hospital:

Yes, that’s a boy from Syria (Hussein) joyfully and freely celebrating his fifth birthday in a park in Israel! If only the local families out in the park knew what was going on right before their eyes–I mentioned it to one gathering as we walked by and they looked on dumbfounded. We have to start getting this message out to the people of Israel! https://shevet.org/?p=102234 ...

It’s been just over a month since sweet one-year-old Lara arrived from Kurdistan and was rushed to the emergency room at Sheba hospital with oxygen saturations in the 40s. She’s made a beautiful and mostly smooth recovery, but after last week’s news that she has some narrowing near one of her valves, her mother has spent an anxious week awaiting this week’s echo.

As the clock ticked down toward the start of the Shabbat, I turned to every doctor and manager I knew. Still no help could be found. In desperation I reached out to every alternative ambulance service we knew. Nothing moved.
It was now 03:00 in the morning. I could feel the frustration rising up in me, as it had last year when the interior ministry wasn’t issuing visas for emergency transposition babies to enter Israel. Again I wanted to speak out and shame people: How can you stand by and do nothing while this baby is dying?

On Tuesday afternoon we got a surprise phone call from Sheba hospital; a surgery had been canceled at the last second, which opened up a spot for the year-old Yazidi refugee Sohaib to come for his much-needed operation. The multiple holes in Sohaib’s heart were causing pulmonary hypertension so severe that the doctors in Kurdistan had feared there was nothing that could be done for him. What a beautiful gift and relief, then, when after four hours in the operating room on Wednesday the surgeon came out with the good news that the holes are repaired and Sohaib is doing well!

We first met Sohaib's family in a Yazidi refugee camp in northern Iraq last September, and promised to try to help him get to Israel for lifesaving heart surgery. But over the next seven months I left him on the back burner--and then was shocked in April to get a cath report from his doctor in Iraq indicating it was now too late and he could no longer be helped.
Somehow the Sheba team agreed to accept Sohaib in Israel for a second look and a second chance. Our Father then provided a medical escort to get him here safely, and--praise God!--in Tuesday's cath doctors discovered he is still operable. Please pray with us for Sohaib as he goes into surgery this week:

I was surprised to learn that just two years ago Wasim was between life and death after a 13-hour-long surgery. He was close to needing ECMO support, but pulled through and recovered wonderfully. It’s hard to believe that the friendly, smiling young man we met on Sunday is the same person in the photos from two years ago:

Somehow Joanne and Bria and Lilly found grace under all the pressure, and the day after Shavuot/Pentecost brought Racheal’s mother to Jerusalem to bury her little daughter on the hilltop above the Garden Tomb. From the top we can see an otherwise hidden topographical truth: this long ridge, hidden in the bustle of the city, is actually the direct continuation of Mount Moriah, on which the biblical temples were built:

As we said goodbye to Racheal’s mother in the airport, she hugged each of us and told us, “I’ll never forget you. You’re in my heart forever.”
“We’ll never forget you either,” we told her. “You’re our sister and we love you forever.”

Shevet Achim communities help children from Gaza, Iraq and Syria come to Israel for open-heart surgeries. The first community formed in 1994 in response to the plea of a mother who came to Israel seeking life-saving treatment for her son at a cost of $64,000:

“Will you help us?”

Few of us have the resources to respond to a request like that. But we found if one person will hear that question–and then pray, give whatever they have, and share the child’s story–our Father will form a rescue community that unites all kinds of people around the shared goal of saving a child’s life. And doctors and hospitals in Israel are ready to partner with us and take more than half of the costs on themselves.

Here are some of the families of children who are asking the same question today: “Will you help us?”

How it Works:

Each of these children is invited for heart surgery in one of Israel’s largest hospitals, the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, or Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. If God gives you the faith to intercede for one of these boys or girls, you can apply to become a local leader. When approved you’ll be given your own page on this website through which you can call together friends, family, and neighbors, to join you in meeting the financial goal. Everyone agrees that a child’s life should be saved–you’ll find yourself partnering with people you never would have expected! You’ll share with them regular updates on your child’s progress, including updates sent from the Shevet Achim community in Israel. And you’ll be invited to come and personally meet your child while he or she is in Israel for surgery.

Here’s how you can get started.

And here are the stories of the children now in Israel: