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

Three newborns with complex heart defects were barely clinging to life in the Gaza Strip as we entered the two-day Rosh Hashana holiday. These babies kept coming to mind over the holiday. It didn’t feel right to leave them. Through many years we’ve never turned an urgent child with a heart defect away from Israel for lack of space or funds. This can only mean that our Father’s hand has been over our circumstances in ways we didn’t even recognize. Was our season of grace now coming to an end?

It was the middle of a quiet holiday evening Monday when one-year-old Kenan’s mother knocked on the staff house door with her little boy in her arms. He has for some time now been having brief episodes of oxygen denaturation, but this time she knew something was wrong. Kenan’s heart rate was far higher than usual and he was struggling to breathe. Thanks to Rosh Hashanah there was almost no traffic on the highway to Tel Aviv, so it didn’t take long to get Kenan to the emergency room at Sheba:

24 years ago my young family and I were living in a refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. We went to be a presence for Messiah there, and in turn we learned so much from our caring and generous neighbors. One of those families had a newborn baby girl named Sawsan with a heart defect. Thank God he already in those years was joining us in partnership with the people of Israel to bless their neighbors. Baby Sawsan’s life was saved by surgery in Israel, and this week she came out again for examinations, in preparation for the birth of her own first baby next month:

It was quite a celebration, with the main room of our family house crowded with volunteers and families and filled with an atmosphere of joy and thanksgiving. “You all have been my family here,” Sohaib’s Yazidi mother told us in the Arabic she’s learned and practiced during her months here!

It reminds me of the Eastern European rabbi who gave something to every beggar who approached him in the street. His disciples reproached him: “Don’t you know that nine out of ten of these people aren’t really in need?”
”I’d rather be taken advantage of nine times,” he replied, “than turn away even one who really needed my help.”
Which may remind us of our Middle Eastern rabbi, who would leave behind 99 sheep to go and search for the one who was lost.
The latest of our lost sheep was plucked out of the Gaza Strip on Thursday; three-week-old Jamal has transposed great arteries, which Sheba doctors will attempt to switch in a major surgery in the next 1-2 days:

Ahmed’s mom had been eagerly looking forward to his echo on Tuesday for two weeks, and she was more than a little nervous by the time we arrived at the clinic. The doctor’s report after the echo was brief but exactly what she was hoping and praying to hear: “He’s good, he can go home!”

There’s something holy and close to the heart of God about each encounter when Muslims and Jews honor and respect and value each other’s lives. It’s like the day Isaac and Ishmael came back together to bury their father Abraham in Hebron.
We saw it today when the Muslim mother of newborn Ayub from Gaza handed her baby over to Jewish doctors for life-saving surgery to switch his great arteries:

Beautiful 11-year-old Lewan from Kurdistan is finally extubated and awake following her major heart surgery last week! After several days of bleeding from her throat, she had a small surgical procedure on Sunday to cauterize the injury to her tonsils. The next day, Elise and I found her awake and sweet as ever. “I love you,” she whispered as she held our hands.
As of today she’s finally feeling well enough to eat again. Her only request—watermelon. “Now that I have a watermelon, I’m good,” she told Doro in Kurdish. “We can go back to Ashdod now!”

Heading into this Shabbat we were heading for trouble. A newborn baby in the West Bank and another in Gaza needed emergency life-saving heart surgeries in Israel. But by late Friday afternoon our partners at the Sheba Medical Center weren’t making their usual heroic effort to find a place for these babies. With a sinking feeling I realized they might be refusing the new children until we agreed to transfer tiny Somaia back to Gaza: https://shevet.org/?p=104144 ...

First thing Sunday morning, we got a long-awaited call from Sheba hospital: "Bring Lewan today, we want to do her surgery tomorrow."
Lewan and her mom have been waiting patiently for this news for nearly a month since arriving in Israel from Kurdistan, so when I arrived at their door with a big smile, they knew right away. “We’re going today?” her mom asked eagerly, and immediately started packing a bag.

Doctors in Israel rushed Laith in for major surgery on Tuesday. His condition was so critical after the surgery that they left his chest open in the ICU as a precaution; and indeed within two days he had to be resuscitated and placed on ECMO heart-lung support.
In a morning meeting I shared with our young community members a perfectly Puddleglum assessment of Laith’s prognosis:

Our friend Ahmed from Kurdistan is making a beautiful recovery after his big surgery last week. He is no longer receiving oxygen support and the doctors plan to move him out of the ICU soon. Ahmed is, as always, full of joy, and he’s always happy to greet us with his sweet smile: https://shevet.org/?p=103832 ...

Here’s a picture of the love that overcomes a thousand painful images of conflict: an Israeli nurse greeting five-year-old Leen from Gaza today when she returned for a checkup following her second eye surgery.

Five days after his emergency hospitalization, Ahmed’s doctors decided to take him into surgery. His mother, with the events of the weekend quite fresh in her mind, was quite anxious for the operation. After four hours in the OR the surgeon arrived with the news:

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!”

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: