IDF Dental Clinic treats Holocaust survivors

Rotem Caro Weizman, IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson

The IDF (Zahal) provides free dental care for Holocaust survivors with the best dental doctors in the country. The staff works very hard to create a warm feeling and a connection with the survivors.

Date: 03/03/2010, 4:57 PM     Author: Rotem Caro Weizman

The dental clinic at the Tel Hashomer Medical Center unites the best dental specialists in the country, all of them wearing the IDF (Zahal) uniform. Despite the difficult and extensive work, the members of the military dentistry decided to dedicate their forces to a lofty cause – providing full dental care for Holocaust survivors in need of it.

The project has been active for three years already, with 120 Holocaust survivors having been treated in the specialists’ clinics in Haifa, Beer Sheva and Tel Hashomer. “The first initiative came from the Dentists Union, and the IDF (Zahal) was drafted into the mission, and today is the main body treating Holocaust survivors,” explains the Commander of the Dental Clinic, Lt. Col. Dr. Paul Sadeh. “The IDF (Zahal) doesn’t take it upon itself to decide who is a survivor or who is in need. Anyone who is sent by the organization is treated with devotion by the doctors, the assistants and the technicians who are mostly military personnel.”

The assistant on dentistry matters to the Chief Medical Officer, Lt. Col. Alon Shnekman, explains, “Since we are a specialists’ clinic, it was possible to bring the most complicated cases together. We have the possibility to consult each other, so the treatment is more comprehensive.”

As part of the efforts for the success of the project, the IDF (Zahal) has been working on encouraging the cooperation between civilian doctors, civilian laboratories, the Tel Hashomer Medical Center, insurance companies and others, in order to provide the necessary services for the treatment free of charge for the patients. Most of the treatments are complicated and range between 6,000 and 15,000 NIS.

“Treating Holocaust survivors is a challenge,” says Dr. Sadeh, “They are very old patients who do not only have serious dental problem, but also have difficulties with getting to the clinic, dealing with opening hours and mental health problems, and thus changes the way the treatment works.” An additional problem that was discovered is that a lot of the survivors do not speak Hebrew. “A lot of our assistants come from the Commonwealth of Independent States, and they helped a lot and mediated between the doctors and the patients. Treating more challenging patients helps us to improve our abilities to treat different people.”

Smile please

Apparently, not only the Holocaust survivors receive new smiles, but also the medical personnel, as Dr. Sadeh explains: “We get so much more from them, we discover their personal stories and the volunteering spirit. The treatment isn’t only medical, but also the investment and attention everyone receives here.” According to Cpl. Eliane Kovlenko, a dental assistant, when a Holocaust survivor comes to the clinic, “it is important for us to give them the feeling that we care, up to the level of accompanying them to the cab or bringing them food. It is a privilege for us to treat them and hear their stories. When they’re here, they also talk about their military service. One of the survivors told me how weird it was for him, that when he was a child, he had teeth but no food, and now he has food, but he doesn’t have teeth anymore.”

The treatment is not the only thing that is different with the Holocaust survivors; it is also a lot more urgent. “When we’re treating a Holocaust survivor, we put him on the top of our list of preferences. We understand that the treatment is more complicated and more burdensome for the patient we are working with,” explains Sgt. Oren Yisraelov, one of the commanders of the clinic.

“I am sad that there are Holocaust survivors who have to get to this situation, but I am anyways very proud of the people here who are doing their work wholeheartedly. I think about the fact that the staff here is the last generation that will be able to hear the survivors’ stories from a first-hand source. Some of the survivors we’ve treated have passed away, and that shows how important the matter is,” says another commander of the Dental Clinic, Lt. Col. Shai Goren.

“Give them a huge kiss”

It seems that the topic of Holocaust survivors is becoming especially important to Pinkas Meir, a civilian IDF (Zahal) worker responsible for prostheses at the Dental Clinic: “Those are stories that I know from my family, and that’s why I have a great desire to help those people, it seems to be closing some sort of circle. The work is more difficult when it is with Holocaust survivors, but we also want to work harder for them.”

Baruch Suaretz, 83, from Lybia, experienced a lot of suffering in the concentration camp in Lybia, where he also had to bury his grandmother and his brother. The dedicated medical team of the Dental Clinic has been treating him for over a year. “They are great, from the smallest to the largest,” he says with a broad smile. “The feeling is good here; I value that a lot after everything I went through.” To him, the IDF (Zahal) is a special body. “I served in the army in 1949, and all my children and grandchildren enlisted. It’s a shame that I can’t serve anymore today. The treatment by the soldiers reminds me of my service. I respect those wearing uniforms, and the fact that they are treating me makes me feel safe. I see the uniform and I simply want to give them a huge kiss.”