Finding miracles in Israel
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OpinionGuest columnist

Finding miracles in Israel

I am constantly inspired by the words of a rabbi I know, who once said, “Mitzvahs done outside of Israel are just practice.”

Flag of Israel close up. (Photo by cottonbro studio, courtesy of Pexels)
Flag of Israel close up. (Photo by cottonbro studio, courtesy of Pexels)

As someone who converted to Orthodox Judaism after growing up in the Bible Belt in Texas, there was always something about religion and the church that just didn’t sit right with me. Thus, my journey for deeper meaning began.That journey eventually brought me not only to Judaism but also to medicine, with my years as a combat medic serving in Iraq, Africa and Syria convincing me of my potential to do more.

It was that nexus of science and religion where I have found my purpose and feel God’s light in this world. I know that all I’m really doing when I treat a patient is, as the Rambam said, facilitating whatever God wants to happen.

Whether it be in the hospital or on the battlefield, my experience tells me that humans can only do so much, and sometimes what we really need is a miracle. That feeling was even more pronounced when I came to Israel following Oct. 7 to help train combat medics in the field.

On that tragic day, I was in Kansas City visiting friends for Simchat Torah.

Like many observant Jews in the Diaspora, I wasn’t aware of the extent of carnage until I opened my phone Sunday night. But in those first few hours where all the information I had was rumors, we still danced with the Torah. Gripping tightly, I prayed for Israel and was overwhelmed by the bittersweet sensation that felt like we were dancing while the world was burning.

Once the holiday was over, I knew I wanted to contribute. Through a Facebook group, I connected with an individual getting a group together to volunteer in Israel. When I called my boss requesting a last-minute leave of absence, I was told I may not have a job waiting for me when I got back. I boarded a plane that weekend.

The first two weeks were spent in the ER at Ichilov Medical Center, but considering my valuable experience as a combat medic, I knew my skills would be better applied elsewhere. As such, the IDF welcomed my volunteer work as a combat medic. In this
role, I trained soldiers in patient care amidst chaotic urban landscapes, where the terrain of Gaza was eerily reminiscent of
the treacherous battlefields of Baghdad.

I am constantly inspired by the words of a rabbi I know, who once said, “Mitzvahs done outside of Israel are just practice.” Coming here was not only a natural choice, but also something I felt obligated to do. Before I arrived in Israel, I was restless — not able to sleep and worried about my Israeli fiancée and her sisters who are serving in the IDF. Ironically, I felt more at peace while in the country.

It helps, of course, that the universe seemed to want me to be in Israel. Finding a flight to Israel in the early days of the
war was a challenge for many, yet I found a charter flight with ease. Obtaining a license to practice medicine in Israel — usually a bureaucratic nightmare — was done in a matter of days thanks to the Ministry of Health and Nefesh B’Nefesh.
My fiancée could have objected to me putting myself in harm’s way, and yet she was fully supportive. Everything aligned
so perfectly that it’s impossible not to see the hand of God in it.

In Israel, I felt culturally at home.

There were no colleagues questioning the little quirks that make our religion beautiful. I never had to explain myself to anyone. And I certainly didn’t have to defend why I wanted to fight for the Jewish homeland.

As I look back on my service, I think Israel did more for me than I did for her. Everywhere I went in Israel, I was met with gratitude. From strangers on the street who heard my Texas twang and asked why I came to the country during wartime, to the owners of small businesses who offered to pay for my meal even though they were struggling themselves, I saw the tightly woven fabric of Israeli society that can’t be destroyed.

For now, I’m back at work in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where I’m anxiously waiting to return to Israel later this month and marry my fiancée in the Jewish state. Then, I will be counting down the days to my aliyah, when I will finally be home.

Whether in a war or in a hospital, logic can’t explain who lives and who dies. Medicine tells me that there are some
questions we won’t have a sufficient answer to, but all we can do is be of service to our communities, to have faith and to do
our best. PJC

Dr. Andrew Griffin is an emergency medicine specialist at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and a former staff sergeant in the U.S. Army.

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