Spirit of Innovation at Soroka 2019 Gala Dinner

On Wednesday night, April 3, 2019, American Friends of Soroka Medical Center held its seventh annual benefit dinner at the Pierre Hotel in New York City.  Well attended by over 400 people, the hosts and distinguished guests elaborated on the scientific and medical innovations that make Soroka Medical Center one of the leading hospitals not just in Israel, but in the world.  Situated in Be’er Sheva, Soroka is the only medical center in the Negev, Israel’s south.  Soroka, which was founded in 1959, serves an area of over 1 million residents including hundreds of thousands of children.  Race and religion play no factor.  Everyone gets treatment from Soroka’s exceptional staff.  Soldiers of the IDF, defending Israel’s southern communities from the Gaza onslaught, get their treatment here, too.

Gillian Harding, Dr. Julie Ratner and Carlos Gutierrez jr. attend The Spirit of Soroka Gala at The Pierre Hotel on April 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

After a sumptuous buffet, we were led to the main ballroom where the program begain with the singing of the National Anthem and with a soul-stiring rendition of the Hatikvah by David Serero.

Soroka is well known for its innovation in cancer care.  Its newly opened  Comprehensive Cancer Center, which includes the Dr. Larry Norton Institute, can take credit for being the most advanced cancer treatment center in all of the Middle East.  Over 18,000 cancer patients, including hundreds of children, are benefiting from the advanced cancer care that they receive here.

We attend fund raisers and benefits to feel good that our contributions are making a difference.  It certainly is with Soroka’s breakthroughs in research and technology.  Dr. Julie Ratner, Ed.D. received the Healthcare Champion Medal of Honor award.  Tonight, in a touching speech, she honored the memoy of her sister Ellen who succumbed to breast cancer.  Her Ellen Hermanson Foundation helps breast cancer patients cope with all aspects of their respective ordeals.  On one of her trips to Israel she attended the dedication of a Women’s Breast Center at Soroka Medical Center.  She stated that Soroka and The Ellen Hermanson Foundation share the core belief that access to healthcare is a human right.

Edward A. Oats (M) attend The Spirit of Soroka Gala at The Pierre Hotel on April 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Edward Oates, a co-founder of Oracle Corporation, received the Visionary Award for technology and innovation.  In his humble speech filled with gratitude, he stated that this evening we were raising money for Soroka’s Bio-bank, a database that will be filled with samples of biological material such as blood and tumor specimens.  This will benefit not only patients of Soroka Medical Center, but people all over the world.  By the way, he can sing, too.  He and his band, CHOC’D, entertained us at the afterparty.

Orna Simkhai, the founder of Shema-Or Jewelry, incorporates prayer into her jewelry line.  She received the Inspired Leadership Award for her emphasis on giving back.  She praised the crowd by saying that by attending this event they are participating in the Mitzvah of Tikum Olam, repairing and healing the world.  She also made hundreds of women very happy by giving out samples of her bracelets infused with the Shema.

Orna Simkhai attends The Spirit of Soroka Gala at The Pierre Hotel on April 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Dr. Yasemeen Abu-Fraiha, an Israeli Bedouin woman, regaled us with her personal history.  “Always try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud” was the motto that she was raised with.  With her parents’ emphasis on education, she graduated high school, went to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem Medical School, went to work at Soroka and strived to make a difference.  After meeting a young Bedouin boy with a genetic disease, raising awareness of genetic diseases became her calling.  And Soroka Medical Center now provides free genetic screening to young Bedouin couples looking to start a family.

Atmosphere at The Spirit of Soroka Gala at The Pierre Hotel on April 03, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

During the after party the American Friends of Soroka Medical Center hosted a meet and greet to announce a special artist collaboration with artist and filmmaker Marc Bennett. His engaging work, the History of the Star of David, explores the historical evolution of the Star of David as a symbol of hope and perseverance that transcends cultural boundaries. Bennett has generously committed to donate ten percent of worldwide art sales to support Soroka’s life saving mission. Soroka Medical Center has commissioned Bennett to create a monumental installation depicting the History of the Star of David Artwork, which will become the focal point for Soroka’s new Legacy Heritage Oncology Center and the Dr. Larry Norton Institute’s healing garden, set to be unveiled later this summer.

As a journalist I have the opportunity to attend many wonderful fund raising events.  However, this event stands out for the pure dedication of the awardees and Soroka’s staff to make Soroka Medical Center the premier hospital in the Middle East and one of the finest hospitals in the world.  Just remember that Soroka Hospital saves lives and its patients receive access to the most advanced technological hospital in the Middle East.  Therefore, this is a most worthwhile institution to support.  Looking forward to next year’s event.

Austin Rybstein

New York Jewish Guide