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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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One Life At A Time: Dr. Rick Hodes Is Changing Lives

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When he unexpectedly detected “amazingly botched heart surgery” in a child who came to him with spine disease, Hodes sent him to Denver. The child, Akewak had such an impact on the community that $250,000 was raised for Hodes’ programs. Similarly, when Hodes sent a young man with scoliosis to Vancouver, Jews, Christians and Moslems donated to his work.

Robel Haile, a college student at UC Davis Medical School, who heard Hodes’ graduation speech started Bottles for Poverty. “The program enlists undergraduates who recycle garbage to raise money to build schools in Ethiopia,” says Hodes. The JDC already has over 20 schools in rural Gondar province and several others under construction. With over a hundred girls who have graduated from university thanks to JDC scholarships, investment in education has proven itself worthwhile.

Commenting on his drive, Hodes says, “That’s the way I am. The more you give, the better you get at doing it.”

 

In Touch with the Divine

Crowded hospitals, lack of medicine, infinite pain: Hodes faces them daily. “You have to be able to tolerate chaos and you have to remain hopeful,” he answers when asked how he copes. Then he adds, “I draw my strength from the God of Israel. And I’m actually happier at the end of the day despite the suffering I see—I know a few people are being taken care of because I went to work,” he says.

Hodes helps to support four homes, with a variety of orphans, patients, and patients’ brothers and sisters living in them. Each of them runs on a Jewish calendar. Friday nights finds the extended family, a variety of cultures and religions, greeting Shabbat with Shalom Aleichem and If I had a Hammer, a song from the early ‘60s that calls for freedom and justice for all people regardless of race.

Feleke, Host Mom and JDC Volunteer Steve Weinberg at the airport in Detroit

Feleke, Host Mom and JDC Volunteer Steve Weinberg at the airport in Detroit

Hodes’ patients are themselves also a source of strength. “Ethiopians are strong people. They believe in God and see their troubles as a challenge from God,” says Hodes. Indeed, both strength of character and faith shine forth in a hyena mauling case that Hodes recently encountered. Abdulrazak, an eight-year old Moslem boy, was walking to a nearby village when a hyena attacked him. Alewi, his father, was in a nearby field. Hearing the screams, he raced towards them. When he saw the hyena eating his son’s head, he threw himself onto the animal. After five months of treatment at a hospital near the village, Hodes was contacted and reconstructive plastic surgery in Nahariya arranged. Thanking Hodes, Alewi said to him, “Doctor, fetari yekefatot—may the Creator bless you and give you back what you are doing for me – I am not able to.”

In 2007, CNN selected Dr. Hodes as finalist for one of its CNN Heroes in the Championing Children category. In 2008, the American College of Physicians awarded him the rare title of Mastership in recognition of “exceedingly stellar career accomplishments.” He is the subject of a new book, This is a Soul, by Marilyn Berger and a HBO documentary, Making the Crooked Straight. Two more documentaries, Bewoket and Zemene, are currently being produced. But you won’t hear Dr. Hodes talking about these accolades: he’s too busy changing lives – and dreaming big about opening a facility in Addis Ababa that will treat spine deformity and provide heart surgery. Care to be a partner?

 

Visit Dr. Rick Hodes at his website: www.rickhodes.org

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