Photo Credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Shevie Kassai in Israel.

Much ado was made about President Biden’s trip to Israel on October 17th, the first visit by an American president to Israel during war and one of the only trips by a U.S. president to a warzone outside of military base visits. Possibly, though, what has provided more strength for us Jews in Israel is the outpouring of solidarity visits from our Jewish brethren. More volunteers of all stripes are needed, as the needs of the farmers, reservist families, and internal refugees remain significant. At the same time, some missions stand out more than others.

Dr. Shevie Kassai has embraced her medical mission. Kassai has spoken publicly in the hostile atmosphere of her local city council and met privately with her Congressman, yet the most direct impact she can make is in the operating room of Israeli hospitals. As a trauma surgeon, Kassai has advanced training – seven years post-medical school! – in a specialty sorely needed in Israel right now. The need stems from two primary causes. First, some surgeons were called up as reservists, either with their regular units or as surgeons, to provide advanced medical care on the frontlines. Second, even at hospitals staffed to full capacity, tragically there is an overload of wounded civilians and IDF soldiers requiring complex surgeries.


Though an American native (she lives in Denver, Colorado), Kassai is especially equipped for this mission, as she attended medical school in Israel and has a fluent command of medical terminology in Hebrew. Despite being a mother of young children, not only did Kassai come to Israel in early November to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, but she is back in Israel for a second 10-day mission as this paper goes to press, this time to Ziv Hospital in Safed. Like many others, Kassai comes with an extra suitcase – many actually – hers filled with specialized medical supplies and trauma kits.

Was there any hesitation in agreeing to make the trip? Kassai points out that
“Surgeons from the hospitals reached out to me before I even tried to find somewhere to volunteer. So I felt like if they’re asking, ‘Please, can you come? We need you,’ How on earth could I say no or hesitate or say let me think about it?” Her husband, she says, gets a ton of credit as well, being completely supportive of her trips.

Kassai is a proud member of Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association (JOWMA), a relatively young organization which shatters the notion that there is a glass ceiling for Orthodox women in medicine. Aside from their regular work of providing free, culturally-sensitive health information to the Orthodox community, they jumped to take the lead on navigating the bureaucracy necessary to bring Hebrew-speaking doctors to Israel post-October 7th.

Devastatingly, there are no shortage of IDF soldiers with acute trauma injuries for Kassai to operate on. On a visit to Shaarei Tzedek last week, I suddenly saw a helicopter low in the sky. It quickly became apparent this was a military helicopter, with the low rumble morphing into a deafening roar as it landed at the hospital. The knowledge that injured IDF soldiers were about to enter emergency surgery in the same building I was in pierced my heart, spurring me to prayer in a way I hadn’t experienced since the early days of the war.

But Kassai’s responsibilities actually go beyond operating on IDF soldiers. Kassai is called upon to provide advanced training for IDF combat medics on how to provide immediate care on the battlefield and en-route to the hospital for critical acute trauma injuries to keep these soldiers alive.

Hospitals have regulations as to how many hours a doctor can stay on shift, so you might think Kassai had at least a little time to breathe, sleep, process. You would be wrong. At nights, Kassai went on ambulance runs with United Hatzala’s Mobile ICU units. In Israel, ICU ambulances need to be staffed with an MD to administer certain treatments. One night, she even drove nearly four hours to give a lecture on emergency trauma care at Ben Gurion University’s international medical school, under the auspices of JOWMA.

As an observant Jew with a Bais Yaakov education, Kassai is blessed with supportive colleagues and, since joining private practice about five years ago, she has not worked on Shabbat. That ended on her November mission to Ichilov Hospital. When life is at stake, violating Shabbat is not merely optional, but required by Jewish law. For her part, Kassai put in a full shift on Shabbat.

Something Kassai wants to make sure people are aware of is how to interpret news updates about injured IDF soldiers. Critical injuries we know are critical, but if a soldier is “only” moderately injured perhaps we think “Thank G-d he’ll be alright.” In reality, Kassai says, a moderately injured could have lost a leg and be unable to walk the rest of their life. Only because their condition is stable and they’re not at risk of losing their life or additional limbs, is it deemed moderate. In reality, it’s anything but moderate.

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Rabbi Chaim Goldberg has semicha from RIETS and a graduate degree in child clinical psychology from Hebrew University. Aside from practicing psychology and teaching Torah at various yeshivot/seminaries, he runs Mussar Links, a non-profit dedicated to publishing the Torah writings of Rabbi Hillel Goldberg.