Dr. Jeff Cahn from Stamford, Connecticut, recently volunteered in Israel’s only free dental clinic — Dental Volunteers for Israel (DVI). He was able to treat quite a few patients and had some interesting experiences.
One of Dr. Cahn’s patients, Bar, is an 18 year old young woman who was referred to DVI by the social worker from Kidum L’noar (the municipal social welfare department working with youth-at-risk). She is the eighth of 11 children and is in contact only with her grandmother. Her mother doesn’t even recognize her when she stops by. Bar’s father throws her out of the house if he is home when she comes to visit and yells at her that she needs to work. She spoke fondly of the delicious food she eats when she goes to visit her grandmother occasionally for Shabbat. Bar has been out of the house since the age of nine and reported that her siblings are all in various dormitories. She lives in a shelter in town. The group apartment is closed during the day so she often wanders the streets of Jerusalem during the daylight hours and begs for money. That is how she put together bus fare to arrive at the DVI clinic for her treatments. She has had cavities filled and root canal treatments here in addition to x-rays, oral hygiene, etc. Bar is in a difficult situation and the fact that she even managed to make it to the clinic was a major accomplishment. The staff at DVI will continue not only to treat her dental problems but to encourage her as well.
Another of Dr. Cahn’s patients, Yehuda, is from a family that was not always so low income. The Haimoff family first became patients of DVI when their oldest daughter went through a difficult time and rebelled against her religious lifestyle. Categorized as a “youth-at-risk,” this child became a patient at DVI and wreaked havoc on the family. False allegations of abuse were raised and to this day the family is still dealing with residual legal fall out. This daughter has since then adopted a more modern religious lifestyle and is now happily married and a mother of one. She is in close contact with her family and regrets having caused them so much anguish.
Approximately two years ago, Mrs. Haimoff, who was the office manager for a legal office that represents battered women, suddenly took ill. This high energy mother of six was suddenly unable to function. She was in extreme pain and totally bedridden. Diagnosed with fibromyalgia, Mrs. Haimoff spent three months in bed and in pain. Doctors were eventually able to find the right cocktail of medications to get her out of bed, however she now lives with chronic intense pain that doesn’t allow her to do anything but the bare minimum. Just accompanying Yehuda to dental appointments is a stretch and challenge, however with her positive attitude and personal determination one would never know.
Mrs. Haimoff noted how special DVI is. She described DVI’s warmth and genuine concern for their patients in conjunction with the high level of dental care her children have received. Another important point she made note of was how quickly appointments can be made and how she can always bring her children in for a first aid appointment if they are in pain. The Haimoff children have a variety of treatments at DVI, from general check-ups, x-rays and oral hygiene treatments, to having cavities filled, root canals and extractions performed.
This was Dr. Cahn’s first time volunteering at DVI. He traveled to Israel with his wife and Chaya, her husband and three young children. Chaya and family are planning to make aliyah this summer to Ramat Beit Shemesh. The Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut has partnered with Dental Volunteers for Israel, and truly, the western Connecticut Jewish community is having an incredible impact on the lowest income families in Jerusalem. Which is important—because out of a total population of 830,000 people in Jerusalem, there are 200,000 youth and 30,000 elderly under the poverty line. The value of the treatment DVI provided to youth alone in 2018 was $1,087,333 and the total value of treatment provided for the elderly was $382,611 —though the organization’s total cash expenditures were only $590,328. Thanks to volunteers like Dr. Cahn and donated materials and supplies, support from western Connecticut helped DVI treat 2,709 needy youth and 141 needy elderly and survivors in 2018 alone.
According to Dr. Cahn, “I can’t imagine a more rewarding experience. Nothing can beat the feeling of working to help young people recover their oral health — especially in this region where children experience so much suffering.”