Oct 24, 2018  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Blueprint Negev,

Medical pair spends vacation sharing expertise in Israel's desert

(L-R) Central Arava Resource Development Associate Samatha Levy,
 nurse Annette Vaccaro, Dr. Dana Sless, and JNF Central Arava liaison Noa Zer,
 following a lecture on early childhood development.

While many would choose to use their vacation time to go to Europe or lounge on a beach, one medical duo decided to head to Israel's desert and give back.

Dr. Dana Sless, who specializes in pediatric and adolescent health care in Atlantic City, NJ, and nurse Annette Vaccaro, based in Troy, NY, went deep in the heart of the sandy Central Arava, a region that sits between the Dead Sea and Eilat along the Jordanian border and is home to some 8,700 people. They spent a week giving lectures and seminars at Jewish National Fund's Danielle A. and Irving J. Grossman Arava Medical Center.

Sless -- whose Atlantic County practice is committed to all stages of parenthood, child development, and adolescent wellness -- came across an article in JNF's B'Yachad magazine last year featuring Dr. Rivki Ofir, one of the principal researchers at JNF's Central Arava Research and Development Center, and felt immediately drawn to the magic of this tranquil, close-knit community community. At the center, biologists are focused on finding cures for cancer, Alzheimer's, and ALS.

"I've always felt a sense of connection to my Jewish heritage, and a particularly close connection to Israel," Sless said following a powerful and emotional week in the Arava. "This is the type of giving back I had wanted to do my entire life, and if I don’t do it now, then when?"

Dr. Sless giving a talk in the Arava.
The new medical center has been a source of renewed spirit for the growing community. 

In 2017, it recorded over 10,800 general and 4,410 specialist visits or medical attention. Alongside the medical center, the Nancy Simches Emergency Response Center is in the final stages of construction and will serve as a headquarters to respond to major events, like the seasonal flooding that claimed 10 young lives last spring.

“The nurses here are phenomenal and the residents are some of the kindest, most amazing people I’ve met in my life," said Sless, but added that pediatric care in the region is still being developed. Sless and Vaccaro spent their vacation providing courses on nutrition, vaccination safety, and childhood development, and sharing tips on adolescent mental and emotional health. 

“They really created a buzz around health, and helped stimulate more questions about health care among our people here,” said Noa Zer, JNF's Central Arava liaison. “This stems from the connection of the Jewish people and the people in Israel. Everyone instantly felt this link. It’s the people-to-people interaction and aspect of understanding that somebody is giving their personal time and experience to help our mishpacha (family).”