By Paul Levy

First Posted at Not Running a Hospital on 3/22/2013

Paul Levy, Host of (Not) Running a Hospital

Paul Levy, Host of (Not) Running a Hospital

This is a story about the power of social media.

Boaz Tamir owes his eyesight to Henry Kissinger.  Wait, I am getting ahead of myself.

Many of you were moved by my story of the young Israeli tank commander who was blinded during the 1973 war on the Golan Heights, whose eyesight was restored by a young woman doctor, and who–40 years later–wanted to say thank you to that doctor.  I had persuaded Boaz Tamir that telling the story on the web would lead us to the doctor.  He was doubtful.  But then the story went viral. Dozens of people retweeted it on Twitter:

Others linked to the story on Facebook and Google+, and several folks wrote blogs about it.

A few weeks later, Boaz heard from the director general of the Poriya Hospital in Tiberias, where he had had the eye surgery.  Folks at the hospital had seen the story, and they were about to search for his medical records.  The records were found, even containing drawings of the eye injuries.

But the records did not contain the doctor’s name.  The mystery persisted until this week, when Yedioth Ahronoth, the most widely read Israeli newspaper, prompted by the hospital’s public affairs department, set forth the story:

Rough translation:

Looking for the “white angel.” 
After 40 years, Dr. Boaz Tamir is looking for the doctor who returned his vision after the Yom Kippur War. 

He has a Ph.D. in Economics and Administration from a prestigious university in the United States, five children and a successful international company for rehabilitation patients who were in crisis management. Yet Dr. Boaz Tamir, 60, will not feel happy until he meets the doctor who gave him back his sight 40 years ago.

In the Yom Kippur War, the tall armored battalion deputy commander of Brigade 188 battles waged the containment of the southern Golan Heights. “In one of the battles I took shrapnel in the eye because my upper body was outside the tank,” he recalls.”I asked my soldiers for water to wash the eyes because I thought it was sand, but after a few minutes I realized I had lost my sight.”


Poriya Hospital in Tiberias  was closest, and he was rushed to the eye department. “I went blind and I remember turning to my doctor who spoke English–American and possibly South African. She told me she was a volunteer and told me she would see me. After three surgeries I could see.  I alerted the driver of my jeep and escaped from the hospital to go straight back to fighting, without ever taking leave of the doctor who saved my eyes.”

Dr. Luba Vainshel, who still lives in the area, read this story and said to herself, “I was there.  I did that.  But I am not an American.  I am a Russian.”  She contacted the publisher of the newspaper, who made the contact with Boaz.  The two met yesterday, 40 years later.  She recognized him right away and said, “You were so tall and thin then!”  He replied, “Well, I am still tall!”

Luba and Boaz review his medical records

Boaz had thought Luba was American because they spoke English to each other.  Not so.  She was a recent Russian immigrant, having arrived in Israel in 1972.  Her Hebrew was not good, and his Russian was non-existent, so they talked to each other in English!

So, how does Henry Kissinger fit it?  In 1972, Russia’s wheat crop failed, and the country sought assistance from the United States to avoid starvation.  Kissinger agreed to help, but he extracted some conditions.  One of those was that a number of refuseniks, Luba and her husband among them, would be permitted to leave the country and go to Israel.

The two young people objected, saying they had not yet finished their medical training.  Couldn’t they stay a bit longer?  “You either leave now, or you will never get to leave,” was the answer.  They left with nothing and arrived in Israel.  Luba was assigned to Poriya hospital to carry out her internship.  The next year, at age 25, she operated on Boaz in the company of her chief of service.  (That person, Shoshana Barkai, was trained at Hadassah Medical Center and is now 90 years old.)

I know I speak for Boaz and Luba when I say thank you to the hundreds of people who circulated this story throughout the world.  The fact that the two of them have lived about 40 miles apart is no reason to doubt the power of your involvement and interest. As you saw, they might as well have lived on the opposite sides of the world, given their probability of ever finding one another.  Now the former 20-year-old tank commander and the former 25-year-old intern and their families can recreate a friendship that was born in war and healing.  The two represent what was then the younger generation in Israel, a generation whose naive idealism kept a young country alive in the face of major errors by the senior leadership.  Perhaps the current generation will do the same.