Helping Our Neighbors South of the Border

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Mexico’s Yad La Joleh Organization Reaches Out to the Community 

 

Ellen Geller Kamaras 

 

 

 

“He who saves a single life, saves the entire world.” (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:1) 

 

This ancient rabbinic teaching, expressing Judaism’s belief in the inestimable value of each and every human life, forms the foundation of  Yad La Joleh, a non-for-profit organization in Mexico City that helps Jewish patients find the right doctors, and also pays for their surgeries, prolonged cancer treatments, organ transplants, and expensive prescription medications. In many cases, the assistance given by this organization actually saves lives. 

 

“Yad La Joleh” means “hand to the sick,” and this is precisely what this organization has been doing since its founding in 2016 – extending a hand to the ill. The organization’s full name is “Yad La Joleh – Shaare Briut,” with the additional phrase “Shaare Briut,” which means “gates to health.” Yad La Joleh provides patients a “gateway” to health by lending them the assistance they need. 

  

Yad La Joleh’s stated mission is to save lives by helping its Jewish brothers and sisters with skyrocketing medical expenses. “Today, the needs are great. We receive tens of medical cases every month, and more when Covid hit. After the pandemic, the need grew. Many people lost their jobs and businesses. Medical and hospital costs keep increasing.”  

 

From the Jewelry Business to Fulltime Hesed 

 

Jews began immigrating to Mexico at the very end of the 19th century, beginning with a small group of Russian Jews, followed in the early 20th century by larger waves of  Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews from what is now Syria and the rest of the Ottoman Empire, which was in sharp decline. More Ashkenazic Jews arrived in Mexico after the Holocaust.  Thus, whereas Mexico’s 1900 census counted just 134 Jews, the country’s Jewish population now numbers approximately 50,000, with 98 percent of them living in Mexico City. Around half of Mexico City’s Jews are Syrian, with roots in Aleppo or Damascus, while 25 percent of them are Polish, 25 percent Turkish, and the rest originating from other regions. Ninety-seven percent of Mexican Jewish children attend Jewish day schools, and, fortunately, the intermarriage rate is very low (around just three percent).  A high percentage of Jewish Mexican students travel to Israel after graduating high school for a three-month experience known as Hagshama.  

 

One of the products of Mexico City’s Syrian-Jewish population is David Esquenazi, who went into the jewelry business. In 2016, a fellow Jew from Mexico City called him for a medical referral, knowing that David had dealt with a health issue in his family, over the course which he became well-acquainted with medical professionals. Over the next six months, other local Jews consulted with him, asking for referrals. One case that came to him involved a patient who could not afford the care he required. David stepped up to help by launching a fundraising campaign.  The publicity of the campaign caught the attention of not only donors, but also of people who needed assistance. More and more patients reached out for help.  

 

Recognizing the growing need, David trained his son, Leon, to assume his responsibilities in the jewelry business, so he could devote himself fully to his new project, which he named Yad La Joleh. 

 

The Struggle to Afford Quality Healthcare 

 

David explains that this organization is vitally important because most Jews in Mexico City don’t earn enough money to purchase private health insurance, and most who can buy health insurance policies cannot afford to pay the deductibles, which can be as high as $5,000 USD.  Moreover, not all services are not covered by health insurance plans. The average Mexican earns $2,000 a month, or $24,000 annually, and a basic health insurance policy – with limited coverage – for a family of four costs around $10,000. While it is true that the cost of living in Mexico is lower than in the U.S., no family can afford to spend over 50 percent of its gross income on insurance premiums and deductibles. 

 

Mexico does have a universal, public healthcare system, but David explains that it is sorely inadequate. Mexico’s health expenditure per capita lags behind that of other emerging economies in the region, averaging to around 1,154 U.S. dollars per person, per year.”  The effective access rate of public insurance in Mexico is approximately 50 percent.    

 

Additionally, David shared, Mexican Jews are reluctant to go to public hospitals. Patients in public hospitals sometimes sit for over 20 hours in an emergency room before a doctor or nurse sees them. Seeing a specialist can also be exceedingly difficult. 

 

Yad La Joleh has risen to the occasion, providing financial support to hundreds of patients with very serious illnesses. It is committed to continuing its vital work, helping to ensure the health and wellbeing of the Jewish community. 

 

On one occasion, Yad La Joleh helped an American citizen who suffered a stroke while visiting Mexico City. The patient had no insurance or money to pay for the hospital stay and surgeries. Yad La Joleh stepped in and took care of all the medical expenses, so that the man could return to the U.S. after over six months of treatments.  

 

The foundation currently has approximately 50 rollover cases that are open with an annual budget of $3 million a year. Some 850 people are enrolled in a private group health insurance plan through Yad La Joleh’s foundation. The organization strives to limit overhead costs as much as possible, with a paid staff consisting only of a secretary and someone responsible for collecting donations, in addition to the director, David Esquenazi. 

 

B”H, we make miracles happen,” David proudly says. “Somehow, we finish all the cases we take on.”   

 

In light of the Torah obligation to save human life, David does not refuse anyone who approaches Yad La Joleh for help. But for the organization to continue this policy, it needs more resources. 

 

“Unfortunately, we have reached our fundraising limit in Mexico,” David laments. “We now need to reach out to the U.S. and other countries to meet our annual budget.”  He has therefore decided to expand the organization’s fundraising on an international level, in order to meet Yad La Joleh’s annual budget of $3 million.  

 

His secondary goal, he says, is to raise funds for a cutting-edge, private Jewish hospital.  “The community would benefit greatly from a hospital with first-rate equipment, state-of-the-art facilities, and effective treatments at fair prices,” David explains.   

 

The hospital that David envisions will provide the highest-quality, most reliable medical care available 365 days a year. It will be equipped with the most up-to-date, cutting-edge equipment, state-of-the-art facilities, 32 patient rooms, and ample parking.  It will also have an emergency room, operating rooms, maternity wards, intensive care units, mid-therapy clinics, a research laboratory, a radiology department, a synagogue, and a kosher kitchen. 

 

The Rabbis’ Plea for Support 

 

Hagaon Rav David Shwekey, a highly-respected spiritual leader in both Mexico City and New York, is a dedicated advocate for Yad La Joleh.  He speaks of the outstanding work performed by the foundation in helping community members with serious and long-term illnesses.   

 

“Where there is a necessity, Yad La Joleh is there to help,” Rabbi Shwekey says.  “Whoever gives to help those in need, gains all the mitzvot.” 

 

Our very own esteemed Rabbi Eli Mansour, rabbi of the Edmond J Safra Synagogue in Brooklyn, was invited by David Esquenazi to speak on Hanukah in Mexico City in 2019. Rabbi Mansour described how he never travels on Hanukah, and always stays home to light the Menorah with his family, but he made an exception for the sake of helping the Yad La Joleh organization.  

 

To explain why he made this exception, the rabbi cited the famous rabbinic teaching that we bear an obligation to follow’s Gd’s example of loving kindness. Hashem provided Adam and Havah with clothing, visited Avraham Avinu when he was ill, and comforted Yitzhak when he was mourning – setting an example of kindness that we must emulate. As Rabbi Mansour discussed, this mitzvah is elaborated upon at great length by the famous kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (Safed, 1522-1570). The prophet Michah (7:18) describes Gd as “hafetz hesed – desiring of kindness,” and thus Gd loves people who act kindly as He does. Rabbi Mansour remarked that if Hashem loves hesed and people who do hesed, then Hashem must love David Esquenazi and his wife. Therefore, the rabbi said, he left New York on Hanukah to be close to people whom Hashem loves. 

 

Rabbi Mansour further noted that Hashem presented David with the opportunity to help people, assigning him this role. The rabbi also applauded Rabbi Shwekey for supporting David in his hesed work, and declared, “I came to ask people to help David help people in this community.” 

  

Based on the teachings of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1953), Rabbi Mansour noted the four exiles endured by the Jewish People – at the hands of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.  The first three, Rabbi Dessler explained, befell our nation on account of the three sins of murder, idol-worship and immorality, which were violated during the time of the first Bet Hamikdash.  But the fourth exile, which we still suffer to this day, is a result of the sins of sin’at hinam (baseless hatred) and lashon hara (negative speech about other people), which were rampant during the time of the Second Temple, and which plague us to this very day. The roots of this exile are found in the story of Yosef and his brothers, the paradigm of fraternal strife, of hatred and in-fighting among Am Yisrael. Our responsibility during this exile is to rectify this sin through loving kindness, by showing genuine concern and affection for all our fellow Jews. 

 

This process of rectification, Rabbi Mansour asserted, is being achieved by Yad La Joleh, which, beyond the vital charity work that it does, brings unity to the Jewish Nation by reaching out to all Jews of all backgrounds. These efforts, the rabbi said, will help bring our final redemption closer. 

 

“Helping Hashem Save a Life” 

 

David’s message to our community is to remember the timeless Jewish teaching, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh” – all Jews are responsible for one another.   

 

“The mission of the Jewish People,” he says, “is to model the example of unity and mutual responsibility. I have experienced good feelings in my lifetime, but none can compare to helping Hashem save a life, and being part of it.” David now invites the entire community to be part of this endeavor, by giving Yad La Joleh the resources it needs to continue its lifesaving work.
 

Yad La Joleh is a formal and legal not-for-profit organization recognized by the Mexican Federal authorities. It can provide an international tax- deductible receipt to donors.  For more information about Yad La Joleh, or to become a partner in its programs, please visit www.YadLajoleh.org, or contact David Esquenazi at david@yadlajoleh.com, or at +525549406943 (phone and WhatsApp). 

 “He is from another world” – Testimonials from Yad La Joleh Recipients 

 

The stories told by Mexico City Jews who have received assistance from Yad La Joleh speak for themselves.  

 

“A sick person cannot wait for medical attention; a medical emergency can occur at any time, and no one is exempt. We called Senor David, and he said: Let’s see how we can help you.” 

 

“One night, my dad had back pain, and he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. He had a terrible infection around his neck, was intubated and in a coma. David helped him. He is from another world.” 

 

“I had an aortic aneurysm and then got cataracts in my eyes. Yad La Joleh paid for my surgeries, and David became an ambassador of my health.” 

 

“I was doing laundry on the third floor. I fell and was hospitalized for three months.  All my surgeries were supported by Yad La Joleh.” 

 

“I had a heart attack in the middle of the night, and I didn’t have health insurance. I called David, and in two minutes, he had everything solved. When the ambulance’s doors opened, five doctors were waiting to help me. There are many people who are alive thanks to David.” 

 

“I had breast and thyroid cancer in 2020. My cousin suggested I call David, and since day one, he has been helping me. I’m so grateful to Hashem for putting David in my path. May Gd bless you, Mr. David, for your labor and all the things you do. Thanks to you, we are alive and healthy. You are an exceptional human being. We have eternal gratitude.” 

 

“Our newborn son wasn’t breathing. David helped us. We named our baby after David, and made Mr. David my son’s sandak.” 

 

“By the end of July, I got notice that I have breast cancer. David helped me and saved my life.” 

 

“My cousin had a pair of clots. The doctor said it was an emergency, and David helped us. His instant response is worth gold.” 

 

“For me, Mr. David is not human. He is an angel. I wish there were more people like him.” 

 

“Please keep helping Mr. David. He is helping people whose lives are in danger.”