DENVER dentist Dr. Arlene Stein arrived in Israel on July 11 to spend two weeks volunteering at the Trudi Birger Dental Clinic in Jerusalem, through Dental Volunteers for Israel (DVI).
DVI provides free dental care and oral health education to thousands of needy children in Jerusalem every year, regardless of race and religion.
Holocaust survivor Trudi Birger suffered greatly as a child during WW II.
At that time she vowed to help prevent the suffering of other children if she should survive.
As a successful microbiologist in Israel, she began to fulfill that vow, working with needy children.
Birger soon identified dental problems as a common cause of terrible suffering of impoverished children.
In 1980, when the Israeli government cut dental care from public health programs, she found her cause.
Birger established Dental Volunteers for Israel that year and oversaw the organization for the remainder of her life.
Inspired by Birger’s devotion to Jerusalem’s children and by the rewards of working in the clinic, the volunteer dentists from around the world picked up where Birger left off.
The Birger clinic provides critical services to the poverty stricken communities of Jerusalem. With a total population of a 800,000, Jerusalem has over 200,000 children and youth living under the poverty line.
Volunteer dentists from around the world, together with their Israeli colleagues, perform between 1,000 and 1,200 treatments each month.
In 2013, 124 volunteer dentists from around the world performed 13,000 treatments, helping thousands of needy Jerusalem children stay in school.
During the past 34 years, over 4,500 dentists have volunteered through Dental Volunteers for Israel.
STEIN first got involved with Dental Volunteers for Israel (DVI) based on the recommendation of a former professor.
She volunteered the first time in 2011, and has come back with the program every year since.
Dr. Stein said, “It’s all great when I’m here. I love the people I work with, and the patients are terrific.”
Dentists from around the world have a loyalty to Jerusalem and Israel that goes beyond the dental work.
In Stein’s case, she made the decision to continue with her volunteer work in spite of war, Operation Protective Edge.
On July 12, her second day in Israel, Stein was on a beach in Tel Aviv after an enjoyable meal when she heard a loud collision in the sky above.
She stood up to join a crowd of onlookers as they watched three missiles shot from the Gaza Strip shoot across the sky. During the following half hour period, Stein witnessed the Iron Dome, the Israeli air defense system, intercept each of the three missiles.
It was “amazing,” she said.
According to Stein, bright flashes of light were expelled from the intercepted missiles, followed several seconds later by a big “boom!”
The incident did not deter Stein from her service. In fact, she talked about the confidence that the experience instilled in her.
“I’ve heard of the Iron Dome intercepting missiles, but seeing it happen before my eyes reassured me that the situation can be controlled.”
She headed back to the apartment in which she was staying in the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem to continue her dental work.
Volunteer dentists come to know Jerusalem better than most tourists and help improve the quality of life in the Holy City’s neighborhoods that are caught in a cycle of poverty.
Though Israel is currently experiencing some disharmony and unrest, Dr. Stein’s volunteer work has contributed to a broader sense of unity for the nation.
“I get to help youth disease — in fact, 80% of all cavities occur in just 25% of kids,” says Stein.
The level of dental decay in kids who come to the volunteer dentists is shocking to these dentists. Lack of access to dental care directly affects the matriculation and academic success of low-income children, and is directly tied to the cycle of poverty.
Those children living below the poverty line have problems with their teeth due to poor diet, lack of oral hygiene habits, inability to access regular dental treatment or unawareness of the importance of such treatment and prevention.
More children arrive at the clinic every year seeking care.
“We provide dental care in an apolitical way, as we treat both Arab and Israeli children,” Stein says.
“It’s a small way that I can help Israel.”
Jenna Erickson is a student at Brigham Young University, who plans to attend dental school and is a volunteer with Dental Volunteers for Israel.