Healing Hands: ER Doctor Leads $1.1M Aid Mission to Israel

From meeting the President of Israel to spontaneously funding the weddings of 10 IDF soldiers, a group of American professionals came to Israel for one reason: to make a difference.

By Ryan Torok



A South Florida emergency room physician recently partnered with Jewish National Fund-USA to organize the group’s inaugural Brotherhood Mission to Israel, supporting communities impacted by the Hamas terrorist attacks on October 7.



Nearly 40 participants, many from South Florida, collectively raised $1.1 million from friends, family, and community members to help rebuild the Israel Envelope (formerly known as the Gaza Envelope), bestow acts of kindness upon the people of Israel, and provide for their immediate and long-term needs.


The seven-day mission brought together men of diverse professional backgrounds from across the country to Israel during a moment widely considered among the most challenging in the Jewish State’s 75-year history.



“The trip was very somber, but it was much more inspiring than it was sad,” Dr. Steven H. Katz, a Delray Beach, Florida, resident who organized and led the mission said in a recent interview. “It showed you the resilience of the Jewish people, especially those living in Israel. We didn’t see tears being shed. We saw amazing resilience and a lot of people talking about strength and unity.”


Dr. Katz is Chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Memorial Hospital West in South Florida. As a major donor to Jewish National Fund-USA, a philanthropist, and a supporter of Israel, Katz felt compelled to visit the Jewish homeland and support its people following one of the most heinous attacks to occur in the country’s history. The father of five was open to serving in any capacity. He just wanted to help.



“I felt this compulsion to go,” he said. “But I had nothing organized. I had no plan.”


Katz recruited friends for the trip, including co-workers at his hospital. If they showed interest but had questions such as, “Where will we be staying?” Katz told them to have faith it would come together.



“I said, ‘Don't worry! If you need to know, you're the wrong guy for the trip. You’ll know when we get there. All we're doing is acts of chesed—loving kindness. And we're going to raise money for Jewish charities.”


During a typical day of the mission that began at 6 a.m. and ended around 10 p.m., the acts of “chesed” were aplenty.



The men visited a moshav (Israeli village) that was targeted during Hamas’ attack, and they provided $175,000 toward a new daycare center while laying a cornerstone for the new facility.


In the religious moshav of Shokeda, which was evacuated after Oct. 7, they partnered with Jewish National Fund-USA affiliate HaShomer HaChadash to hang zucchini on a farm —essential work that requires help from volunteers because of the labor shortage, and that will help prevent a food crisis.


In the Gaza border community of Shlomit, they welcomed home one of the first groups of evacuees to return since Oct. 7.



The group visited the site of the Nova music festival massacre, met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, and barbecued with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers. Along the way, they paid for a large multi-family wedding for 10 IDF soldiers who were married at the same time, under 10 different chuppahs, attended by 2,000 people. They visited Soroka Hospital, where they gave patients iPads. In their hotel in the country’s south, they threw a pizza party for displaced people from the north.


Each participant had a $5,900 fundraising minimum to join the mission, but each far exceeded that goal. The original collective fundraising goal was approximately $200,000.


“Every dollar, every shekel raised, is being left in the land of Israel,” Katz said.


Jewish National Fund-USA facilitated the seven-day mission through its Travel and Tours department (jnf.org/travel), which organizes missions, tours, and volunteer experiences in Israel.



The group’s participants were multi-denominational and included those who identified as Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. While their level of observance differed, they were bonded by their shared sense of mission, said Mark Cantor, 55, a trial lawyer from Missouri.


“When Israel is under attack, Hamas doesn’t ask if you’re Conservative, Orthodox, or Reform,” said Cantor. “I was impressed with the group because regardless of what your level of religion was, you felt comfortable and included.”



Katz and Cantor originally met about five years ago during a wedding in Florida. Cantor didn’t know anybody at the wedding but sat at a table with other pro-Israel guests. The two quickly bonded, and when it came time for Katz to find men for this mission, reaching out to Cantor was a no-brainer.


While 25 of the group’s participants work as physicians, there were also lawyers, business owners, insurance and real estate professionals, a school safety advocate, and a general contractor.



And while many of the people on his trip were from the South Florida area, several men were from New York; two—including Cantor, who brought along a friend from Missouri, Richard Wolkowitz—were from St. Louis; and one was even from Puerto Rico.


Though most of the participants didn’t know each other before the start of the mission, you’d never know it. By the second day, they were calling each other “brother” and referring to one another by their Hebrew names. For some of the guys, Katz said, they had never used their Hebrew names before in their entire lives.



“It was a true brotherhood mission,” Katz said. “It was like a Chabad house. Everybody was from a different walk of life, and everybody was fully accepting and kind to each other. It was amazing.”


Katz emphasized the importance of recruiting more people for future Brotherhood trips. One is set for February 2025, and the goal is to bring 60 men and raise $2.5 million—to foster a stronger sense of Jewish identity, community, and connection to Israel.


Asked if that means they’ll try to get two buses for next year’s Brotherhood Mission to Israel, Cantor was unequivocal: “We’re not going to try,” he said. “We are.”


“This trip was about giving back,” Cantor continued. “It wasn't sightseeing, it wasn't, ‘Let’s go on tours.’ This was all about helping. You know, that's a meaningful trip, and it bonds you with people who are like-minded and doing it with you. So, I'll be friends with these guys forever.”


Since October 7, Jewish National Fund-USA has sent over 3,500 participants on its Volunteer in Israel Missions, with volunteer missions scheduled through December 2024. For more information about a Volunteer Mission or to participate in the next Brotherhood Mission to Israel, visit jnf.org/volunteeril, email travel@jnf.org, or call 877.563.8687.


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