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JDC doc will share Ethiopia experiences at Vanguard event
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JDC doc will share Ethiopia experiences at Vanguard event

Vanguard honoree Sandy Lenger interacts with children four years ago during a national federations’ mission to Ethiopia.
Vanguard honoree Sandy Lenger interacts with children four years ago during a national federations’ mission to Ethiopia.

A physician’s life-saving work in Ethiopia will be highlighted at the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County’s annual Vanguard celebration.

The Aug. 16 event at the East Brunswick home of Sharon Karmazin will feature Dr. Rick Hodes, medical director for Ethiopia of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The honorees will be longtime federation supporters Dr. Steven and Sandy Lenger of East Brunswick.

The Vanguard is for those who have given $5,000 or more to the federation’s annual campaign and is the kick-off for the fund-raising year; last year’s event brought in $1,158,407. This fiscal year closed on June 30, with a $2,165,579 total, down 2.28 percent from the previous year.

“Besides the fact that our Vanguard attendees are the strongest and most dependable federation supporters over the years, it gives us an opportunity to honor Steve and Sandy, who have contributed so much to the local and international community,” said event cochair Lee Livingston of East Brunswick.

The other cochair, Keith Zimmerman of Kendall Park, said support generated at this year’s event was especially important in light of the Middle East uprisings. Attending Vanguard “should energize the community to show our support for Israel,” he said. “With the economy in the state it’s in, fund-raising is a lot more difficult and the needs are greater.”

Hodes has spent more than 20 years in Ethiopia, handling the health needs of people about to make aliya. “At this moment, I am supervising a clinic that cares for well over 5,000 potential immigrants to Israel,” said Hodes in an e-mail interview with NJJN. He said he will tell the Vanguard attendees about his and JDC’s work in Ethiopia. “We also build schools, dig wells, give scholarships to girls, and support Gondar Medical College,” he said.

The JDC is a partner of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Hodes was the subject of an HBO documentary, Making the Crooked Straight, and the new book This is a Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes. Last year, Diane Sawyer singled the doctor out as “Person of the Week” on ABC World News Tonight and he has been cited as a CNN “Hero.”

Hodes also serves as senior consultant at a Catholic mission started by Mother Teresa, helping poor people suffering from heart disease, spine issues, and cancer. He said he began as a volunteer with the Catholic mission but is now part of the “official” nonsectarian JDC project.

Hodes has raised money on his own to send more than 60 Ethiopian children abroad for corrective surgery and has adopted five of the orphans he has taken into his home.

“Just yesterday I got three new patients needing amputations of their legs for cancer,” said Hodes. “That procedure will be done at a local hospital, and I will give them chemotherapy at the mission.”

Hodes said he had come to know the Lengers through their work with the federation and said it would be a “special treat to help honor Steve and Sandy.”

Sandy Lenger is a federation vice president and has held many other leadership posts, while Steven has been a longtime supporter. A recently retired gastroenterologist, Steven said he hopes to volunteer with Hodes in Africa. The Lengers were interviewed just before leaving on a federation mission to Russia.

“The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County has been such an important part of our lives because of its effective support of Jewish education and social service delivery locally and worldwide and the role it plays in bringing Jews together,” said Sandy, a nurse who went on an Ethiopian mission four years ago.

She said she had met Hodes many times and found they have something else in common: Both are graduates of Syosset High School on Long Island.

“They call Rick ‘the Mother Teresa of Ethiopia,’” said Sandy. “He has saved countless lives. Rick Hodes is an amazing human who gave up everything to devote his life to these people.”

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