Lauren Winkler died Sunday evening in an private jet crash at Santa Monica Airport described by investigators as unsurvivable. Lauren was a fundraiser and executive for an organization called Save A Child's Heart, which provided free open-heart surgery in Israeli hospitals for children from Africa and the Middle East.
She was 28 years old.
The children Lauren's organization serves come to Israel from 45 countries, with every conceivable heart ailment; some congenital and some induced by war. These are Syrian children, Palestinian children, Jordanian children, and children from other nations whose governments remain in a state of war with Israel and who reject the notion of a Jewish state.
The statistics are, well, heart-warming. According to Save A Child's Heart's website, "Approximately 50 percent of the children are from the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Morocco; more than 30 percent are from Africa; and the remaining are from Asia, Eastern Europe and the Americas. The annual number of children treated by SACH has grown dramatically from 48 cases in 1996 to 298 in 2012.."
The Syrian children have to fly to Istanbul and then double back to Tel Aviv because Syria does not permit direct flights, even missions of mercy, to Israel.
Palestinian children can make it to the Wolfson hospital in Holon, Israel, where everyone from neonatal heart surgeons to the nursing staff donate their services, in 90 minutes. Even during the worst of the Katyushka missile campaigns against the Israeli communities abutting Gaza, the ambulances kept bringing the children to Holon.
Currently, 20 Palestinian doctors are receiving free training in heart surgery through the program. They don't want their names in the paper because any current or future Palestinian government could view their training as collaboration with the Zionist enterprise, and they and their families would be killed.
Save A Child's Heart also sends physicians on missions to poor countries, to train local doctors in heart care.
According to the Santa Monica Mirror:
"Lauren had been traveling to Idaho for the weekend with her boyfriend, his father, and another woman," the website said. "Her boyfriend's father, a business owner and an accomplished pilot, had been at the controls, when The Citation II suddenly skidded off the runway after landing and crashed into a hangar, which collapsed on the jet, causing an instantaneous fireball that immediately killed all passengers. Since flight manifests for private aircraft do not require the names of the passengers, Lauren's father Gary and her mother Carole remained in an agonizing limbo state for hours, and then two whole days, while the coroner's office matched dental records with the bodies removed from the jet."
Gary Winkler is one of my closest friends. We've sat next to each other in synagogue on Sabbath and during Jewish holidays pretty much every week for the last nine years. Gary runs his own business, an ice cream company, and frequently donates dessert (for 300) to the synagogue. They have three sons and three grandchildren.
Lauren was unmarried.
At Save A Child's Heart, Lauren oversaw the fundraising, arranged more than 3,000 visits to the Wolfson Medical Center and the SACH House in Holon, and coordinated the volunteers and interns in the program.
And now for a little Jewish history. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. The Jews of that day had brought that tragic loss upon themselves, the Talmud recounts, because of the senseless hatred to which they subjected one another.
The only cure for senseless hatred, the authors of the Talmud agreed, was senseless love.
Save A Child's Heart demonstrates what is possible when love replaces hate and service replaces suspicion.
Lauren's death reminds us, as the Talmud also tells us, that our days are numbered and we don't know how long we'll be here. But while we're here, we're meant to love and serve one another.
No matter what one's politics or religion.
Especially when we're talking about children.
Please join me in learning more about Save A Child's Heart, and please pass this message along to your network. Lauren's great heart has stopped beating, but thanks to her and people like her, and the surgeons and the nurses and the volunteers and the organizers, all unpaid, thousands of tiny hearts beat on.