Albert Einstein … Jonas Salk … Hadassah Medical Organization …
The 2017 recipient of the Alpha Omega (AO) International Jewish International Dental Fraternity Achievement Medal Award will be joining illustrious company.
And not only is Amid L. Ismail, Temple University’s dean of the Kornberg School of Dentistry, joining that company, he’s also making history as the first Muslim to be so honored.
“It’s a big deal because Alpha Omega is a group of Jewish dentists recognizing someone who’s not Jewish for the service they provide to all people,” said Ismail, who’ll receive the award at AO’s April 20 annual dinner at the National Museum of American Jewish History. “That’s including my efforts on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to bring them together.
“It’s a big deal because it really simplifies humanity. But I was doing what I’m doing not seeking awards.”
Ismail said he grew up in a country where Jews were respected and all ethnicities were treated with dignity. At least until he left Iraq to go to school in 1979 and Saddam Hussein rose to power.
“You’re talking about a country with long history of Jews and Muslims working together,” said Ismail, who’s never been back, though he has two older brothers still living there. “I never heard anything negative back then. My parents were very open about all people.
“This was Babylonia. I came from a country where Jews were there before any other group.”
Perhaps that’s what’s driven his efforts to work with Jewish organizations in so many directions. It ranges from running a free dental clinic for Holocaust survivors at KleinLife in the Northeast; to serving on the council of the American Friends of DVI, which sponsors dental volunteers for a children’s clinic in Israel; to his work with AJC’s Circle of Friends, which promotes open dialogue between Muslims and Jews.
But his main focus has been the Alliance for Oral Health Across Borders, which brings together students from The Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine in Israel and the Palestinian Al-Quds University School of Dentistry.
“A lot of people don’t do what I’m doing,” said Ismail, who said he’s made a donation toward repairing the damaged headstones at Mount Carmel Cemetery and spoke about his visit to Toledo, Spain, where he said Jews once played a pivotal role translating Arabic manuscripts into Latin, before they were forced out during the Inquisition. “I don’t shy away from bringing Israelis and Palestinian together.
“Once a year, we bring them here. They don’t know each other, but they actually get along. We did this in collaboration with a lot of parties, so I was building on something that already existed. All I did was take a tree and plant it here.
“The tree didn’t start with me. I expanded it. I’m good with Israelis. Very good with Palestinians, so I’m a bridge between them.”
Not to mention a worthy award recipient, according to an AO official.
“Not only has he had extensive achievement in regard to dental research, but what really stands out about him is his heart,” said Marc Rothman, former chair of the Alpha Omega Foundation, which dedicated a Tree of Peace sculpture to Temple’s dental school in 2012. “He has the ability to see the humanity in each individual and establish collaboration for greater understanding between people of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.
“This is a 110-year-old Jewish organization founded to combat discrimination giving our award for the first time to a Muslim. Considering the state of the world we’re in, that’s quite an achievement.”
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