Dassel dentist honored in Israel for volunteer work

April 14, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Dr. John C. Bengston, a dentist from Dassel, was honored March 24 in Jerusalem, Israel, for his many years of volunteering at a free dental clinic for poor children there.

Bengston and his wife, Clarice, have made 19 volunteer trips to work at the clinic for children ages 5 to 18.

“God has given Clarice and me a special love for Israel and the Jewish people. Isaiah 40 states, ‘Comfort ye, O comfort ye my people, sayeth your God.’ This verse has special meaning for us, and we consider it a great privilege to have been able to minister to the dental needs of many of his beloved children,” Bengston said.

The Bengstons live in a home next to Lake Washington. Bengston practices dentistry in Fairfax.

Their son, Dr. David Bengston of Winthrop, is a dentist, too. He also has made two volunteer trips to the Trudi Birger’s Dental Clinic in Jerusalem, where his father volunteered.

At the ceremony, the mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, paid Bengston tribute, as did several other dignitaries from the clinic and dental school.

The free dental clinic where Bengston and his son volunteer is the only one of its kind in Israel. It is a state-of-the-art dental clinic with six dental units served by dental volunteers from 16 countries around the world. They treat the poor children of Jerusalem for free, regardless of the children’s religion or cultural background, whether Jewish or Palestinian.

“Many of these children are emigrants from Ethiopia, Russia and other countries who come with little more than the shirts on their back,” Bengston said.

A majority of the volunteers are non-Jews. They leave their own practices for one to four weeks at a time, travel at their own expense to Jerusalem, and live in rent-free apartments while there. More than 2,500 professionals have been recruited for this humanitarian project.

“All volunteers react to the program in the same way, feeling such satisfaction from their work, they actually receive more than they are giving,” according to the Dental Volunteers for Israel literature.

DVI officials consider Bengston, his son, and the other volunteers, “true heroes;” hence the award.

The clinic where Bengston worked was founded by Trudi Birger in 1980. She was a Holocaust survivor. At the concentration camp at Stuttof, “facing horrors of the gas chambers, she promised God if he would spare her and her mother, she would spend the rest of her life helping poor children,” Bengston said.

Birger and her mother both lived to see liberation from the death camps. Unfortunately, Birger died in 2002. Her life and legacy live on, however, in the clinic that serves more than 10,000 children a year, Bengston said.

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