San Francisco, Summer 2012

So let me get this straight, my physician friend, a native Israeli, asked. “Life is good here. You have the job of your dreams. Your family lives here in the US. And you are choosing to move to Israel. but….why?”

The coffee line at the hospital cafeteria was not the ideal place to start reciting the Aliyah brochure stuff, like returning to our ancient inheritance, raising my children as proud Jews in the Jewish homeland,  and being an actor rather than spectator, during this dynamic time in Jewish history.  Nor was I prepared to do so in a manner that does not give off the impression of self-righteousness and condescension, an inherent risk of any Aliyah discussion with other Jews in the Disapora. Thankfully,  it was my turn to order coffee and the conversation died there. I assume my friend just dismissed my decision as another one of those crazy, logic defying  things done by the guys wearing skullcaps.

I also did not have a prepared reply in the midst of the emotional tsunami walking off of our aliyah flight at Ben Gurion. One of the press photographers pulled me aside on the tarmac, and asked very earnestly, “so really, really, why did you come here?” This time,  there was no coffee escape, and not being blessed with a quick wit, I answered lamely, that I could not find any kosher shwarma in San Francisco.

Many complain that the Israeli health care system is marked by endless bureaucracy and frustrating wait times. This is at least partially true, and we need to do better. From the health provider side, we complain that earning potential is lower, often dramatically so, and we work many more hours with less ancillary support than we did outside of Israel. Also true for the most part.

But I have never been happier, or more fulfilled practicing medicine. Why?, my San Franciscan Israeli friend now asks (we’ve since lost touch) in an my mind’s conversation.

(Disclaimer: I am admittedly now violating Aliyah protocol, and about to commit the mortal sin of comparing life in Israel to that in the US.)

I am privileged to practice state of the art medicine using the latest and greatest tools of the trade, even in my costly, technology-dependent field.  And I am able to do it with skilled and professional colleagues in a supportive and collegial environment. So what? he challenges.  He gets to do the same, with spectacular views of the San Francisco bay from his office window.

Well, my friend. Do you have patients who bring you mishloach manot on Purim? Who ask for your Hebrew name so that they can give you a blessing in synagogue that week? Who are so immune to polite social discourse, that they say “who is this kid? where’s my doctor?”, to no one in particular, when I enter the room (I don’t have many grey hairs of yet).

Do you treat and work with, relatives of convicted terrorists? How about treating terror victims, or terrorists themselves? Do you have lunch with colleagues, and treat patients who live literally and figuratively, on the other side of a concrete barrier? Have you had patients who look at you with the suspicion and hatred born of a life-long indoctrination, only to shake your hand and manage an embarrassed smile afterward?

How about the elderly eastern European patient who assures you that the invasive procedure won’t bother her, because Hitler’s henchman numbed her to the concept of pain long ago. Or the Russian gentleman who worked so hard his whole life under such forbidding conditions, that I wonder if he is truly, biologically immune to the sensation of pain. Or the terminally ill Yemenite woman, in unspeakable discomfort, who asks if I know any eligible young men for her three beautiful, unmarried daughters.

Is your department New Year’s (Rosh Hashanah of course) party  inaugurated with words of Torah?, and not the watered down for public consumption,  amorphous, divorced from any religion, type of dvar Torah. But the genuine boring kind, given by a proud Jewish doctor, who believes that God’s word should accompany a public event in the Jewish nation, even though only a small percentage of the present crowd will relate to those words in any meaningful way.

So you see my San Franciscan friend. The tapestry of life in an Israeli hospital is so colorful, so exhilarating, so rewarding,  and so very saddening and frustrating. Its’ absolutely wonderful. I can’t say Israeli hospital life was on my list that summer day in San Francisco, but it is now.  We are one big, very dysfunctional family, and there is nothing like being with family.  And to our dear press photographer, I was disappointed to find no shwarma stand in the hospital, but the cafeteria shnitzel is not bad.