A Surgeon’s Journey Back Home to Israel

Pelta Family History

It has now been 2 years since we made Aliyah! Seems like we just arrived.  On July 23, 2014 (15th of Av left the USA) the Pelta family including 7 children 2 adults made Aliyah to Israel from Atlanta Georgia USA on the 49th flight of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Our oldest child Avigayil was 11 years old and our youngest was Ayalet age 2 months ! What made us leave our established home and lifestyle in the USA to start from the beginning in Israel?

The Pelta family traces its history back to Cordoba Spain. Like most Jews we ended up in Spain after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash in Israel. We were Sephardim who were tailors expert in making fur coats, according the oral history from my grandfather Yehuda Leib Pelta. Our name comes from our tradition of being tailors who made “Pelz” or fur coats. In 1492 on the 9th of Av the Pelta family left with the expulsion of the Jewish community. We most probably went to Portugal and then ended up in Amsterdam. From there my family moved to Koinsky Poland where they remained until World War II.

In the 1930s one of the Pelta’s left for Palestine and built kvar Bilu in Rehovot. She married her name changed to Matz. The Matz family had a farm and were part of the pioneers in building Rehovot. This same family married into the Margolin family who were part of the Palmach and founded Moshav Tel Adashim in the North. They were instrumental in fighting for the city of Tzfat and also the first members of Shayetet in the early days of the IDF.

My Grandparents Yehuda(Leon) Pelta and Shifra Jeurkowitz ran away from Koinskie before impending Nazi invasion. They sought refuge in the USSR Samarkand.   At the end of the war my father Yakov Pelta was born in 1945. They returned to konskie Poland only to find that they neighbors had moved into their house. A pogrom ensued and may returning Jews were murdered by the Poles who were upset that the Nazis did not complete their “job”. My Grandfather was spared by signed over his rights to his property under duress of sure death. They realized that similar to Spain, the Pelta family history in Poland had come to an end. Soon thereafter the Peltas were granted asylum to Sweden. However, this was with the understanding they would not be Swedish citizens but refugees.

My grandparents and father moved to Stockholm Sweden. Leon Pelta got established as a tailor, just as all the Peltas had always been. My Aunt Esther was born during this time. They contemplated moving to the new state of Israel in 1948. However, family in Israel discouraged them saying life was hard and for a tailor or find meaningful work was not possible. Thus they gave up the idea of Aliyah at that time. In 1951 my grandparents with my father Jacob and Aunt Esther moved to San Franciso USA. We were always taught from a young age that our ultimate home is not in the USA but Israel. My grandparents were ardent supporters of Israel and gave many donations to Hadassah Medical Center, Amit women, Boys Town Yerushalyim, JNF and many other Israeli institutions.

On my mother’s side of the family they were from Romania. My Grandfather Nicholas Farkash survived the Holocaust after being in a forced labor camp. My Grandmother Helen (Weiss) was an Auschwitz survivor. Mengele separated her from her parents who were sent to the gas chambers because she had “Aryan” features of blue eyes. They remained in Rumania after the war until 1967 when life was unbearable and my grandfather was tortured by the Communists. The Sochnut helped my grandparents my mother Eva and her two brothers leave Romania with plans to make Aliyah. They were resettled in Italy for a year waiting for visas to Israel. In the meantime the USA embassy was allowing in immigrants so my grandparents changes their Aliyah plans and moved to Brooklyn New York.

My grandparent’s relatives who survived the Holocaust made Aliyah after the war. The Weiss family moved to Bnei Brak when it was still sand dunes. They lived in tents, had a farm and eventually built houses on the edge of the city of Bnei Brak. They and their children fought in all the wars of Israel and served in the IDF. We also had relative Duvid and his son Volvie Farkash that made Aliyah from Romania and established their family in Kiryat Gat to this day.

In 1991 after I graduated high-school I came Israel to learn in Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim in Moshav Beit Meir for one year. From that time I fell in love with the land of Israel hiking the hills of Harei Yehudah. During that time I volunteered for the IDF in a program called “Shomer Yisrael” course Rovai II. I did my training in Basis Beit Guvrin and served in IDF bases in Yoffo located at Yefet 11 and near the Abu Kabir prison. My plan was to volunteer in a machal unit with a Hesder yeshiva. However, since I was not in Hesder program that was not possible, so I returned to the USA to start my University Studies.

From 1991-1996 I studied at Yeshiva University in New York. The entire time I chose to be in a Hebrew language Gemarah shiur with Rav Meir Goldvicht from Kerem B’Yavneh. Is this way my plan was to continue learning Hebrew. Eventually I became the Israel Club President at Yeshiva University and all activities, speakers, and events like Yom Haazmaut was under organized by me. I graduated with a B.A. in Biology and was accepted to New York Medical College. However, I wanted to return to Israel, so I took off one year.

The years 1996-1997 I returned to learn in the Kollel of Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim. I was also the madrich of the yeshiva. At the end of the year I received Semicha in “Hilchot Shabbat” from the Rosh Kollel Rav Asher Balanson and the Rosh Hayeshiva Rav Chaim Sosevsky. During this same year my older brother Mordechai made Aliyah. He tried very hard to volunteer in the IDF, he only wanted to serve in a special forces unit. Eventually he did serve in sayeret Egoz. Unfortunately, he did not feel well accepted by the IDF and eventually left back to the USA.

I had an amazing year studying in Israel with plans to return once I finish my medical training. I started medical school at New York Medical College in 1997 and graduated in 2001. When I got married to my wife Alyssa on Chanukah 2000 is was with the understanding that we would eventually make Aliyah.

It took many years to complete my Surgical training. I spent five years of training at Long Island Jewish – North Shore Medical Center in New York. Then we moved to Atlanta Georgia to complete a one year fellowship in advanced Colon and Rectal Surgery at the Georgia Colon & Rectal Clinic. We stayed there for seven years. In the meantime we built a house and raised seven children: Avigayil, Elisheva, Yehuda, Rachel, Shalom, Moshe and Ayelet (who was born two months prior to Aliyah). The last four years in Atlanta I worked at Atlanta Medical Center at an Associate Professor of Surgery of Medical College of Georgia. In addition to being the only Colon & Rectal Surgeon at the hospital, I taught medical students, trained General Surgery resident and was the director of the Laparoscopic Skills Lab.

Nefesh B’ Nefesh with the Misrad Habriut started advertising the severe need for trained doctors to make Aliyah – specifically surgeons.   I flew to New York for a one day meeting with Nefesh B’nefesh and Dr. Chezi Levy. At the time he gave a very impressive lecture on the severe shortage of trained doctors in Isreal. He showed graphs that without increasing the number of doctors in Israel then mortality will sharply increase in the Israel population. Dr. Levy stated ” we need you as skilled doctors to may Aliyah now, more that you need us”. At that time I faxed multiple applications to Dr. Ash to join the medical corps of the IDF as a surgeon. However, to this day I never received and response.

Eventually I passed all my exams in General Surgery and Colon and Rectal Surgery making me board certified in both fields. After this I was inducted as a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. The day I received my last diploma I filled out and paid $100 for my Nefesh B’nefesh application to make Aliyah.

Alyssa my wife and our baby Moshe took a trip to Israel in November 2013 to interview for jobs in Israel and look at communities. To our luck, our trip fell out during the second Gaza war with rockets falling on Ashkelon and the surrounding areas. Iron Dome was put into action, while we watched in horror in the USA that CNN and the media was criticizing Israel for defending and protecting our people. CNN labeled the rockets for Iron Dome at “IDF rockets being fired at Gaza”. For the first time we felt a strong sense of anti-Semitism in the USA. During our trip it was clear we belong in Israel and it is time to bring the Pelta family home.

We interviewed all over the country at hospitals looking for a job. From Tzfat in the north to Ashkelon, Ichelov and Bailonson. The day before my interview at Ichelov a terrorist blew up a bomb on a bus down the block from the hospital. Eventually I made it over to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot. I met with Dr. Mavor the Chairman of Surgery. We had a lot in common. He also trained at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and my mentor in Colorectal Surgery Fellowship Dr. Orangio, trained together with Dr. Mavor. Later that day I met with the Director of the Kaplan, Professor Yahav. They offered me a job at the hospital with the goal to build and be in charge of a Colon and Rectal Surgery unit at Kaplan.   I told them that this is what I have been training for my entire career. In addition, I contacted all the kupot for potential jobs in the clinics. They all stated that after I make Aliyah they would be interested in meeting with me.

We took a second trip to Israel in February 2014 to look for schools and communities for us and our children. Eventually, we decided on Ramat Beit Shemesh A. It is close to my wife sister who lives in Beitar and it’s a community with many Olim Chadashim. In addition, its located in a beautiful area of Isreal with stunning view of nature and fields.

With all this in place we started selling off all of our books, furniture, clothes, car, bike, and house in Atlanta. I quit my job. We sold most of our furniture since it would not fit the smaller living quarters in Israel. It was a very emotional experience. Eventually we sold our house in Atlanta only several months after making Aliyah. When the month of Av comes we are to diminish our simcha. On Rosh Chodesh Av the moving truck arrived to take our possessions and remaining furniture to Israel. The week before Aliyah we packed up our children into two minvans and drove for two days to my bother in-law Tzachi Meyers in New Jersey. Just like that we left the house of 7 bedrooms that we custom build for ourselves. All the food and items we could not fit in our car was piled up in heaps on the front lawn.

On the 15th of Av, one of the happiest days of the year for Jews – we were on the 49th Nefesh B’Nefesh flight to Israel. When the Jews were in the desert after the Exodus, the 15th of Av, after 40 years, was the date on which the wandering was over and was time to enter Eretz Yisrael.  In chodesh Av 1492 the Pelta’s were expelled from Spain and in Chodesh Av the Pelta family returned home to Israel. The Jews in Egypt for freed from slavery once they fell the 49th level of tumah and the Pelta’s came home to Israel on the 49th flight of Nefesh B’Nefesh with seven children, who had no idea what to expect. My children did not speak Hebrew and have never lived outside of the USA.

Currently we are living in Ramat Beit Shemesh A. Three of my girls attend Beit Yaakov Magen Avot and three of my boys study at Torat Moshe. I am working full time at Kaplan Medical Center in the department of General Surgery as a General and Colorectal Surgeon. I am a one of the surgeons part of the Assia Medical group located at Assuta in Tel Aviv. We are here to stay and continue to build and settle the country of Israel. We will continue living here as  a core family of 9 people and as a skilled surgeon, being part of our Jewish history.

About the Author
Arie E. Pelta, M.D., a Board Certified General and Colorectal Surgeon from the USA , made aliyah with his wife and 7 children in 2013. He is also a active Medical Corps Officer holding the rank of Captain in the IDF Reserves. Currently practicing in Laniado Hospital in Netanya and at Assuta Medical Center in Tel Aviv, part of the Assia Medical group; speciaizing in the surgical care of all problems of the colon, rectum and anus.
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