Chava Berman Borowsky

Lehitkamben (le٠heet٠kahm٠ben): to find loopholes by using connections

I was on the verge of tears, at a complete loss, and with nowhere to turn. I had already exhausted every option in my quest to get a very necessary prescription which was close to a matter of life and death. The medication I needed was only 20 NIS with subsidized Israeli government granted health insurance and wasn’t out of stock, but only a specialist could prescribe the meds because I had run out before the end of the month and a family doctor didn’t have authority – the software wouldn’t let a family doctor print out this prescription. I had already called every private specialist and was willing to pay a hefty sum, but none of them had available urgent appointments. I had tried the Chareidi medicine gemachs, Terem, and even the emergency room at Assuta, but no one was able to help me no matter how much they desired.

As a last resort I did something which was not in my nature and quite unconventional for me to do. I quickly sent out a Facebook Messenger request to someone who until the literal day before was just a stranger to me. I was on my way to the Misrad Hapnim the other day when I surprisingly found myself in the middle of a major construction site with nowhere for pedestrians to walk. After a few minutes of waiting at the side of the road, a car slowed down and offered me a ride. I gratefully accepted and after discerning an American accent, the driver introduced himself as an entrepreneur looking for investors for his startup. His venture stemmed from a need he had experienced as an EMT first responder.

Ten minutes after sending out the message I received a phone call. “Come downstairs from your building to my car in fifteen minutes, I have the medication you need in my hands,” I was told to my utter disbelief and astonishment. The tears of desperation turned to tears of joy as I was handed the coveted pills. The transaction had all the markings of a drug deal with an illicit substance trading hands, yet no money was exchanged. When I begged to know how the medication was mysteriously found, my benefactor kept mute and only wished me well.

The above story is more common than one might expect in Israel. As the startup nation of the world, hierarchies in this country are very flat. You’re never more than four or five strategic phone calls away from someone with the right connections who can attain immediate help. It’s also ingrained in every Jewish child who learns the famous mashal about the man on a boat drilling a hole in the floor where only he is sitting. כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה. All Jews are responsible for one another. We are one nation just like Haman Harasha says in the Megillah: יש עם אחד מפוזר ומפורד בין העמים בכל מדינות מלכותך ודתיהם שונות מכל עם. There is ONE nation who is scattered all throughout your kingdom and their customs are unlike any other nation. This is manifested in many different ways with one example being how the airline El Al will gleefully and without any hesitation violate every single international law if it’s in the service of saving a life. כל המציל נפש אחת כאילו הציל עולם ומלואו. Every person who saves one life, it’s as if he saved the entire world. When dealing with otherwise healthy individuals, Hatzolah and MADA (Magen David Adom) volunteers are known to routinely perform CPR for upwards of 40 minutes and to not succumb to despair. אפילו חרב חדה מונחת על צווארו של אדם אל ימנע עצמו מן הרחמים. Even if a sharp sword is at the neck of a person, he should never give up. Or in Breslov terms which have become quite popular in recent years – אין ייאוש בעולם כלל. There is no despair in this world.

Because of security concerns in this country, racial and ethnic profiling are a reality at any and every entrance, not only in airports. This ethnic profiling also carries over into government agencies who will base momentous decisions on only their intuition. This worked in my favor when I needed a witness at the Rabbanut in order to get a marriage license. The rabbi actually told me that his intuition led him to believe that I had Jewish roots and that I was being honest with him, and so he made an exception for me which he claims to have never done for anyone before. He relied on a phone conversation instead of a face-to-face witness. Unfortunately, Ethiopians and Russians are many times negatively impacted on the other side of the flipped coin, and are subject to rigorous background checks and many bureaucratic hurdles with the legitimacy of their Jewishness being incessantly questioned.

On the subject of ethnic profiling, behavioral profiling is also employed liberally in this country in order to prevent any woman from becoming an agunah, a woman whose husband won’t grant a gett and therefore won’t be able to remarry. Rabbis have the authority to put any gett refuser in jail. I personally know of two separate cases where the rabbis immediately detected exceedingly problematic behavior and gave the men a choice at their first meeting before any other decisions were made: “Either give your wife a gett at this very moment or we’re handcuffing you immediately and sending you off to jail, no questions asked.”

The many gemachs as well as the thriving underworld of black market unregulated businesses are only sustainable because of one key element: Trust. When a person is in dire need of a product or service, he isn’t thinking about whether the provider pays the proper amount of VAT tax, he’s mostly just relieved that he finally found a solution. One of these businesses saved my skin around three years ago. I was caught in a distressing predicament which was resolved when I covertly received a phone number which saved the day for me and a few acquaintances. I and a few others had signed up to a Shabbaton up North which we had already paid for and the plan was that I was to rent a car for the trip. It was 12:00 Friday afternoon, Shabbos was starting at four, and it was a three hour drive.  Every single car rental was either closed or out of cars. Even though some of us didn’t keep Shabbos, the Shabbaton was in a Shomer Shabbos kibbutz and the gates would be locked at sundown, preventing any car from entering. The shady guy in Benei Brak offered me a pragmatic answer. He had a ring of about ten cars all parked in various locations throughout the city. I signed a contract which I’m doubtful would hold up in any court of law, I showed him my valid driver’s license, and he gave me the keys. I trusted that the car would be reliable, and he trusted that I wouldn’t cause any damage to the car and that I would return it in the same condition that it was given to me.

Kombinot is a slang term to define creative ways of bypassing the laws of the land. Lehitkamben is when you use what’s called Vitamin P, or protektzia. Protektzia is when you have connections which enable you to turn the earth upside down. And no matter who you are, at least in Israel, you’re never more than four or five phone calls away from an individual with earth shattering connections. It ultimately is just the expressed DNA of the three traits that exist in every Jewish person. At our core, when all the outer walls are chipped away, what remains is our fundamental attributes: רחמנים, ביישנים, and גומלי חסדים – modesty, empathy, and works of charity.

About the Author
Chava Berman Borowsky grew up in Los Angeles, CA in an Orthodox community in the La Brea Fairfax neighborhood. She moved to Israel in 2008 and has since lived in Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh, Holon, and Ashdod. Her hobbies include cooking, hiking, painting, and writing.