Seers, Magicians, Leaders and Doctors

At the other side of a lifetime a long time ago. In a northern industrial city, there was a poor working-class estate. In this estate, there was but one Jewish family. The head of that family aspired to be a Doctor. My father’s dream became his sons life long goal. This liberated Jew, my Dad, was as dictatorial and demanding as the most orthodox of Rabbis. The path was inviolate and the destination a single one. Be a Doctor. My mother was more worldly wise. But even more insidious in her missive ‘When they come, when you have to run, a Doctor only has to take his head.’ Never ‘if’, always ‘when.’ Jews live in fear; Jews are born to run.

In the industrial north, we walked in the shadows of walls. For us, it was not the factory walls it was the walls of Auschwitz. My home was always shrouded by palls of grimy smoke. Not the ever-present smoke from the ever-present factory stacks. We saw the smoke billowing from the gas chambers. And we were ready to run.

Our family Doctor was a Jew. He drove in and drove out from the place where Jews lived. He was a God. His word was irrevocable. But if Jews could argue with Moses so my Mum could argue with him. ‘Your lads’ consumpted’ was an insult to the Polish Princess’s eldest. Unforgivable. ‘ Don’t talk bloody nonsense’. A Princess, maybe, but also a Yorkshire lass our Mum. This duet was recited at every visit. There were many recitals. As they say up North ‘, he’s a sickly lad’.

Life was hard then. I was pushed mercilessly to do well scholastically. Get into the local Grammar School. Then it was the three R’s. Reading writing & arithmetic. Then they didn’t diagnose ADHD or dyslexia. A good clout took the place of Ritalin. But my dyslexia was incurable. Being deaf didn’t help. But then we had hearing support manoeuvres. They consisted of being told ‘you heard’ or being ridiculed. So I learned to guess and joke. To everyone’s incredulity, I got past the entrance exam to the Grammar School.

How? The essay was about the man I most admired. I wrote about my Mum’s antagonist & Dad’s alter ego- the family Doctor.

To my Dad’s relief, I was later accepted  into University to learn Medicine. To my Mum’s chagrin, Dr Sherwood was proved right. The first test showed that I had suffered a mild TB as a youth. Not only a Doctor but a seer.

Getting into Med School is harder than becoming a graduate. Enter one Jewish student. Exit one Jewish Doctor. Lots of fun in the meantime. It was the sixties. In that decade we discovered, perfected and patented sex, music and liberalism. The graduation was almost an inevitable side product. Any good Jewish Doctor who doesn’t have a religious identity either slinks off and releases the generation of shackles. Or he goes to Israel.

Israel will always provide you with a war. The Yom Kippur War was the final baptism into devout and unwavering Zionism. A passage of rites for any Jew of that generation. Born into rabid socialist families, all believers in a socialism that would have saved Europe- but didn’t. Plunged into a generation of believers in the sixties. We could and would heal the world. All you needed was ‘love’ and belief. In the crucible of the Yom Kippur war my ability to believe was forged into my unending pristine belief;  ‘in my own, for my own, with my own and responsible to and for no-one but my own.’ Israel. The last magic word in a then magic world.

In this ultra emotional world and war, I met Rafi. We struggled to cure the traumatised soldiers. We, with them, gazed into the depths of hell. We like them saw the labyrinths of Jewish despair. We saw the wretchedness of death and destruction. We were weighed down. We sometimes lost hope. Rafi was never weighed down nor was he without hope. Rafi, a rotund ball of a man bounced. Rafi always smiled. Rafi’s eyes always radiated when our’s were shadows in our faces. Rafi never gave up. There was always a way. Rafi had paid his way through Med School. He was a magician. Rafi learned Medicine but he never forgot magic. I got through the Yom Kippur war as if by magic. By my side not only a great Doctor but a magician, Rafi.

Like many who adapt in war, I found it long and hard to adjust to peace. Israel was to be often at war and never at peace. So was I. Drifting, unsure, lurching from hope to disappointment in an  never ending see-saw.

I lacked resilience. It was my luck to meet up with my eventual boss. Resilience both in name and deed was he to be. Little things where he gave trust hope and above all the knowledge that if you were ‘with him’ he’d be with you. Never spoken, never implied but always understood. Stand with me & I’ll stand with you. A guy who allowed those around to function and to express themselves but made it so clear where we were going and why. As in all organisations, we had highs and lows. On one very low point, he assembled the many hundred of us. He spoke frankly. Graphs, accounts details, all there. A plan, expounding on how we got where we are and how we will get to where we need to be. Then the prepared notes were lowered. Weary eyes moved from the written notes to us, his audience. ‘I worry that we may not be able to provide the health care to those whose health we are responsible. I fear that the family of any one here will not be provided for.’ We knew sackings were in the air.

Words of genuine caring and leadership. We followed him; the crisis past.

Not only a Doctor. A leader.

So here I am. a pensioned off shrink. Mum was right I did make a living. Dad wasn’t altogether wrong. His mistakes that I tried to correct in my fatherhood caused problems that my kids will try to correct and probably get wrong too.

I respect medicine. I respect Doctors.

But I am not a seer, I am not a magician, I am not a leader. I am the reluctant Israeli Doctor.

I fulfilled Dad’s goal.

I look at Iran and wonder about Mum’s fears.

About the Author
Born in Leeds in 1944, Michael Benjamin is a retired Psychiatrist and medical auditor, co-founder of Oranit, aspiring author and inveterate cynic.
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