Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Purim Comes but Twice a Year (Article #43) 3/15/2007

We had been looking forward to Purim the entire winter. As new olim, one of the real pleasures has been experiencing the various chagim Israeli style. Visiting the Kotel excavations during the three weeks. Yamim Noraim in our holy land. Succot and our first one day Yom Tov. Channuka with REAL sufganiyot, yet without Santa.

The experience of a major religious holiday in the land of the Jews is something special. Each one has its own special flavor and traditions and is an absolutely eye opening event for people like us who have grown up in a different culture.

We knew that it would be something special, especially for the kids. It was even more exciting when we considered the fact that we are so close to Yerushalayim and its Shushan Purim celebration.

Of course, with Goldie’s recent illness (and no – we still do not have a diagnosis yet and continue to test and test although Goldie is certainly up and about and able to function normally in most areas) we have been quite distracted from our “normal” lives, without much time to prepare ourselves for Purim. It felt as if it came upon us more suddenly than we had anticipated and we had tremendous feelings of guilt toward not preparing the kids for Purim as well as we could have.

A couple of years ago, one of the kids had an awesome idea for us each to dress up as a cat in the hat and be “The Katz in the Hatz.” We really enjoy that costume. Unfortunately, last year we took a break from them and the costumes are in my brother’s house in NJ – so we couldn’t use the “A” costumes.

So we dug into our bag of Purim costumes (after sixteen years of marriage and fifteen years of parenthood you have such things) and pulled out a zebra for Moshe, a policeman for Mordechai and a samurai for Aliza. Batya’s princess had finally gone to costume heaven and we had nothing for Chaya so we ran around town, eventually finding a butterfly for Batya in Ramat Beit Shemesh and having to head to Yerushalayim with Chaya for a costume – where we found a very nice clown suit.

For Mishloach Manot, we had to make a change. For the past fifteen years or so we have given the same thing to our friends (an idea stolen from the Lopin family in Chicago). Each year everyone knew to expect a pineapple and bottle of grape juice wrapped in cellophane, with additional goodies thrown in.

We had initially planned to replicate this package here in Israel. Yet, when I went to the shuk in Mahane Yehuda to pick out some pineapples, I discovered that the price for the smallest of pineapples was something near seven dollars each and the normal sized ones were no less than twelve!

You see, in Israel the fruit and vegetable availabilities are totally controlled by what is in season. The country is too small for each item to always be available, so there aren’t any strawberries or celery to be had in the summer, in the late fall they are in the stores but expensive (and in the case of celery – incredibly puny) and available in abundant supplies (and huge sizes) only at this time of the year.

Pineapple season is only just starting now, so the choices are limited and expensive. Next year, when there is a leap year, we might be able to return to pineapples.

Another difference for this year is the amount of packages we prepared. As new people in the community, we don’t have that many people we consider extremely close friends yet. So we participated in the shul Mishloach Manot (covering most of the people we felt obligated to give something to) as well as the local block Mishloach Manot.

Our block has its own Yahoo newsgroup. With two family houses on one side of the block, and multi family townhouses on the other, there are a lot of people who live in this one block. Since almost everyone is religious and friendly with each other, we have a “grab bag” program where each family is assigned one family to actually deliver a package to and that package covers everyone on the block.

So, with most of the people we know here already covered by the various group packages, we only had a couple of our closest neighbors and those few families outside of our neighborhood left on our list. It was strange to pack a dozen packages and have that be our entire delivery for the day.

Our kids more than made up for it. We had been told that the kids are much more active in giving all their friends. So we were very prepared for the onslaught of requests to give this friend and that friend. We bought them special bags and printed up individual stickers for each kid, and let them enjoy.

On Friday, we went to Chashmonaim to see my brother since he would be traveling to the US Purim night. Our real reason for going to him was the security checkpoint located five minutes from his house.

We had decided to take some of the kids packages and present them to the chayalim (soldiers) stationed at the checkpoint. Living in Beit Shemesh, where we feel removed from the most stringent security issues, we felt that it would be important for the kids to see and experience us personally showing our love and appreciation to the chayalim for all that they do.

The kids were all pumped up to go and they were fighting over who got to personally hand over each bag. The chayalim were wonderful. They posed for a picture with the kids (I wanted to print it here in the paper – but it didn’t come out) and you could see that there appreciation for our visit was sincere. They even let the kids climb up into the guard tower to present a bag to the chayal stationed there.

I think that going to the security checkpoint and sharing a few moments with the chayalim was the most meaningful part of the Purim experience in Israel for me.

Our shul had scheduled Maariv to begin ten minutes late to allow for the bringing of megillot and for the kids to put their costumes on quickly. After the megilla reading, we took the kids to the “social hall” for the shul Purim Party.

After the shul’s party, we took the kids home and I headed to Yerushalayim for a Yeshiva event in a restaurant that evening. Concerned that the teenagers would go overboard in celebrating two days of Purim, we had deliberately scheduled an event for the night of Purim to keep the guys occupied and having fun.

So we had a nice melave malka with them, followed by a Megillat Esther and general knowledge contest between the shiurim. With a special lunch at the restaurant of their choice awarded to the winner, everyone really got into the competition. The competition ended at 1 AM and I headed home.

On Purim day I spent a lot of time driving kids around from place to place dropping off their Mishloach Manot packages. There were kids everywhere we went. Partying, taking each other Mishloach Manot and just simply enjoying the day. It was great to wander around with the kids dressed up without having the rest of the world looking at us as if we were strange.

As we were driving through one of the less religious neighborhoods, we passed a Chabad Mitzvah Tank driving in the other direction with music blasting from a speaker on the roof of the vehicle. I waved my hand out the window as if dancing in rhythm with the music and as they passed us, the driver (expertly) tossed a sealed bag out his window and into mine. The kids pounced on the bag, which turned out to be a Mishloach Manot bag. Only in Israel.

We enjoyed our Purim Seuda with the Broderick family (Nesher and Chaia and kids) who made aliyah just a month after us. We were joined by Alan and Naomi Schwartz and their family (who made aliyah from the 5 Towns something like five years ago) and Darrin and Dina Shaw and their family (who made aliyah from London at around the same time we came).

Chaia had decorated the house and table with masks and with all the kids (and some of the adults) in costume; the mood was festive and fun. We had a nice time and enjoyed the chance to just relax for a few hours with no worries or pressures.

After taking everyone home, I ran back to Yerushalayim to join the Yeshiva for Shushan Purim and the Yeshiva’s Purim mesiba (party). The students put on a very funny skit (full of inside jokes) poking fun at their Rabbeim and it was a lot of fun.

The next day I took Mordechai and Batya with me to the Yeshiva for the Purim Seuda. They were excited to come and celebrate a second day of Purim. The highlight for the kids was seeing a video the students had put together lampooning (among other things) my giving a tour to a prospective student and his father. I have to admit that they did me very well.

We had to leave the Yeshiva before the Seuda ended so that I could drop the kids off and pick Goldie up. Goldie had gotten a call on Purim afternoon (our Purim) that we had been expecting for several weeks. Her sister’s mother in law had unfortunately passed away on Shabbat and the funeral was to take place the night after Shushan Purim at the Har HaMenuchot cemetery.

Although the weather for Purim had been very nice, by the time we got to Har HeMenuchot it was very windy and very cold. The eulogies were brief and conducted in the parking lot, just outside the van that the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) had used in transporting the body to the cemetery from the airport.

We drove behind the van to the section of the section where the burial was to take place, and as a Kohain I had to stay on the road with the women (and two other Kohanim) while the men proceeded to the burial. As cold as it was in the parking lot, it was freezing on the exposed side of the mountain.

After the burial, the aveilim (mourners) needed to daven Maariv and then head back to the airport. Since they weren’t sitting shiva in Israel, they were essentially free to daven anywhere and decided that rather than davening in the airport that they preferred to seize the opportunity to daven at the Kotel.

As their driver, I had the treat of fighting Shushan Purim traffic (not a pretty sight) to get to the old city and Kotel. As residents of Israel, we sometimes take certain things for granted and I think that visiting the Kotel is something we don’t do enough. I go with the Yeshiva, whenever we have a tiyul in the area. But the rest of the family really has to have an excuse to go and it had been a couple of months for Goldie.

I was happy to have a chance to say a short tefilla for Goldie after davening, and I know that Goldie felt the same for herself. There were more people than we had expected to be there, but it was Shushan Purim in Yerushalayim, so I guess that people make an extra effort once they are already there.

As we headed to the airport, we made a stop at the Beit Shemesh exit. Beit Shemesh is about 5 to 7 miles off the highway and we had originally planned to have the aveilim stop at our home for a bite to eat and a break before heading to the airport. Goldie had prepared hard boiled eggs and rolls for them, the traditional first meal for aveilim when beginning shiva.

We hadn’t counted on making a special trip to the Kotel, so time was running short. While driving through traffic, I had arranged for Josh Rudoff (aliyah from the 5 Towns two summers ago) to pick up a package of the food from our house and literally meet us at the side of the road with the food package so that we could make it to the airport on time. It was incredibly nice of him to do it.

Although it was not for good tidings, one positive thing that came out of seeing her brother in law was that he was able to personally see that Goldie is OK and can function; hopefully that report got back to her mother, who is (understandably) very concerned.

On Wednesday Goldie started her ulpan classes again. She has finished the government provided class, but wants to continue to expand her knowledge and Hebrew speaking abilities, so she signed up (and we pay) for additional ulpan classes, twice weekly.

She needed to get a ride from another student, and with her vision issues it was not an easy thing, but she came home very excited that she was able to resume some of her normal activities. Of course, everyone in ulpan made a big fuss over her being back, especially her teacher – making sure that Goldie really had a great day.

By the end of the week we had some truly terrific weather. The temperature was in the 80’s through Shabbat and we sat outside all Shabbat afternoon enjoying. When Goldie mentioned that it was expected to be in the 30’s in NY, we all had a nice laugh.

Indoor Plumbing (Article #42) 3/8/2007

While I normally recap the full week through Shabbat, this week’s column will only cover events through Thursday, since Friday through Monday were one long Purim celebration that I will save for next week.

I am amazed at how many people think we are living in Kenya or Afghanistan or Togo or some other such undeveloped country. We live in ISRAEL, one of the most advanced countries in the world!

Ever since Goldie’s medical problems started we have received a regular stream of emails, phone calls and messages of support and encouragement. However, along with those calls come an unbelievable amount of advice and instructions about what it is that we should be doing to address the situation.

Don’t get me wrong. For all those who emailed contact information of physicians that they know, offering their contacts as potential sources of information and assistance – we say thanks. We may not have called your specific friend, but knowing that you thought of us and were quick to lend us your advice was a source of comfort and support when we needed it.

However, to the umpteen dozens of people who asked us if we are ready to come back to the USA now, I ask in return – “WHAT FOR?”

I have deliberately omitted pertinent information regarding what Goldie’s symptoms were because that falls under the “too much information” category (we finally found something that fits in that category). Yet, I can say that the department that treated her in the hospital and the physicians who continue her follow up are considered among the best in their field worldwide.

In previous weeks I have written about having checked out the department and physicians who treated Goldie and how pleased we were with the reports we had gotten as to their qualifications and abilities. In their field they are recognized as pioneers and one person (in the USA) reported to us that these doctors are discovering and formulating new medications and treatments that are literally considered to be “on the cutting edge.”

No matter how many times I tell this to people, they still ask, “Yeah, but when are you coming to America to see a real doctor?” or “When you come to America for decent medical treatment, make sure to see Dr. So and so – he cured my (insert mystery ailment here) and he will fix Goldie’s problem in a second!”

So let me share this wonderful insight with one and all… we have indoor plumbing in Israel. Air conditioning. Computers. Automatic gear shifting automobiles. Cellphones. You name it.

We are not some backward impoverished land of witch doctors and shamans. Not a single physician has prescribed Snake Oil, recommended that Goldie use leeches as a regimen of bleeding therapy, sprinkled the blood of four chickens on her or any other ridiculous nonsense. This is not Israel of fifty years ago. I am astounded by how many people think so lowly of Israel and its professionals.

We are not going to see the “Major Leaguers” in the USA. As of right now, there is nothing for them to add. That is not to say that there aren’t wonderful doctors overseas. There are. There are also great doctors here and we are using them. When they recommend a specialist that is only available out of Israel – that is when we will think about it, not before.

On Sunday morning, Goldie – who had been experiencing tremendous side effects from her spinal tap and had not been able to stand or even sit up for longer than two or three minutes at a time – decided to return to the hospital for a procedure that might bring her some relief. She had postponed it from the prior Thursday in the hopes that she would improve without having to go to the hospital (and have to put up with more needles), but she was so frenzied to be able to get out of bed that she overcame the fear of needles and I took her in.

I am not sure why everyone has horror stories from the hospitals here. I definitely see that you have to fight for yourself (or your loved one who is the patient). But the people do care – Israeli style. They made sure we had something to eat, that Goldie only moved around when she was 100% sure she could and were really wonderful about everything.

We even had a nice talk with one of the nurses about Chaya who we think would make an excellent nurse. She encouraged us to have Chaya volunteer in the pediatric ward and have her experience a little of what it is like to help/be in the hospital with all the illness and needs of the patients. We think Chaya would be perfect for this and are encouraging her to do so.

By Sunday evening, Goldie had seen tremendous results from that morning’s procedure. She was able to sit up within minutes and by the time we left the hospital she could walk around for five minutes or so without problems. By that evening she was able to stand, walk and generally move around without complication other than soreness from more needle pokes.

She spent the week mostly at home. After two weeks of being confined to bed, she found that she tired easily and had a lot of sore muscles now that she had started to use them after such a long period of inactivity. She tired easily and really had to take things very slowly.

She left the house a couple of times to go to her doctors (specialists and general) for follow up and to take care of some paperwork from her hospitalization. She also took a couple of hours to come with me to Yerushalayim to go to a specific lab that does a certain blood test. While she was waiting in line, I ran in to Machane Yehuda (one of my favorite places) to get some stuff for Mishloach Manot. And – I bought a Bubbee wagon.

What’s a Bubbee wagon? It is one of those wheeled metal shopping wagons that you always see the Bubbees (and some Zaydes too) using to take their groceries home when they are shopping. We really load up at Machane Yehuda when we shop there and there is no parking nearby, so I end up either shlepping all the stuff around or making several trips to the car. So we bought a Bubbee wagon (biggest size of course), using all the money we saved by shopping in the shuk.

It has been a tough couple of weeks. Goldie’s incapacitation made my life very busy as I tried to balance her needs and making sure the kids were all taken care of. She still can’t drive, so I have to do the bulk of the errands and shopping which makes for a busy schedule when factoring in my full time job.

I spoke to her about how difficult the time has been and how it made her feel; many people have asked if it has discouraged us or given us second thoughts. She had a great outlook that really encouraged me and reminded me how lucky we are.

She said that even though a specific day or week may be difficult, she is so happy being in Israel that she looks forward to each coming day. Her life is so full with the trappings of life here, be it adjusting to the language, figuring out the supermarket or wading through hospital bureaucracy, that she is too busy and involved to worry too much. She is so happy just being in Israel that the setbacks seem trivial and really only something that she knows that she will forget in the fullness of time.

I wish I had her sense of joy and her optimism, but it certainly makes my life easier knowing that she and the kids are all very happy with where we are and how far we have come and that we are really making it work here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Home Sweet Home? (Article #41) 3/1/2007

We started the week very hopeful that things were coming to a head. The doctors had decided to let Goldie’s various symptoms incubate to help them confirm an accurate diagnosis and she was scheduled for a whole barrage of tests to begin Sunday morning. One of those tests was a Lumbar Puncture (more commonly known as a spinal tap).

The news we were hearing was good, yet frustrating. Each set of tests came back negative, one after another. Since none of the things they were testing for were something anyone would actually want to have, we were pleased with the initial results. However, as they went down the list to the less serious illnesses, we were impatient to get down to the “getting better” part of being in the hospital and the lack of diagnosis was making us crazy.

We spent the next couple of days waiting for answers. There were test results to come in and they wanted to keep Goldie in for continued observation to ensure that her condition did not get worse. I actually had a chance to get to my office for the first time in three weeks (following my two week trip to the USA and one week in the hospital with Goldie) and catch up on some work for a few hours.

By Tuesday, the doctors decided that there was no immediate cause for concern and that her symptoms will most likely disappear over time. Since they felt that she was past the “getting worse stage” they told us that if she chose to Goldie could go home – which she wanted very badly.

Discharging from the hospital took something like five hours to do. Paperwork had to be written up and processed, orders had to be entered into the computer and we could not leave without our written discharge letter, which apparently we need to take with us for all follow ups to make life easier for our future medical needs (until this entire episode ends).

We decided to surprise the kids and not tell them that Goldie was coming home. By the time we got home late that afternoon, we were happy to be done with the hospital and get a chance to settle back to normal.

Goldie had been complaining since that morning that she felt uncomfortable and she really had a tough time standing up. Apparently, even though the spinal tap had been done two days previously, the side effects only began to occur on Tuesday and since then she has been unable to even sit up for anything more than a minute or two.

I said it last week, but I have to note once again how helpful the two oldest kids have been. They have done the things that needed doing in keeping the younger kids organized and taken care of. I cannot imagine how much more difficult this would have been had we not had teenage kids at home to help out.

Our community has also been wonderful. Josh and Daniella Rudoff arranged for meals to be delivered to the house and keep in touch with us daily to see how things are doing. Yaffa Greenzweig, a fellow student from Goldie’s ulpan (who lives across the street from us) contacted the neighborhood Gemillas Chessed committee who called to make sure that everything was taken care of and make sure we would be home for Shabbat since they were taking care of all our Shabbat needs.

My sister and brother and their spouses call on a regular basis and visit as well. With more experience “in country” and a better understanding of the healthcare system (as well as an availability to sit with Goldie at home allowing me to get in a few additional hours at the office) their assistance has also been invaluable. Especially in helping us to calm nervous parents who are six thousand miles away.

This whole episode has been slightly terrifying. We don’t speak the language. We have no idea how the whole beaurocracy works here regarding insurance, medical care, dealing with the various departments and making sure the right things get done. Even when we ask questions, we are often confused by technical answers given in rapid fire Hebrew and need to ask for repetitions and further explanations.

Even with all the help and support, the sense of being alone is very strong. At the end of the day, everyone still has to head back to their own families and their own lives and it really does lie upon us to work out things for ours as well. We are uncomfortable with the amount of help we are already getting; although we would not be able to cope without it, we would prefer not to need it and cannot wait to be back on our own.

Goldie herself has been quite frustrated. She has been unable to help out at home and being confined to bed for essentially twelve days in a row has begun to drive her crazy. She can’t work, she can’t dress the kids, do homework with them, she really is just stuck. For a woman like Goldie who is always busy with a dozen things at once, this inactivity is very difficult.

(Although I usually write the column in summary of the week through Shabbat, it is a pleasure to inform you that on Sunday Goldie underwent a procedure that allowed her to sit up, stand and even walk comfortably. Hopefully her recuperation will continue and she will have a complete recovery very soon.)

Here is a major plus. To the best of my understanding, all the tests and scans have had a copay equivalent to approximately five and a half dollars. I think. We may have to have some more tests in the next few weeks, so the cost may escalate a couple hundred percent, but I am sure it will still be manageable.

We found out on Erev Shabbat that Goldie’s parents will not be able to join us for Pesach as they had originally planned. One of Goldie’s cousins is celebrating his Bar Mitzva on Chol Hamoed and my in laws had planned to join us for the Yom Tov and “kill two birds with one stone.” Knowing that we had planned to be with Goldie’s side for Pesach, my parents made plans to be with my youngest brother; we will be all alone for Pesach.

We have been alone before, I would guess that we have been alone for Pesach three times in sixteen years. However, this will be our first Pesach in Israel and the kids haven’t seen these grandparents since July – so we were really looking forward to this chag. On the heels of Goldie’s illness, this is a disappointment as well, but there is nothing we can do about it so we will just have to live with it. And look forward to the next trip.

With the proximity to Purim, we have been very hard pressed to prepare anything for the Chag. We will be hosted for the Seudah by our fellow olim the Broderick’s, which removes some of the stress. Yet there are still costumes to organize, mishloach manot to prepare and arrangements for Matanot L’evyonim to make. We feel tremendously behind in our preparations.

By the time you read this, it will be Erev Purim. On behalf of Goldie and our entire family, we want to wish you a Purim Sameach. It is our fervent wish that you all join us next year for Purim, preferable in a rebuilt Yerushalayim (with the coming of Moshiach) but in either case as residents of our holy land and the holiest of cities for a Shushan Purim to remember.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Get Well Soon (Article #40) 2/22/2007


Where to start?

I missed writing last week because I was traveling back home from NY. At least that is what we told you. However, I was very busy with other things as well, which kept me too occupied to write.

I can now tell you a lot more about how the healthcare system works (and sometimes also doesn’t work) here. Some things are easier than we would have expected with others not so much, but we really felt the concern of all the professionals we dealt with (even the obnoxious Israelis). But I am getting way ahead of myself.

I had spent a great Shabbat in Yeshiva University with our Roshei Yeshiva and alumni from various universities throughout the East Coast. It was another opportunity for me to get to know them better (since I was not in the Yeshiva when they were) and for the Roshei Yeshiva to catch up with how they are doing in their studies (both religious and secular).

The YU staff was great in helping make the arrangements, especially Eli Hagler (son of Richie and Sherri), who is a recent YU graduate and a Presidential Fellow in the Student Affairs office this year. It was a treat to see a friendly face and Eli really made things happen for us in a positive way.

After Shabbat I enjoyed visiting the YU seforim sale and finding out that there isn’t a kosher cookbook that Goldie doesn’t already own. One of our alumni asked me why I was buying seforim when I live in Israel, the cheap sefer capital of the world. I showed him the two English books I was buying and explained that English books are not so cheap – nor were those 2 volumes easy to find in Israel.

On Sunday morning I flew down to Miami and joined my brother for the Superbowl. As a season ticket holder of the Chicago Bears, he had won a raffle entitling him to purchase 2 seats for face value and he invited me to join him for the game.

We had a really great time. The atmosphere was electric and the pregame hoopla was really entertaining (and a lot of stuff was free – so it was Jew heaven). Then it started to rain.

Yes, we took ponchos. Ponchos are not meant for continual rain, nor for the constant getting up out of our seats and then sitting back down on them after they had been rained on while we were standing.

The game could have been better, but we had a great experience. I doubt I will have the ability to do it again (certainly not if I had to pay ticket broker prices), but it was cool being in the stadium for the game.

The worst part was walking a mile or so back to our car. We had lost the game, were totally drenched and we squished and clomped the entire way in the cold driving rain. Yuck.

By the time I got back it was freezing in NY. Subzero windchill factors. Freezing winds. I was so unused to the cold that it really got to me. I might have originally lived in Chicago and been used to that type of weather in the past, but that was then and this is now.

My father in law had thankfully recovered from his surgery to the point where they were allowing him to continue his recovery at home, so I was able to bring him home on Tuesday afternoon, which was great for Goldie. Not just that he was improving, but also that I (and through me, she) was able to be a part of the recovery process even though she was so far away.

At home, Goldie was reporting continued progress with the kids. Both Chaya (Grade 10) and Batya (Grade 2) had come home one day excited that they had understood all the materials covered in school that day. She herself got an excellent grade on an oral Ulpan exam and things were doing well.

At two weeks, this trip will be my longest away from home and family in quite some time. The kids were very antsy (as was I) and at about ten days into the trip things got difficult for them. They didn’t sleep well and were constantly calling me to ask when I would be coming home. Even Moshe (2 years old – I missed his birthday which fell out during this trip) would walk around the house calling, “Aaaaaaabba – Aaaaaaaabba”.

Goldie definitely did not have an easy task of keeping them all organized and composed. Especially since it is not so easy for us as well as the kids. She has a really full schedule and with the additional emotional load (as well as the lack of my miniscule amount of help) the weeks passed by very slowly.

I would say that I plan on trips no longer than 9 or 10 days in the future. It is just too difficult to spend that second weekend overseas. The second Shabbat was a real thrill though, since I spent it in the 5 Towns with many of our friends.

I had arranged to speak at a couple of local 5 Towns Shuls (the Red Shul and Edward Ave.) on Shabbat, talking about our experiences and how it has affected our Emuna and Bitachon. So I had the opportunity to be in Woodmere and see some of our old friends and neighbors as well.

If you remember, a couple of months ago we had a photographer by the house to take some pictures of us for Nefesh B’nefesh’s new brochure, “Letters from Home”. We were to be one of four families from the 5 Towns being featured in the brochure. I don’t believe (anymore) in coincidences, but – coincidentally, the brochure just happened to be released in the 5 Towns during that very Shabbat, adding just a little bit more to my being in the neighborhood that week.

Intriguingly, one of the points I noted during this trip was how different the values/focus is between the two countries. In Israel, the media spent the end of the week focusing on the potential Hamas/Fatah coalition as well as the various corruption scandals. In America? The drug overdose of a “celebrity.” I cannot tell you how glad I am that I did not have to have an answer ready for my kids.

After Shabbat, I was preparing my schedule for the last two days of the trip when I got a call from Goldie who had spent a really tough Shabbat in Israel. Apparently, she had a problem with her vision that was making it difficult to drive late in the day and at night. She had scheduled the earliest available eye doctor appointment for Monday morning to find out what it could be.

On Monday morning I awoke to her call informing me that the eye doctor had definitely noticed something wrong physically and referred her to a specialist and that she had an appointment that evening. She wasn’t sure if she should go to the appointment, since we were pretty sure it wouldn’t be covered by our health plan, but I told her that it was better to go and spend the money than have to wait a week to see a doctor in our plan. In hindsight, that was a great decision.

By the time I boarded the plane, she had gone on the appointment and reported that there was a definite problem with her vision and other symptoms. She needed to go the next day to her regular physician, so that he could order an MRI.

She also told me that she didn’t think she would be able to pick me up at the airport the next day, since it was really difficult for her to drive. She seemed pretty confident that everything would be okay and I was relieved that she had decided to get medical care so quickly (she usually ignores things when she feels sick).

When I arrived home, I was greeted by the entire family. After two weeks, they were thrilled to have me home and I was thrilled to be there. Moshe (age 2) grabbed me in a bear hug and wouldn’t let go of me for fifteen minutes.

As we unpacked my bags (with the kids on a treasure hunt), Goldie recounted her day. Her doctor had sent in the paperwork for the MRI and there should be an approval within a week or so and an MRI appointment a few weeks later. Having taken a look at Goldie and recognizing that she was displaying several symptoms, I realized that I would need to push the process forward, and was prepared to show up at the doctor’s office and demand an approval for the MRI that day.

I called the private doctor and discussed matters with him and he advised us to go to the hospital for evaluation, since her vision and other issues seemed to be problematic, and possibly worsening.

We ran off to Hadassa Ein Kerem and that has been where we have spent the last week or so. She has endured an endless barrage of tests and scans, each one eliminating a different possible illness. The doctors are actually very happy with the process of elimination, as the worst possible things have been ruled out already and now we are on the more manageable and treatable possibilities.

Yes, I am definitely omitting a lot of details here. There is a limit to how far even I am willing to go in detailing our personal lives.

I can tell you that she doesn’t feel “sick” other than the various symptoms she has displayed.
I can tell you that we are concerned, but not overly concerned, since our doctors have told us that the worst possibilities have been ruled out.

I can tell you that it is very tough not having a diagnosis, since there is a sense of comfort and control in knowing what you have and then treating it to the best of your abilities. Every negative result means that something has been ruled out, but we are eager to know what is going on here and for a treatment to be identified.

I can tell you that this is hard on the kids (strangely, we both feel that this experience has brought us much closer as a couple). The older kids have been TOTALLY AWESOME! Babysitting. Packing lunches. Helping with homework. Laying out clothes. Being home and feeding everyone dinner….. I have to give credit to Chaya for being a little mommy while Goldie hasn’t been able to be the big one.

Chaim has also been unbelievable. Chaya went away for a class Shabbaton and the rest of the kids were with my brother for Shabbat. All we heard was how wonderfully Chaim took charge of the littler kids and what a great kid he was. He wakes them up each day and gets them breakfast as well. He puts them to bed at night and reads books to the boys. The two of them have really stepped up when we couldn’t.

Aliza, being the fiercely independent child that she is, goes out and gets the job done for her self. Schoolwork, homework and any other subject matter are all getting done without prompting and she always tries not to be a burden upon anyone.

Batya and Mordechai are having a harder time. Even though they all visited her on Friday, they really miss Goldie tremendously. Their routine has been totally devastated and I can see that they walk around feeling out of sorts. Simple things, like my missing putting them to sleep, reduce them to tears. Coming on the heels of my being missing for two weeks overseas, it has been very stressful for them.

While the particulars of Goldie’s case are not relevant here, I can offer some interesting observations about the health care system here. We have some pretty darn good doctors here. We are very pleased with the degree of knowledge and credentials of all our doctors. It is only their bedside manner which we find lacking.

We had a CT scan and and MRI within thirty hours of admission (instead of weeks later) and more tests almost every day. Part of the reason the tests happened quickly was that I was persistent in getting things moving. I literally walked the MRI paperwork to the administrative offices for their signatures and then to the MRI center rather than leaving it for the hospital staff to take their time in doing. I was not shy about grabbing a doctor if I thought something needed doing and even though they acted offended, they all know that this is the only way to get things done here.

As a teaching hospital, we have a lot of professors and students who come by to see the lady with the “mystery illness”. The entire department she is in is focused on her as well. All the doctors come in regularly to check on her and find further developments. Each person wants to be “the one” to find the solution to the unsolvable problem.

Yet, with all the attention, getting them to give us any information is impossible. I am constantly fighting with the doctor to give us test results and inform us in advance why and what they are doing. He understands that we need to know, but we are so unlike the standard Israeli patient that it definitely bothers him. His attitude is, “trust me, if something comes up – THAT is when I will tell you, otherwise assume all is well.”

Being in the hospital here is a very interesting experience. The kitchen here is Kosher Mehadrin (at least during the week – on Shabbat there are bishul issues). There is no need for TV dinners or airline foods.

There are essentially only Jews and Arabs here. Lots of Arabs (Goldie has an Arab woman in her room). There are also Arabs on staff. With all the time we spend in Beit Shemesh, we really have very little exposure to our distant cousins here in our land. So it is eye opening to see them here.

The volunteer Bikur Cholim people are constantly in the room. Coffee or Tea? Need a sandwich? Can we give you a snack and a juice? They are incredibly attentive and so kind. Random people (often Chassidim) knock on the door just to come in to the room and wish us Refuah Shleima. The sense of Jews worrying about other Jews just because they are Jews in so uplifting.

When we realized that Goldie was going to be in the hospital for Shabbat, we made arrangements for the kids (who went to my brother) and I inquired about Shabbat arrangements for myself and walked away impressed.

There is a society that makes all the Shabbat food and minyan arrangements (there is a Rav of the hospital). It is staffed by volunteers (many of them Yeshiva Bochurim) who come to be a part of the Shabbat experience. Any guest who needs arrangements just shows up at minyan and they take care of him – sleeping arrangements, meals, whatever you need.

There is also a hotel (that opened last August) directly on the grounds of the hospital. It is especially set up for outpatients and newly discharged patients who do not want to go home. Visiting family members often stay there as well, and I made arrangements to stay there for Shabbat.

As anyone who has been in the hospital will verify, it is really hard to actually sleep in the hospital. There is a ton of noise and activity, and having up to four roommates only adds to the disturbances with lights, televisions and phones all turning on an off throughout the night.

Since we would already be taking a room, I spoke with the doctors about Goldie’s possibly being allowed to sleep in the hotel room and get some rest. Surprisingly they allowed this. This would never happen in America. Here, it was no big deal.

We both needed the sleep. Goldie had been having a terrible time sleeping in the hospital and I figured out that between traveling, running back and forth from the hospital to the kids and everything – I had only slept ten hours the entire week. I was so tired that I fell asleep during minyan for a minute on Friday night.

Minyan was amazing. There had to be a hundred people at the tefillot Friday night. Patients, doctors, visitors and of course the volunteers who run the Shabbat program. Because the minyan was so large, we did not daven in the main shul, but rather in the “chapel” that houses the famous Chagall windows.

I felt a little uncomfortable davening there. There is so much hoopla surrounding the artwork and the artist. It distracted me and I had to really concentrate on davening properly and not focusing on the artwork instead of G-d.

Twenty minutes after davening they opened the doors for the Seudat Shabbat. The room was set nicely, with separate seating for men and women as if we were at a very religious wedding. When we asked to sit together, even on the side, we were told that they prefer only separate seating in the main room. However, in order to accommodate those people who preferred (either by necessity or desire) to eat in their rooms, they had prepackaged “doggie bags” with the entire meal (all food still hot) for us to take with us to Goldie’s room.

So we enjoyed a nice private meal (Goldie’s roommate was out of the room) by ourselves and then we went to the hotel to go to sleep. And sleep. Nine hours later I woke up for the Naitz Minyan (sunrise) and after Kiddush and a light breakfast at the hotel we went back to sleep for another couple of hours. Nothing like eleven hours of sleep to get things back to normal.

The rest of Shabbat was more of the same. Private meals in her hospital room. Hanging out and waiting.

We have done a lot of hanging out and waiting this week. Waiting for tests. Waiting for results. Waiting for doctors. Chasing after doctors. Throwing a fit in order to get the doctors to show up. And of course, waiting some more.

Although they have not yet confirmed a diagnosis, we have a sense of comfort in knowing that our doctors are considered the best in the country and are highly regarded internationally (we checked them out). We also have friends and relatives who have been supportive and doing their best to make sure that we get the best care. Hopefully, we will have a diagnosis and treatment defined this week and we can get out of here and back home, where all recuperation really happens.

note: Goldie was released from the hospital two days after this article was written and continues to recuperate at home. We want to thank all those who called, wrote and emailed their support and encouragement and all those who davened for Goldie's recovery.