Surviving Ulpan Boot Camp & Good Medicine


16 Av 5769
August 6, 2009

In a couple of hours I will be catching the bus to meet David after his ulpan class. I have to go to have “our foot” x-rayed to see how it is healing. You see, I was walking out of the Old City three weeks ago to meet my Partner in Torah (so exciting, hopefully more about that later) and I turned my ankle, or so I thought.

But over the next couple of days the swelling got worse and my foot was quite the sight, black and blue with a little yellow thrown in for a disgusting touch of color. David went to the medical equipment gemach here in the Rova where we got to use a bit of our newly acquired Ivrit skills to communicate with the gracious non English speakers who run it. Tell them what you need, “gabaim”, leave a check for 18NIS and when we return them, they tear up the check. Keep for as long as you need them, but “refuah shelima.”

I have not spoken about the medical care here, because, B”H we have not needed so much of it. It’s such a timely topic nowadays with Obama’s Health Bill dominating the news. Here in Israel, we have found the medical care here to be thorough, efficient and provided with a capital C for care.

We signed up for Meuchedet, one of the four national insurance providers. They deduct about 450NIS per month from our bank account for the premium. My first encounter included some heart tests ordered because I had an erratic heart rate in America just before I left-I am sure it was stress and nerves about the big move. The tests all turned out normal, B”H.

Navigating the medical system was daunting then because it was unfamiliar and in a language we did not understand. First, I went to my local Meuchedet office, no appointment needed, and waited 15 minutes for the two people in front of me to see the doctor. I walked into her tiny office-consisting of a desk, examining table and small sink-separated from the main hall by only a curtain, to show her my EKG grids from the US. The doctor spoke no English but responded by printing out three papers with directions in Hebrew. I almost burst into tears. She was Russian-no patience with tears. So she took the papers, called the number on one of them and found an English speaker at the main Meuchedet clinic in Jerusalem who walked me through what I needed to do, including directions to get there.

So, the next day I showed up at what we call “Meuchedet HaTurim” on the corner of Jaffa Road and HaTurim for my EKG, pronounced “eh-keh-geh” here, and Holter monitor. I took the elevator to the directed floor and when the door opened I was facing a main desk. I handed my papers to the non-smiling attendant who asked me for –hold on folks-24 shekel, about $8.50 at the time. I was instructed to heder shemona, room 8, where I simply signed my name on a list on the door. The last time I did that was at the gym waiting for the treadmill.

The Meuchedet clinic and rooms have not been touched by the talents of any interior designer. The walls are bare, the floors industrial and black plastic chairs line the walls and halls. I sat for just a few minutes an Anglo woman called me into the small examining room. We told each other our 1-minute aliya stories then she told to lie down and take off my shoes. She efficiently hooked me up and soon sent me on my way, results in hand. Next was the Holter experience, much the same procedure, except I left the offices taped to a meter the size of a small Tehillim that would be my closest buddy for the next 24 hours. I also left with a pass for the metal detectors which as you know hover in front of every restaurant and mall, a genuine smile and a “good luck” from the doctor. Which kind of scared me, did she know something I did not know?

I had to go back two days later to return the monitor and get my results. The results were also entered into the Meuchedet system so that any doctor I visit will have access to the records. I got a recommendation for a wonderful South African physician in Har Nof. It a 20 minute cab ride or 45 minutes on the bus (50NIS vs. 5 on for the bus) each way. I’ll take the bus, thank you. He is worth the scenic trip.

To see Dr. N I needed an appointment. When I showed up, I was directed to the waiting room , also sparse, industrial but friendly feeling, with several people seated in those same black plastic chairs. When the next person entered, she asked us each the time of our appointment in Hebrew, which I though was odd. But everyone announced their time, and I went along-in English. Someone soon came out of the doctor’s door, leaving it ajar and one of my co-patients got up and entered. I soon realized the reason that the woman asked our appointment times was to know her spot in the line-up. No nurse calls you in to take your vitals and escort you to a room where you can wait alone for tens of minutes before seeing the doc.

Dr. N was running about 20 minutes late and when my turn came, I was greeted by a genteel slight man about my age who engaged in the friendly welcome-to-Israel-where-are-you-from-and-a bit-of Jewish-geography before proceeding to swipe my Meuchedet card and enter my entire medical history into the computer. He ordered an array of basic tests which would keep me busy for months. Each doctor I went to was much the same, Anglo, refined, kind and genuinely caring. Not that that is so different from my doctors in the US. Clearly they were less pressured here. I saw one world renowned doctor; it took months to get that appointment. As I was standing at the elevator to leave, I realized I had left my coat in his office. When I turned to go back I saw him running toward me, my coat in hand. Blew me away. Another doctor’s daughter lived in Atlanta for a year, teaching with Torah MiTzion.

My foot is getting better but it’s not a way to spend a summer sitting inside all day. When I am out, every Israeli feels he needs to know what's wrong with my foot. The bus driver makes people get out of the front seat for me. People offer their arm, ask if I need help and say “margisha tova,” feel better, all the time. I was waiting in line at a pharmacy when the customers made me sit and handled my entire transaction, then escorted me out with a roomfull of "refuah shelima”s. This mishap has forced me to converse in Hebrew with well meaning Israelis. And thanks to David, I am getting better at it.

David's summer revolves around Ulpan Morasha: he goes 5 hours a day 5 days a week and has hours of homework and review every day. I've learned a lot by reviewing with him, but he is really learning to speak this language.

Before I enrolled in my easy-going ulpan program, I went for 2 weeks to Ulpan Morasha. It felt like uplan boot camp. I kept asking myself, “I volunteered for this abuse?” The teachers are demanding and expect total submission. They do not explain, they just give over the material and refuse to answer questions. But this system is truly successful for many. You cannot miss a day; you cannot even daydream for one minute. Most can’t maintain the pace and the class is dwindling in size, David says its kind of like “Survivor Island.”

There are many non-Jews in the class, some who want to convert to Judaism and some missionaries who want to convert Jews. Most of the Jews are not observant. Needless to say, David in his black and white and growing beard gets lots of questions. One gentile man wore tzitzis and a baseball cap and kissed the mezuzah but wanted to pick and choose his mitzvos and didn’t care about the Noahide Laws. One girl considering conversion wanted to know where she could "buy a Talmud" so she could look all up those laws. A woman from Finland is in dance school here because she loves Israelis; she lives and volunteers at a Christian youth hostel near Jaffa Gate in the Old City. Another is a young olah learning at Nevey who ended up at our table one Friday night last spring.

As the class gets smaller, the committed students are forming close bonds. In fact we’ll be having an ulpan Shabbos dinner in a few weeks here when my foot is better.

Which I am happy to tell you since I went to the doctor today is on the road to recovery. I no longer am confined to crutches. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get into a real shoe soon, or a even a boot…no, I guess not.

L'habria v' t'vo-u habaiyta bkarov,
(Be well and come home soon)
Rena and David


rtf said...

glad to hear you are on the mend - won't try to say anything in Hebrew.

Risa said...

when do we get to see a picture of David's growing beard? hope you are much better soon... this is taking a while!

Anonymous said...

Is this blog still ongoing we are thinking of making aliyah... Not really thinking forced into as we somehow went frOm earning a good living to every door closing. Parnassa wise. Not one customer entering my husbands usually busy business. We have emunah that these doors Are closing in order for another one to open but it hasnt. We have been ro bed bascally we have nothing left but our famly unit and g d thankfullu, We have 4 children we are scared confused with all th emunah in the world we are
Not sure why this is happening or more
Importantly how to get out of this situatio
would lOve to ask you a few questions with your permIssion

Fellow jew

Renee Chernin said...

Fellow Jew,

I'm hearing a lot of stories like yours and am willing to speak with you. Send me your contact info to

Heard a great line today:
May your aliya have a neshama~