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Richard Levy, Montreal, posted December 4, 2011

[ Editor's note: Richard Levy is a Montreal  based lawyer  who has written a journal of his recent  trip to Israel on a JNF tour. This is the first of a series of  his journal entries. Thank you to a reader in Calgary who first sent this to the Winnipeg Jewish Review. If you are a new reader, and like the publication, please subscribe to it  free of charge by clicking on the subscriber button at the top right hand of the home page.]

 Jerusalem – King David Hotel Friday October 28, 2011

Tonight, at Shabbat dinner, we enjoyed a discussion with Dr. Mark Clarfield, Head of Geriatrics at Soroka Hospital in Be’ersheva, and Director of the Medical School for International Health of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University and his wife Dr. Ora Paltiel, hematologist at Hadassah Hospital. The subject was: "Our Aliyah – what we expected; what we found."

Ora told us that her first few years working at the hospital were very difficult; pay was low and and it took her a while to make a name for herself since she was an unknown quantity.: "We don’t know you". Missouri is known as "The Show Me State". Ora convinced us that Israel was surely the "Show Me Country." Ora: "I couldn't rest on her laurels from McGill, University. Until they get to know you personally, and have worked with you and collaborated with you, your training and credentials mean relatively little to them."

On the flip side she loves the social solidarity in Israel – when she was sitting Shiva in Ottawa, she received telephone calls from several of her Jerusalem colleagues at 4:00 p.m. each day "keeping her company" by telephone during her mourning.

After three long years of living through the second intifada, in which friends and colleagues perished, she broached to her children the idea of taking a year long sabbatical in Canada, her children protested vigorously; they did not want to leave Israel.

Ora is soft spoken and very much a "Canadian" in her relaxed polite approach. Her talk was spellbinding. She shared with us the crucial piece of advice which people gave her: "Don’t try to be like an Israeli with sharp elbows. Be yourself; people will be drawn to you and will want to be like you."

Mark was the "Yang" to Ora’s "Yin". His presentation was dramatic, and energetic and even a bit acerbic. But, it matched Ora’s in being compelling and completely honest.

In 1992, having become Director of the McGill Division of Geriatrics, the Head of Geriatrics at the Jewish General Hospital and a Professor at McGill University, Mark was still restless. He discussed with Ora their mutual desire to be part of the "Zionist Experiment". As Mark put it in his trade-mark wit: "We don’t have two Jewish states. If we did, I might want to be in the other one. But so far, this is the only one."

Having imbibed liberal values during his youth in Toronto and his adult years in Montreal, Mark yearned for these values to be expressed in Israel. He told us how disturbing he found it to see in Jerusalem, that the "Haredim" have created a separate road for women to walk on during Succoth.

He shared with us his discovery that in Israel many parents do not seem to be as interested in education as the standard Jewish parents in Canada. "Some complained to the teachers about the homework given after the summer holiday. Their rationale was that the kids have just had months off, so the teachers should give them some slack.

Mark also lamented that: "too often I find racism among some Israelis – against Arabs, Ethiopians, etc., openly, not, like politically correct Canadians." His take on Israeli politicians was not subtle: "Not all Israeli politicians are incompetent; only 90%." Ora had told us that there is no Israeli word for subtlety.

Ora spoke again telling us that her kids thank her every day for moving to Israel. She found that, to her surprise, everything in Israel interested her "even the sports pages" which she was oblivious to back in Canada.

As for her sense of pride at working in Hadassah: "The doctors at Hadassah traditionally considered themselves the elite of the Israeli Medical system, while other doctors, who have left the hospital to work elsewhere, were thought to "have fallen off the cliff. This is no longer the case as the Israeli medical system, in general has much to be proud of, and much to teach others." Ora assured us that she feels secure and happy at Hadassah and is not worried about falling off the cliff.

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