Helping doctors  navigate aliyah

Helping doctors  navigate aliyah

MedEx  puts healthcare  professionals on a fast track to careers in Israel

The men in suits are Nefesh B’Nefesh co-rounders Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart, Minister of Aliyah and Integration Ofir Sofer, Director General of the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration Avichai Kahana, and MK Yonatan Mashriki. They are flanked by medical professionals at the MedEx meeting.
The men in suits are Nefesh B’Nefesh co-rounders Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart, Minister of Aliyah and Integration Ofir Sofer, Director General of the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration Avichai Kahana, and MK Yonatan Mashriki. They are flanked by medical professionals at the MedEx meeting.

On October 7 at 6 a.m., Chava Blivaiss of Long Beach, N.Y., got a call from her brother.

“The first thing he said to me is, ‘Do you think Daddy is going to be angry I texted on Shabbos?’” she said.

Because she’s a surgeon, Dr. Blivaiss usually answers her phone on Saturdays; she’s often on call then. “It was more concerning that he was calling me on Shabbos,” she said. Her brother and sister-in-law had moved to Israel just a few days earlier, on October 3, and were living in Tel Aviv. “And then he told me everything that was happening.

“There was a direct rocket hit a block away from them, and I told them to stay home,” Dr. Blivaiss continued. “But they walked to a nearby hospital and waited in line for four hours to donate blood.” She felt that if they could do that,  the least she could do as a trauma surgeon was go and help.

“And so I volunteered that day, and on October 30 I got on a plane for what was supposed to be a two-week deployment at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon,” she said. Instead, she stayed there for two months.

Dr. Blivaiss, who grew up in Skokie, Illinois, graduated from medical school in 2017 and finished her fellowship last July. “I grew up in the Schechter and Ramah sphere,” she said. Solomon Schechter schools and Ramah camps are run by the Conservative movement. She went to a Schechter elementary school in Skokie and then to the Ida Crown Jewish Academy, an Orthodox high school in Chicago. And she’s a second-generation Ramahnik, she said. “I went to Ramah for 10 summers in Wisconsin, and my best friends are my friends from Ramah.”

During her second week at Barzilai, Dr. Blivaiss, who had thought about aliyah for years, came to the realization that “I felt more myself in Israel during this time than I have in a long time here in America,” and she applied to make aliyah, she said. “I was working with Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Israelis, Ukrainians, Russians, incredible people from all walks of life. I used to joke that I had to learn Arabic and Russian in order to be able to converse with everyone at the hospital. It’s just one large family.”

Chava Blivaiss

Dr. Blivaiss returned to New York at the end of December, and then  went back to Israel for two weeks in January, this time volunteering at Ziv Medical Center in Safed.

She credits her boss, Daniel Haller, and her colleagues at Long Island Surgical “who supported me, and covered my patients, and covered my calls, so I could stay, because they knew how important it was to me to be there and to be helping.”

On October 7, she called Dr. Haller and told him she had just signed up to volunteer in Israel and he said “good,” she reported. “He was completely on board. And every couple weeks, we would check in and he’d ask: ‘Do they still need you?’ I’d say yes, and he’d say ‘OK, you can stay.’

“He likes to joke that I was his war effort donation to Israel for two months.”

Dr. Blivaiss plans to move to Israel next winter. She has an emergency license that allowed her to practice while she was volunteering, but she will need a regular license to work once she moves. So she went to MedEx in Teaneck last week.

MedEx is coordinated by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that guides people through the aliyah process. The meeting helps streamline  the application for an Israeli license, a process that has historically “been very bureaucratic and very difficult,” Marc Rosenberg, Nefesh B’Nefesh’s vice president of Diaspora partnerships, said.

Medical professionals have the opportunity to meet with representatives from Israel’s Ministry of Health and from the Israeli Medical Association, and to get their documents certified so they can  start the process before they arrive in Israel. “We work with the applicants to make sure that they’re presenting all the required documents,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

MedEx also functions as a job fair and networking event. Representatives of Israel’s four HMOs, and of about 12 different hospitals, were on hand to meet with the doctors and other medical professionals.

Marc Rosenberg

“Israel is in need of doctors,” Mr. Rosenberg said. Israeli medical schools are not producing enough graduates to serve the growing population, and many Russian doctors who came to Israel in the 1990s are now retiring. “There was a tremendous amount of goodwill,” he continued. “I think the Israelis who came in to do the processing were really inspired by the medical professionals who came, and the attendees were inspired by the Israelis who were going out of their way to make sure this would be a doable process.”

The event attracted about 250 doctors and about 250 other medical professionals, including nurses, dentists, physical therapists, speech therapists and pharmacists, about double last year’s numbers. “I think what Israel is going through is causing many people to feel closer to Israel, and to want to help strengthen and rebuild the country,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “I think a lot more people are looking to lean into Israel, they want to be a part of that society, and I think that’s one of the most interesting realities of this terrible situation we’re in.”

Most of the medical professionals came from the New York metropolitan area, he said, but same traveled from as far as Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, and Toronto.

Dr. Blivaiss found MedEx extremely helpful. “Without this streamlined process, I’d still be making aliyah, but I probably wouldn’t become an official doctor there for like five years,” she joked. “You need so many details, and so many documents. It’s possible to do without MedEx if you have maybe two years to devote to figuring out the process by yourself.”

She also appreciated that there were representatives from the majority of Israel’s major hospitals. “It’s so nice because you can talk to people and it’s very informal,” she said. “So you can really get a sense of what a hospital has to offer and of what’s the best fit for you.”

And Dr. Blivaiss appreciated the networking aspect. “It’s a chance to meet other people who are going to be making this huge life change with you, and it’s nice to know that you’re not alone in this process,” she said. “It gives you a nice support system within a support system.”  She also noticed so many small worlds. She ran into old friends, friends of friends, and one of her former Ramah counselors, who is now working for Nefesh B’Nefesh. “So it’s just taking this giant world and making it so much smaller and friendlier.

“It takes a lot for me, living on Long Island, to drive out to New Jersey,” she said. “But it was completely worth it. It’s such an incredible opportunity and experience that they give.”

Aliza Teitz, a pediatrics resident who lives in Englewood, also found MedEx to be very helpful. She’s planning to move to Israel this summer, after she finishes her residency, and she found the event to be a kind of one-stop-shopping where she could get things done. She was able to start the process of getting her license and her specialty recognized, and she appreciated the chance to hear about different job opportunities.  She also enjoyed spending time with people she hopes will be her future colleagues.

“People were just so nice, so willing to do anything to help people make aliyah right now, which was just really nice to see,” she said.

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