Health Care in Israel

Several months ago, shortly after we made aliyah, my husband slipped and fell very hard on his shoulder. A visit to Terem (the urgent care clinics whose concept in Israel was founded by the brilliant Dr. David Appelbaum hy”d, who was killed along with his daughter Nava on the eve of her wedding in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem) presented no evidence of a fracture, so he was sent home to rest it in a sling. A few months went by and it didn’t get any better; my husband was in such pain that it was affecting his ability to sleep at night.

Unfortunately for us, we still did not have decent health insurance. Although all new immigrants to Israel are given membership to the health care system in Israel the second they step off the plane, we were not considered “new immigrants” because we had lived in Israel in the 1980s. We were “returning Israelis” and the rules are quite different. There is a six month waiting period before you are accepted into the Israeli health care system, and meanwhile you must get private health insurance which in our case turned out to be very poor. It did not include any pre-existing conditions, it was expensive, and the doctors who would take the insurance were non-existent outside of the major cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa.

The “six-month rule” was instituted because too many Israelis were spending the most productive years of their lives living and making money in the US, Canada, and Berlin, and only returning to Israel at retirement age when their health care needs were greatest. The government was resentful that these returning Israelis had not been paying into the National Health Care system (called Bituach Leumi) for decades, and now they were returning and bankrupting the system with their medical needs. Hence the six-month rule.

Thankfully, the six months passed quickly for us mostly without incident (the xray was covered by the private insurance as an emergency condition), and at the first available opportunity we signed up with one of Israel’s kupot holim (health funds).

Which fund to choose? This is a valid question because they all have subtle differences. For instance, some include certain medicines in their “health basket” and others include yet a different set of medicines. So if you have a chronic illness requiring expensive medication, it behooves you to check just which specific medicines are included in the health basket of the kupat holim of your choice. Which kupat holim has the best doctors? The clinic with the most convenient hours? The ease in making appointments? How is their hospital network? Choice of specialists? How far do you have to travel? The latter question is especially important if you do not live in a major city like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa or Beer Sheva.  Where we live, there is a small clinic right in the yishuv (village) but they’re affiliated with the Clalit health fund. We wanted to join Kupat Holim Maccabi, whose clinic is 5 miles up the road – – fortunately, we have a car as buses run only every 90 minutes.

While one health fund might be great in one location, the same fund might not be so great in another. So it’s important to determine the quality of care available in your particular location.  In our case, the tiny Kupat Holim Maccabi clinic for the Misgav region where we live in the Galilee happens to have excellent doctors. The family doctor has won all kinds of awards for her excellent care. Specialists such as an orthopedic surgeon, physical therapist, and ophthalmologist visit the clinic weekly.  I needed to travel to Karmiel or the outskirts of Haifa for other specialists and services such as MRIs, CT scans or ultrasound, but this is only a 20 – 30  minute car ride. But this brings me to mention a very important consideration when you are deciding where to live in Israel: how far will you be from excellent medical services? Will you have a car or rely on buses?  If you are retirement age or, G-d forbid, you have a serious illness that requires highly specialized treatment, frequent therapies or monitoring, it is no fun to travel hours when you are feeling your sickest to seek care, which could be the case if you live in the Golan, for example.

Each kupat holim has 3 levels of care to choose from. The cost difference is not huge between the lowest priced plan and the most expensive, so we opted for the most expensive plan, which offered additional benefits. The cost of our health insurance, called Maccabi Sheli, is approximately $145 monthly for the two of us together. Yes, you heard right: Around $70 per person for the top-level plan. To be fair, it doesn’t include everything. The particular diabetes medication that my husband takes is not part of the health basket but it’s still less than $30 per month. An ultrasound recently cost me $10. But these prices are still way cheaper than what we paid in the US, even with insurance.

For the few things the kupat holim plan doesn’t cover, you can buy private “supplemental” insurance that usually pays in 100% as a secondary insurance. This is not cheap but still way cheaper than insurance in the US.  This “private” insurance will also pay for seeing physicians not in your health plan, as well as surgeries and second opinions abroad.  Finally, there is long-term nursing care insurance,  called “siyudi,” which works somewhat differently in Israel than the US.

The kupot holim do offer long-term nursing care insurance, but it is via a private health care insurance agency. The cost depends on what age you sign up for it. At our age (I’m 60 and my husband is 69) it is more expensive than if you sign up at age 40. The “gotcha” is that it provides nursing care at a set limit (in our case, around 3500 NIS per month per person) for a maximum of 5 years. Statistically, they reason that after 5 years requiring full-time care, you will likely be dead. Currently full-time nursing care in one’s home costs about 7500 – 10K NIS monthly (about $2500 – $3500 per month in dollars) in Israel. It is also advisable to purchase supplemental long-term care insurance privately to make up for the difference, as well as the possibility for insuring longer than 5 years. Our insurance agent tried to dissuade us from getting insurance beyond the 5 year limit as a waste of our hard-earned money, but we explained to him that since we live in Israel without family, we are literally on our own with no relatives to take care of us, so we will need to rely on professional care. In Israel, families are very close and usually care is shared by family members, so few opt for extended or extensive long-term care insurance. The supplemental long-term care insurance is not cheap by any means, but it is a fraction of what we would have paid in the US, plus the cost of private nursing care is also cheaper than the US. Caveat:  it may be difficult to purchase these types of insurance in Israel after age 70 so it’s important to take care of this while you can.

But back to my husband. We made an initial appointment with our new family doctor, who proved to be every bit as wonderful as we were told. She told my husband that he was in luck, the orthopedic surgeon who comes to our local clinic on Thursdays happens to be a shoulder specialist. My husband was able to get an appointment with him for that very afternoon.

The doctor felt my husband would probably require surgery due to his rotator cuff injury, but without an MRI it would be impossible to diagnose accurately. He suggested my husband get a cortisone shot to temporarily relieve his pain and once again we were exposed to differences between the Israeli and US health care system. In America, the doctor would have given my husband the shot right then in the office and that would’ve been that. In Israel, doctors have zero supplies in their clinic offices. My husband was given a prescription for the cortisone, but there is no pharmacy at the clinic. So we had to travel 20 minutes to the city of Karmiel to fill the prescription for the injection, and then bring the vial back to the clinic so the doctor could give him the shot. Well that’s fine – – except the doctor only comes once a week to our local clinic, and the following week was a Jewish holiday and the clinic would be closed. So like speed demons we raced from the pharmacy in Karmiel back to the local clinic barely making it before the doctor had to leave for the day.

The shot provided tremendous temporary relief from pain. But the MRI revealed the damage was bad enough that physical therapy and rest would not be enough to fix my husband’s shoulder. The doctor warned us that at his advanced age, my husband may not heal well since the ligaments and tendons are no longer supple, so he couldn’t guarantee the surgery would be successful. My husband replied that even if he didn’t regain full range of motion for his arm, the surgery was worth the risk if there was a chance of relieving his chronic pain. Thank G-d, my husband is in good basic health and very physically active, so we felt he had a good chance of success.

The surgery was scheduled for a couple of weeks later. And that’s another thing: one usually hears that with socialized medicine, “elective” surgeries take months or years to schedule. This was certainly not true in our case!

We had the option of not using this doctor, and going with a “private” doctor at our own expense. But we liked this doctor; he did these surgeries regularly and seemed competent enough.

Which brings me to another point: here in Israel your perception of Israel as a land of Nice Jewish Doctors might be challenged, especially if you don’t live in a major city. Just like in America, the “best” doctors are rarely attracted to rural areas, since the pay and the equipment and facilities are less than what’s available in major cities. In rural areas you are much more likely to get doctors trained in Eastern Europe and who may not speak English, or Arab doctors.

In fact, my endocrinologist is an Arab, and couldn’t be nicer or more qualified – – I’m very happy. He’s polite, friendly, caring, knowledgable and helpful. In my husband’s case, the orthopedic surgeon was Russian.

I know many American olim shy away from Russian doctors in Israel. Mostly it’s a personality thing. In America, doctors usually discuss various treatment options with you. Russian doctors tend to be gruff, matter-of-fact, intimidating and have a “my way or the highway” attitude. This is the stereotype, anyway. It can also be frightening when you are a new immigrant facing a medical procedure and your doctor doesn’t speak English and your Hebrew is weak; it’s important to understand what is being done to you and the particulars of your care.

But while my husband’s doctor was rather forceful and had a strong personality, he truly seemed to know what he was doing. We liked him right away. And I reasoned that in Russia, where anti-Semitic policies implement severe quotas on the number of Jews accepted to medical schools, only the very best of the best Jewish students become doctors. He was going to do the entire operation arthoscopically, so there would be no large gaping incision.  We felt we were in good hands, and truly in G-d’s hands.

All the way through, communication was excellent. Israel is very proficient with Electronic Health Records, and we frequently got text messages to remind of us appointments. Setting appointments was easy online. If we couldn’t handle things due to limited Hebrew, there were always “live” people to speak to who went out of their way to be patient in setting things up for us or to explain things. There were always follow-up calls checking up on us. Doctors and institutions had no trouble accessing our EHRs no matter where we were (caveat: there is no privacy in Israel!).

So on Thursday after Chanuka my husband had his surgery in a small hospital just outside of Haifa.

And while the care was great and the surgery seemingly successful, once again, there were some things that were very different from the US.

For one thing, the hospital was located in a huge shopping mall. Seriously. When we arrived at 6 a.m, we saw two male patients window shopping (the stores were closed at that early hour), walking around the mall pushing their IVs with one hand and clutching their backless hospital gowns with the other hand. The hospital was on the 3rd floor; Children’s Place and other typical clothing, jewelry and kitchen stores as well as a Cineplex and food court were on floors 1 – 2.

Another thing:  when we checked in, no mention was made of cost.  In the States it seems like it’s always about money.  But as I sat in the intake chair, I started getting really nervous about how we’d pay for everything even with insurance (our supplemental private insurance wouldn’t pay for this surgery since the original injury occurred before we had this insurance, and it was considered a “pre-existing condition”), but realized at this late stage in the game it was too late to worry about it.

Even for what was a “minor” surgery there are risks, and I can’t say I wasn’t worried.  Usually both patient and spouse utter endearments to one another as the patient is wheeled away.  But instead of “I love you!” my husband, ever the geek, said, “My password is . . . ”

While I was waiting for the surgery to be over, I struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to me (Israelis always make conversation with strangers; I think it is because ultimately we feel like one big family). I asked her how I might calculate costs.  She didn’t know, but just then a cleaning lady – an older woman pushing a hospital cart that contained a bucket of water and a sponja stick (mop) – overheard me and said, “Excuse me. . . um, what health plan are you associated with?” and proceeded to tell me the intricacies of how the system worked.  Yes – – the cleaning lady.  She also wished a speedy recovery on my husband’s behalf- but so did everyone wish us and everyone else the same, Jewish and Arab alike.

My husband was wheeled out of the operating room and I met him in the recovery room.  Of course he has zero recollection of our conversation but it was truly YouTube-worthy.  Although in normal circumstances he is far from fluent in Hebrew, under anesthetic he suddenly became 100% fluent in Hebrew, speaking  quickly with a perfect Israeli accent.  I addressed him in English but he looked at me as if he couldn’t understand.  I repeated what I has said in Hebrew and he answered me in Hebrew, perfectly.  In fact he was rambling on and on in perfect Hebrew.  He was unable to speak English at all.  As the anesthetic wore off, his perfect Hebrew disappeared and English once again ruled.  I guess it means his neshama (soul) is Israeli!

How bad can things be when the first thing you’re allowed to eat after surgery is kosher chocolate pudding, provided by the hospital?  The surgeon told us the damage was more extensive than the MRI had indicated, and that it was a complete tear.  The entire operation was done arthroscopically so there were only five small staples and there would be no external scarring.

My husband was supposed to stay overnight, but it was clear he was doing better than expected, and they gave us the option of leaving at the end of the day.

This is where things got exciting.

It so happened that we had guests staying at our rental apartment who were visiting  from America.  I will call them the “Rosens” – – not their real name.  Because the previous nights they’d been with us they were up till around 11:30 pm, we didn’t bother telling them we had decided at the last minute to come home the same evening as the surgery.

We arrived home around 10 pm. Unfortunately, our front door was locked and our guests had put the key in the door, so our key couldn’t open it.  After I tried phoning and texting them I realized their phone was turned off.  They had a busy day touring and were exhausted from a general lack of sleep, so they decided to turn in early.  They didn’t hear me knocking.  So there we were, my husband only hours out of surgery, on the doorstep of our rental apartment in pitch darkness, with no way to get in.

(I seem to have a talent for getting locked out of houses.  Perhaps this will remind you of a similar incident I wrote about in this blog that happened to me during Pesach, which you can read about here.)

All of my windows were bolted, but I suddenly remembered that there was one window I had forgotten to lock – – the kitchen window.  Leaving my husband resting on the porch, I pushed a garbage can next to the window and climbed on top of the can.  With a little prying I was able to slide the window open.  The window was next to the kitchen counter, which happened to be crowded with drying dishes and food supplies.  I am not a small person, and this was like watching an elephant in a tutu.  Unfortunately, not a graceful elephant.  So in the process of climbing onto the counter, and because it was pitch dark, I managed to knock over a bottle of wine and a bottle of olive oil that were on the counter.

The noise woke up my guests.  I decided to stop and be very quiet, since I felt bad I had disturbed their sleep and perhaps they would go back to sleep.  This idea was nice in theory but the elephant in me knocked over a container of spices and now they were up for real.

Well, they were awake, but not up.  Actually, they were quaking in their beds.  They knew we were not supposed to be home that night, so it couldn’t be us.  They were convinced they were hearing Arabs trying to break into our home to commit a terrorist attack.

I finally landed with a thud from the counter to the kitchen floor.  Again, I tried to be quiet, but the elephant in me ran into the broom and it knocked loudly to the floor.  I ran to the front door to unlock it for my husband, waiting patiently but weakly outside on the porch.  Suddenly my guests’ bedroom door opened slowly and ‘Mr. Rosen” peeked out.

“Hi and surprise!” I said.  “It turned out we were able to be discharged early, so we came home!  But you left the key in the inside of front door so I couldn’t unlock it so I had to break in!”

“Mr. Rosen” looked pale.

“Yeah, we were in bed when we heard you,” he said.  “We weren’t sure what to do.  My wife finally convinced me to investigate.  I was sure when I opened this door I was going to hear “Allahu Akhbar!””

I actually felt really badly that I’d caused them such a fright; but I knew this would be something that we’d laugh over someday . . .  if the “Rosens”  didn’t want to kill me first.

Postscript:  the surgeon called us at home to make sure my husband felt okay, and offered kind words of encouragement.  We also got called several times by the hospital and the kupa, just to see how he was feeling.  Physical therapy was arranged and the first session was 5 days after the operation with a wonderful PT who couldn’t believe how much range of motion my husband had already.  His recovery is stellar, thank G-d, surpassing all estimates (the doctor said up to 3 months before my husband could go back to work; he is already (cautiously) doing a few hours’ work at his computer at home less than a week after the surgery).

As to the bill?  The surgery, hospital stay, and subsequent physical therapy are free.

We are so blessed to be in Israel, both in sickness and in health.

 

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Star Wars

My husband is having surgery this coming Thursday to repair a torn rotator cuff.  (I will undoubtedly write a blogpost about our experiences with socialized medicine in Israel but so far, so good.) Because he will be housebound for awhile, I suggested that he go see the latest Star Wars movie the day before his operation since by the time he recovers it will probably no longer be playing in theaters.

I myself am not much of a movie-goer (I saw the original Star Wars movie when it first came out and that was it for me), and really have no desire to see the latest and greatest.  So I did what any resident of my village does when they have something they need:  I posted on a village Whatsapp group asking if anyone wanted to join my husband tomorrow night at the movies.

Before I tell you how this ends, a little preface.  We chose to live in a village rather than a city precisely because we thought we’d integrate into the community faster due to its smaller size and intimacy.  Israelis are very very connected to their families and extended families and get-togethers with relatives are constant.  Israelis also have close relationships with their friends, but many of those bonds are formed from their younger years when they were in youth groups and later, in the military.  Consequently, many olim may find it difficult to integrate socially and “break in” to Israeli culture, and some olim feel both alone and lonely — especially those who reside in large cities, where finding one’s place in a “community” may take a lot of work.

In our case, our logic was good.  We weren’t looking for an “American ghetto” in Israel, although there are a smattering of Anglos where we live.  Even though our Hebrew is far from perfect, we get by pretty well and people respect our efforts to speak in Hebrew despite our sometimes sounding like 4th graders or making lots of linguistic mistakes.  Our village has 290 families and while by no means do we know everyone, we’ve gotten to know numerous people quickly.  There is rarely a Shabbat where we are not invited or  else that we do the inviting for a meal, but we never are alone unless we consciously choose to be by ourselves.  We are part of a seniors group, an English-speakers group, and regularly participate in a wide range of local activities.  We’ve been in Israel for 9 months and many people have commented, “it seems like you’ve been here forever.”  (Fortunately, they mean this in a good way!) It’s true:  our village in particular, and Israel in general, feel like home.

But my favorite part of this story is the person who will be my husband’s Star Wars “date:”  a man 33 years younger than my husband, a person who we both call our friend.

Now I don’t know about you, but in the United States, we rarely had multi-generational friendships: people mostly socialized with people their own age.  But here, one of the things we absolutely love about Israel, is that we have friends from all walks of life professionally and economically; from different levels of religious observance (and many who are completely secular); from many different cultures and countries of origin, as well as sabras; and many different ages – both much older and much younger than ourselves.  We feel so blessed and privileged to love and be loved, and to be included not because people pity us, but because they choose to be part of our lives and let us share part of theirs.

The Force is truly with us.

 

It’s All About the “Poh”

dredielpoh

Chanuka is about miracles, and the very fact of our being here in Israel and that things are going well seems pretty miraculous in and of itself.  It seems hard to believe that we’ve been here for 9 months.  The time has flown so quickly. First I want to say:  Thank you, HaShem: we’ve settled in quickly and made many new and wonderful friends; I can daven at the Kotel and other holy sites whenever the mood strikes; we’ve learned all kinds of new skills and our Hebrew continues to improve; our house construction has still not started but at least we have a very nice rental apartment in the meantime; we have great medical care and it’s actually affordable; the fruits and vegetables are bountiful, delicious and reasonably priced; we live in a place with gorgeous views of mountains, the city, villages, and the Mediterranean; and my husband found work at age 69 only 30 minutes away, in a job that is technically challenging, pays decently, has good benefits, with a great boss and wonderful coworkers.

There is an interesting difference between dreidels sold in in the Diaspora versus dreidels sold in Israel :  the letters on the dreidels are different.  In the Diaspora the letters are nun, gimel, hey, shin. These letters stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham – – “a great miracle happened there” which refers to the miracle of the oil and the victory over the Greeks.  In Israel the letters on the dreidel are nun, gimel, hey, peh – – Nes Gadol Haya Poh – – “a great miracle happened here.”  For us that just about sums it up:  it’s all about the “Poh.”

 

Shachar, a’h

IMG_20171207_111725.jpgIn the midst of the hustle and bustle of packing up everything on the eve of our aliyah, my son called.

“If you can get it to fit, would you mind taking something for someone in your lift?”

My son had been storing Shachar Weissberg’s shtender (a type of bookstand intended for supporting heavy tomes on a tabletop) for several years in his shed in Baltimore, with no way to get it to him now that he was living in Israel.

Although Shachar had always dreamed of living in Israel and had strong roots there (his mother is Israeli and many of his siblings live there), you might call his aliyah “accidental.”  While on a visit to Israel, Shachar fell seriously ill, yet another episode in a long string of ups and downs that were part of the degenerative illness that had plagued him for years.  There were many times when he almost didn’t survive, but this time it was clear that he would be unable to travel back to America without great risk to his life.  He was happily “stuck” in Israel, and Jerusalem is where he would spend the remainder of his too-short life.

He made aliyah only with the clothes that were in his suitcase, intended for a short visit.  From Israel, Shachar asked my son if he could store his shtender.

Normally when we think of a shtender, it’s a tabletop model.  But this was a large piece of wooden furniture, designed especially for use with a wheelchair.  Its tabletop stretched across the width of his wheelchair, and its legs reached along the sides, to the floor.  Shipping it was simply not feasible – – until now.

Our lift arrived 4 weeks after we made aliyah to the Galilee, in northern Israel.  At the time I had no car, and couldn’t figure out how I was going to get the shtender to Shachar in Jerusalem.  It sat in a corner of my rental apartment for several weeks. After speaking to his mother, who also didn’t have a car and was immersed in her role as Shachar’s caretaker, it was clear that somehow, I’d just have to make it happen.

Fortunately there is a direct bus from my village in the Galilee to Jerusalem’s central bus station.  With a hand cart, I was able to roll the shtender from my apartment to the bus, load it in the storage area under the bus, and so I made the two hour journey to Jerusalem.  Shachar lived in an apartment near Machane Yehuda, a short 10 minute walk from the bus station, and thanks to the dolly, I was able to roll it all the way to his house.

Although I had davened regularly for Rafael Shachar ben Zehavit, I hadn’t seen Shachar for several years, and I’d heard his condition was poor.  Nothing could have prepared me for the shock of seeing how much he had deteriorated.  He was bedridden in tremendous pain, could barely speak, and was clearly suffering. I will spare you the details, but it was clear to me that he would be unable to use the shtender in his current condition, and things were unlikely to improve.

I felt terrible for bringing Shachar the shtender!  I was bringing him a relic from his past that was a bitter reminder of how much better things used to be, and it only emphasized all the things he could no longer do.  If the purpose of visiting the sick is to bring comfort, this was not it!

But Shachar greeted me with a huge smile.  And his face lit up when he saw his shtender. With great effort to speak, he thanked me profusely for bringing the shtender.

“This shtender is a source of great joy to me,” he said.  “It reminds me of such happy times.  I made this shtender with my own two hands in Camp Simcha.  I worked so hard on building it, and I was so happy that I was able to accomplish it.  That was huge for me.  Every time I learned Torah with this shtender, it made my learning so much sweeter.  Having it now will give me so much joy and strength, even if I can only just look at it.”

And that was the greatness of Shachar Weissberg a’h.  He only saw the good in situations, in people, in life. He lived every moment of his life to the fullest and with meaning. He never took anything or anyone for granted.  He appreciated everyone, and anyone who came to visit him with the idea of giving him encouragement, instead walked away encouraged and strengthened by him!  He loved people from all walks of life and they loved him – – literally thousands of people from across the globe. His neshama was holy and pure.

He transcended his illness with his indomitable fighting spirit, yet was a gentle, kind, patient and loving friend to all who crossed his path.  I confess I wondered how much longer he would be forced to suffer the ravages of his illness; it was awful and so unfair. But the world needed him more than he needed the world, and perhaps that is why he lived as long as he did.

His quiet greatness will never be forgotten.  May we merit filling the tremendous void of his passing with kindness, fortitude, love and hope, as he would have wanted.

Rest in peace, Shachar Weissberg.

The Second Night of Pesach

Well here is my Pesach tale for 5777 (2017), the first year of our permanent (IY”H) return to Israel.

Oh, I was cocky!

This was the first year in so many years that we would be keeping ONE DAY of Yom Tov!  No second seder for us!

When an olah chadasha (new immigrant) friend, also due to experience her first ONE DAY Yom Tov as an Israeli living in Eretz Yisrael, found out that she’d be getting visitors from the US for Pesach, and therefore wouldn’t be able to have ONE seder as she had sorely yearned, I felt genuine pity.  Because I was going to have ONE DAY of Yom Tov this year, and NO ONE and NOTHING was going to stop me.

You see, we olim chadashim from America tend to have a chip on our shoulder.  Because WE MADE ALIYAH, usually from more comfortable circumstances than where we find ourselves once in Israel, and secretly perhaps some of us feel we deserve some sort of prize for our “sacrifice.” Oh, we are strong! Because we are idealists living in the Holy Land.

And that’s perhaps the mistake many of us make.  Because even though it’s wonderful and admirable to make aliyah, and even though Israel is a great country, we are still in spiritual galut (exile) because for whatever reason, Mashiach hasn’t yet come.  But it’s easy to forget this when things are calm, especially when one is able to live in Israel and experience the holiness, the beauty, the spirituality, the uniqueness, and yes, even the craziness up close and personal; when every day one feels like one is fulfilling one’s destiny as a Jew in the Holy Land.

Nearly every Israeli can personalize the Seder, that evening of the recounting of the escape from slavery in Egypt into the complex privilege of freedom and redemption.  In Israel it’s not just an ancient story, it’s a modern one, full of elderly Holocaust survivors, Ethiopians, Sephardim expelled from Islamic lands, war widows, survivors of terror attacks, etc, all with their own stories of struggle and loss and redemption and now living in the Promised Land.

Now that I was living in Israel, I was going to have only ONE day of yom tov and ONE seder.  But I wouldn’t be hosting it this year.

Because our personal belongings arrived by ship only a week before Pesach and our temporary rental accommodations are in complete disarray, our friends kindly invited us to spend Pesach with them in Efrat.

This was a great decision because we got to spend time with our friends; we could take our dog with us (they had just gotten a new puppy and it was great to socialize them); Efrat is close to Jerusalem which meant that we could visit the Kotel the day before, as well as do a quick tour of meaningful historical sites in Gush Etzion (like a 2000+ year old roadside mikva that was used by pilgrims a few days before Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, as they made their way on foot to Jerusalem to the Temple, only 18 km away); as well as consume a REAL Hillel sandwich (matzo, maror, charoset, and GOAT meat!); and experience some very different types of prayer services in a myriad of synagogues within different neighborhoods of Efrat.

Indeed, it couldn’t have worked out better.   We had a wonderful seder, with lots of discussion and people of all ages making thoughtful contributions and commentary.  The next day we visited a different set of friends in another neighborhood of Efrat (it’s always inspiring to hear success stories from new immigrants about acclimating to and loving life in Israel).  We returned home for a short nap, and as darkness approached . . . that was IT.  Yom Tov was OVER.  There was no second seder, no desperate need to hit the shower.  If I was tired I could go to bed – – because there was no second seder, no second day yom tov, no overeating and indigestion.  Hooray!

So what did we do?  Over matzo lasagna and kosher-for-Passover Ben & Jerrys ice cream, we learned to play mah jongg!  Our friends and their teenaged sons are mah jongg whizzes, and they kindly and patiently explained the two million rules so that we could get in on the action.

And then, around 1:30 a.m., I decided to go to sleep.  Because the next day we could DRIVE since there was no SECOND DAY YOM TOV.  And we had planned to visit friends in a chareidi suburb of Jerusalem.

Exhausted, I fell asleep.  But around 2 a.m, my husband woke me.  “The dog has been coming up to me and poking me with his nose,” my husband said groggily.  “He needs to go out.”  This translates into, “YOU NEED TO TAKE YOUR DAMN DOG OUT.  NOW!”  At which my husband promptly rolled over and fell back asleep.  While I, on the other hand, having been awoken from a blissful sleep, was throwing on whatever article of clothing I could find so I could take my dog out at 2 a.m.

Efrat is a city of 10,000 people.  I understand that 2 a.m. is not exactly a busy time, but wouldn’t you think there would be SOMEONE outside at that hour?  But no.  My dog and I seemingly had the entire city of Efrat to ourselves, and I walked the dog (he really DID have to go!) and happily returned to our friends’ apartment, anxious to get back to sleep.

I trudged up the 2 flights of stairs, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.  When I got to the door, I turned the handle, but nothing happened.  I pushed it.  Jiggled the door.  Nothing.  It was locked!

Until now, my friends had always left the door unlocked, even at night.  So they hadn’t given us a key, nor had they given us the door’s security code.

I truly felt bad about doing so, but I rang the buzzer.  Once. Twice.  Five times.  I knocked at the front door, softly at first, but then more persistently and then quite loudly.  NOTHING.  Everyone was sound asleep and I was locked outside.

So I walked back down the two flights of stairs and waited.  Surely a family would be returning late at night from elsewhere in Israel.  Surely someone else would need to walk their dog.  Surely a security patrol would eventually come by.  Surely someone, anyone, would have a cell phone that I could borrow to call my husband and rouse him from his sleep, so he could unlock the front door.

But no.  No one was returning home late.  No one was walking their dog.  There wasn’t even a security patrol.  And the buses had stopped running at midnight.

I hadn’t thought to take my phone, because I knew I was coming right back upstairs after the dog did his business and after all, who would I call at 2 a.m.?  I was dressed in a thin shirt and skirt.  Now the wind was picking up, and I was getting cold.  I was getting tired of walking, and even my dog was tired of walking around outside.

I tried laying down on a bus bench, and then a park bench a few hundred feet away, but both were made of metal and the cold surface invaded my bones.  So I did more walking, just to stave off the cold.

Finally I made my way back to the apartment.  Maybe someone would need to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, realize my dog and I weren’t there, and be concerned.  But no, my husband slept on, completely oblivious to my lack of physical presence in the bedroom.

I went back outside. And then back up the stairs, waiting by the front door, testily ringing the buzzer and knocking and then returning back outside.  Up and down I went, between the apartment and the street, trying to devise new strategies.  A few hours passed, but morning was still a long way off, and I was really tired.  I returned to the apartment, dragged a few doormats from different apartments together in a line, and lay down on the filthy, scratchy doormats.  It was clear I wouldn’t be getting to sleep this night, but at least I had a ½” barrier of doormats against the cold marble floors underneath me.

I wasn’t scared (it felt like really uncomfortable urban camping), I was Just. So. Tired.  But so was the rest of Efrat, apparently, because they slept on through the night.

I won’t even describe the panic I felt when I had to go to the bathroom (I figured there must be hidden outdoor security cameras everywhere, so peeing behind a bush wasn’t a possibility).  Mercifully, finally, it was daylight and my husband soon would be going to minyan.

At last the front door was unlocked and I peeled off my very dirty clothes and unable to utter a sound, I collapsed into the bed under a pile of warm blankets.  My dog, who hadn’t slept a wink, let out a large, tragic sigh, gave me a reproachful look, and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

So no, I didn’t have a second seder or a second day yom tov.  But I might as well have.  I spent the night utterly homeless and outdoors, truly experiencing an ancestral déjà vu of yetziat Mitzrayim.  I had no one to rely on but HaShem.  It was layl shimurim in the deepest sense of the word.  I was surrounded by 10,000 people yet I was alone in the world.

Yet I was not.

The purpose of the Seder is a retelling, to ensure that from generation to generation we Jews understand we are a link in the chain, and will go from slavery and repression to ultimate redemption.  It might be a long way off, but we believe this with every fiber of our being – – that redemption WILL come.  Yet somehow, sometimes, when we are living with plenty, and are surrounded  by loving family, and despite the gratitude we feel, it’s kind of hard to feel the intensity of the Exodus.

When I was held captive by the night, I was initially upset.  When I calmed down, I realized it was about more than just being locked out; that HaShem was sending me a message.  Even though it was only for a few hours, I needed to feel my own personal yetziat Mitzrayim; to experience doubt, dependence, fear, exhaustion, deprivation.  And to know that it would eventually be over, and all would be well.

At dawn, slowly at first, Efrat began to stir.

And when daybreak came, I was redeemed.