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Aliyah, one year on

July 14, 2010 – 9:54 pm7 Comments

Sunset in Nahariya. Image source: viewfromgalilee.blogspot.com

By Paul Brown

It is just a month short of a year since Galus Australis published ‘It’s Aliyah all over Again.’ We left Terra Australis one month after that. So how have we found our Aliyah experience thus far?

Israel is not the same country we visited just over 40 years ago, nor is it the country to which we first made aliyah 30 years ago. It is no longer a land of pioneers. It remains a land of immigrants, but these hail from North Africa, Ethiopia, and Russia, much more than from Europe or North America. While the Eurozone languishes, while North America dismantles its leadership role in the world, and while Russia again seeks to abrogate it, Israel unexpectedly finds itself as a very stable democracy. To be sure there is poverty, but no one starves. To be sure, there are enemies. To be sure, there are ever-newer versions of Israeli chutzpah. But there is also brotherhood and forgiveness.

When I first set up my clinic in Jerusalem in 1980, American style medicine was on the way in. But by the mid-1990s, medicine in Israel had become free for all via the four private health funds.  A massive influx of Russian physicians carried the system into the 21st century. Israeli digital-electronic know-how ensured that the system was served by a computerised infrastructure that would be the envy of most modern countries. The shortfall of doctors is being met by building a fifth medical school ~ in Zefat ~ and a sixth will be needed to meet demographic requirements.

Sadly, psychiatry (my own specialty) is languishing. It is perhaps the most cost-intensive of all the medical specialities, and the health funds have been reluctant to absorb the costs of transfer from the public to the private sector. Thus mental health remains an orphan. Large stand-alone mental hospitals, a thing of the past in most of the developed world, persist here. The funds have not been made available to ensure an efficient or effective shift. If the government were to be true to their word, and were to order the transfer by fiat, then the funds would cut services by at least one half.

That said, many wonderful things are happening in the field of mental health, and some of these wonderful things are the very things that we are enjoying during our re-absorption into Israel. We had always wanted to give more, and to infuse our giving with Yiddishkeit. Two opportunities immediately presented themselves, and half a year on, we are having a ball.

In Nahariya, where we currently live, (we shortly move a few miles out of town to Kfar Veradim) we contribute to a club for street kids, children from Russian immigrant families.  We meet informally with the young people, and we provide counselling supervision for their madrichim.’ (supervisors)  Also, one day a week, we visit a local prison. There we run a counselling group for violent offenders, under the aegis of the ‘Agaf Ha-Dati’ (the religious branch of the prison service).  Our approach is a combination of the more conventional ‘bottom-up’, psychological therapy, and a (for us) a novel ‘top-down’ more spiritual therapy. We open each session with a Divrei Torah, on the Torah approach to such key themes as anger, trust and authenticity. There are plenty of opportunities for jokes and for Hasidic tales. Quite unexpected for us, especially since this is one of the few voluntary activities in the prison, the group participants have been more than willing to bare their souls. And so too have we, in a truly uplifting experience for all.

To pay the bills we are setting up a private practice in the centre of Nahariya. Such private practice is rare north of Haifa, and yet, the local people seem to be ready for it. Naturally, our constituency is different, both demographically and clinically, from Melbourne. Stress, and particularly war trauma, is a baseline-given in everyone that attends our clinic, and the experience of living under siege conditions in Israel must equally be taken into account when treating even the most serious psychopathology. We are learning how to do this. Life is, as ever, full of surprises, and we are enjoying every moment of it.

Dr Paul Brown is a psychiatrist who had been living in Melbourne for two decades, prior to making Aliyah for the second time.

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7 Comments »

  • ariel says:

    Yeshar ko’ach Dr Brown!

    Your story is inspiring. Although I found one seemingly humourous sentence:
    “A massive influx of Russian physicians carried the system into the 21st century”…

  • David Jonas says:

    Hi Paul & Marta,
    You lost the “baggage” of Melbourne but gained the challenges of Nahariya…a big contrast.
    Life bubbles on in Melb with the fed election coming up and the customary “baby kissing” happening right now.
    We are now in Docklands and loving it…..have also just acquired a beach house in McCrae for doing-up and on-selling.This will keep me off the streets.
    Best regards to you and Marta-
    David Jonas.

  • Charlotte Brown says:

    Hi Paul and Marta,
    Interesting article. Look forward to the next update on life in Israel.
    Kind regards.
    Charlotte Brown

  • Thomas Klasic says:

    Dear Paul,
    When you are next in Melbourne please drop in and see us. Wife gave birth to baby boy 18/05. Your are more than welcome. All the best to your lovely wife.

    Regards,
    Thomas Klasic.

  • Gil Rosenthal says:

    Hi Paul,
    If this is indeed you, which I think it is,
    I have just made a great find!
    please drop me an eMail if this is the
    same fantastic bloke with the clinic
    in the Jewish Quarter.
    Melange :-)

    Gil Rosenthal, Architect
    rose_gis@zahav.net.il

  • Eds: We will pass this message onto Dr Brown

  • Mary says:

    Dear Paul

    I have only just come across this article and I was curious if you are the same Dr Paul Brown of the Pierre Janet Clinic at Kew, Melbourne ?

    Best wishes for you and your family

    regards

    Mary

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