Doctors from around the world who fulfilled their dream and made Aliyah

The dream of living in Israel has always burned in the hearts of many Jews around the world, but for those practicing medicine, this dream also merges with a profound mission to contribute their skills and abilities to the Israeli health system.

In recent weeks, special fairs have been held in the USA and France for doctors considering aliyah. At these events, representatives of Israel’s health insurance funds and senior representatives from the Ministry of Health met with doctors and explained employment options in Israel and the process required to qualify them as physicians there.

The road to aliyah is not always easy. A comfortable life, a promising career, family, and friends are often obstacles to realizing the dream, but the strong desire to fulfill the Zionist dream can overcome everything. Physicians must give up the lives they had built abroad, make aliyah, and start a new life full of challenges, in which they deal with the culture of a new country, a new language, a lack of familiarity with the local culture and the need to restart their professional careers. 

Since October 7, the desire to make aliyah has increased among many Jews around the world. The exposure to antisemitic incidents strengthened the sense of belonging among Diaspora Jews and their desire to live in Israel. Four doctors from Meuhedet Health Fund who made aliyah from different countries around the world tell what was behind their decision to make aliyah, how their work as doctors in Israel differs from that in their home country, share their first steps in the Israeli health system, what pleasantly surprised them, and also offer their two cents to potential new immigrants. 

Being that this past Sunday, April 7, was World Health Day, it is especially fitting to tell the story of four doctors who made aliyah to Israel from different locations around the globe. 

Dr. Dalia Kutwak, 42, married with four children and originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, made aliya to Israel in 2018. She studied medicine at the University of Rio and later moved to Miami, where she specialized in internal medicine and geriatrics. Today, she lives with her family in Bet Shemesh and works at the Rimonim clinic in the city, which is part of the Jerusalem District of Meuhedet.

What made you decide to make aliyah?  

“Even though I lived there, it didn’t really feel like home to me,” says Dr. Kutwak, describing her feelings before immigrating to Israel with her family. “I moved from Brazil to Miami at age 26, where I completed my Residency, fellowship and worked there for several years. All in all, it was good for me, but deep down, I felt this was not my place. I wanted to look for a place where my family and I would feel like we belonged,” she says. 

As a Jew, it was important for Dr. Kutwak to raise her children in a Jewish environment, “I only have boys, and I wanted them to be together in yeshivot. In the United States, they would be far from each other, each would study in a different place, but here in Israel, on the other hand, they can study together,” she adds. 

For Dr. Kutwak, immigrating to Israel was not only the fulfillment of a personal dream but also a mission. “In the United States, I was not only a doctor but also a medical director, and while it was important for me to take care of people, here in Israel, I feel that I am not only treating my patients so that they feel well, but that I am fulfilling a mitzvah.”

What is different about your work as a doctor in Israel compared to the United States?

“In Israel, there is teamwork, and everyone wants to contribute and help. Before I immigrated to Israel, it was common for everyone to work alone, and there wasn’t a sense of teamwork like here,” says Dr. Kutwak. “The patients in Israel thank you for taking care of them, and every time you see them, it’s enjoyable and heartwarming. The entire atmosphere here, both from the perspective of the medical staff as well as from the patients, feels very family-like and close, which I didn’t have from where I came,” she added. 

She noted that thanks to the advanced systems in the Israeli health system today, it is possible to provide patients with better and higher quality care, “All patient data appears in a Universal healthcare records in their medical file, and this greatly helps to provide appropriate and effective treatment, which did not exist in the United States,” she explains. 

Dr. Kutwak also shares how she started off at Meuhedet. “I remember that when I arrived in Israel, I was interviewed by all the HMOs, and I decided to go to Meuhedet because I connected from the beginning with the medical staff there. They go out of their way for their patients, there is a warm and pleasant atmosphere and we help each other without hesitation”‘ she says.

Tell us about your first steps in the Israeli health system and what pleasantly surprised you here

“When I first came to Israel, I was worried about the differences between the medications in both countries,” says Dr. Kutwak. “I remember that at the beginning of my journey here, I was accompanied for two weeks by a doctor who is originally from London, and he helped me with all the ongoing work in the clinic, whether it was with the computer systems, the way the clinic worked and of course dealing with various bureaucracies,” she adds. 

Dr. Kutwak explains that one of her main difficulties when she immigrated was learning Hebrew. “At first, I was in the Ulpan, and I also did a three-month internship at Shaare Zedek, which helped me a great deal in learning the language. I knew most of the words but felt I needed help occasionally. The medical staff at Meuhedet was accommodating and continues to assist me in writing in Hebrew.” 

“I have to admit that I didn’t think I’d become so close with the medical staff and the patients. I feel like some of them have become my friends,” says Dr. Kutwak. “The first patient I treated is still in touch with me to this day, and we talk about everything. I was very surprised by the warm attitude and closeness of the people here,” she added.

What would your two cents be to doctors who want to make aliyah?

“Before deciding to make aliyah, I recommend coming here first on a pilot trip, and getting to know the country a bit better,” says Dr. Kutwak. She also notes that it is very important to try to learn the Hebrew language even before coming to Israel, which greatly facilitates the process. In conclusion, she says, “It is also important to understand that there is nothing to fear from immigrating. In Israel, there is always a demand for doctors and also for those who speak foreign languages.”

Dr. Lea Levy, 39, married with five children, made aliyah from France nearly five years ago. She specializes in family medicine as well as palliative medicine, which strives to improve the quality of life and relieve the pain of terminally ill patients. When Dr. Levy arrived in Israel, she was among the first doctors in Israel to specialize in palliative medicine. Today, she works as a family physician at the Kshatot Clinic in her hometown of Bnei Brak, and as a palliative physician in the Central District of Meuhedet. Dr. Levy studied at the University of Paris and speaks Hebrew, English, French, and Spanish. 

What made you decide to make aliyah?  

“I saw that there were special programs for absorbing immigrant doctors, such as tours in Israel and meetings with French doctors,” says Dr. Levy. “Through a doctors’ association in France, I met managers from Meuhedet, and I also saw an advertisement for the health fund, in which a classmate of mine who works there appeared. I spoke with her, and as a result, I met with representatives of Meuhedet. That’s what ultimately made me decide to leave France and immigrate to Israel. I knew that many opportunities awaited me,” she adds. 

Dr. Levy says she decided to make aliyah when her eldest daughter was eight years old. “I told myself we would make aliyah now, or the children would grow up. There is a certain age when it is easier to make the move,” she explains. 

“My husband made aliyah when he was 19, and when he was 24, we met and decided to return to France, where I did my internship. We planned to live for three years and then make aliyah, but in the end, we lived there for ten years. When we talked about making aliyah, he was worried that I wouldn’t have a job and that it would be very difficult for us in a new country. It’s very hard to leave a complete life and suddenly move to a new place, but I had friends who had immigrated to Israel before me. I saw they were doing well and decided it was worth the difficulty.” 

What is different about your work as a doctor in Israel compared to in France?

“The specialty in palliative medicine in Israel is very different from what I had in France. In Israel, our relationship with patients is deeper, especially to those who share things in common with us. The connection between the people here and the social unity is also robust. When a person experiences difficulty here, everyone enlists to help them,” explains Dr. Levy. 

Another thing Dr. Levy notes is that in Israel, she works in a neighborhood clinic close to her home, compared to her work in France, where she had to drive 45 minutes to her workplace every morning. 

“In France, at the end of the day, you come home and disconnect and no longer deal with work. Here, on the other hand, you are constantly accompanying the patients. Even after they have finished treatment, I continue to take care of my patients,” says Dr. Levy. 

She adds that since she arrived at Meuhedet, she has been given the opportunity to lead significant processes in the health fund. “I feel like my voice really counts and I can approach management and have a real influence on things that are important to me”, says Dr. Levy. 

Lea Levi (credit: Personal Photo)

Tell us about your first steps in the Israeli health system and what pleasantly surprised you.

“When I arrived at Meuhedet, I was assigned a senior doctor who guided me at work. This was of great value to me and was especially important at the beginning,” says Dr. Levy. 

“In France, the healthcare system is private, and family doctors don’t always have access to all patient information. In Israel, the systems are very advanced, and family doctors have access to all medical files, which helps us provide them with the best treatment,” she explains.  

What would your two cents be to doctors who want to make aliyah?

Dr. Levy says that one of the most important things that helped her make aliyah was that she prepared all the necessary paperwork six months in advance. “Many immigrants arrive and encounter a lot of bureaucracy of forms required by the Ministry of Health. I was lucky that I knew exactly what I needed before I arrived, and it saved me a lot of unnecessary headaches,” Dr. Levy describes. 

Alberto Tarica (credit: Personal Photo)

Dr. Alberto Tarica, 55, married with four children, made aliyah to Israel from Argentina about a year and a half ago. He studied at the University of Buenos Aires and specialized in family medicine. Today, he lives in Harish and works at the Meuhedet clinic in the city.  

What made you decide to make aliyah?  

“We always lived in the Jewish community in Argentina. We attended Jewish schools and studied Hebrew and Torah,” says Dr. Tarica. “Our connection to Israel has always been strong – to its culture, history, Torah, and everything connected to it. In recent years, Bnei Akiva arrived there, and thanks to them, we grew even closer to Israel. With the outbreak of the covid, something changed. Several of our friends passed away, and we felt that if we had been in Israel, the situation might have been different,” he adds.

Dr. Tarica emphasizes that in Argentina, they had a good life, but at the same time, he saw the difference in caring for others in Israel compared to Argentina, which was one of his triggers to leave everything and come to Israel. 

What is different about your work as a doctor in Israel compared to Argentina?

Dr. Tarica says he worked as a doctor in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. “The situation there is fundamentally different from Israel. Poverty, social problems and violence are part of daily life there. In Israel, everything is organized, the systems are very easy to use, and I have access to all the information I need to treat my patients,” says Dr. Tarica. In addition, he adds that compared to a third-world country, where it is difficult to access medication, surgical procedures and specialists, in Israel, the entire system is very advanced and accessible.

“Unlike Argentina, there is a deep connection between the medical staff and the patients. The doctors even call the patients, to check up on them, something which is not done where I came from,” he explains. 

“In Israel, there is a feeling that people are always in a hurry, so I strongly believe in an approach of listening and empathy.” He adds that when he made aliyah, he received assistance from a Jewish organization that helped him to find work. When Dr. Tarica was looking into places to work, he came to the Harish clinic in Meuhedet, where he began the absorption process. “I feel like I’ve found a professional home here,” says Dr. Tarica. 

Tell us about your first steps in the Israeli healthcare system and what pleasantly surprised you here

Dr. Tarica praised the absorption process in Israel, “We were delighted at the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, where we received assistance and guidance both individually and as a group. There were other families with us who went through a process similar to ours. I don’t know of any other country that would help us in the same way, and yet it was still quite the challenge. We knew it would take a lot of patience, and over time, we managed to integrate.”

“When I started working in Israel, I had to go through a four-month adjustment period, during which I worked alongside an experienced doctor at Meuhedet’s Harish Clinic. He was patient and helped me a great deal, and to this day, we still keep in touch.” He added, “During my work, I realized that I needed to conduct myself fluently in Hebrew, challenging as it may be, and the clinic’s staff went out of their way to assist me. They never once made me feel uncomfortable. It’s very heartwarming.” 

What would your two cents be to doctors who want to make aliyah?

“Most importantly, learning Hebrew. It’s not easy to leave everything and make aliyah to a new country, so at least know the local language,” says Dr. Tarica. Another thing he notes is the importance of being very patient. “It’s a process that takes time, and never be ashamed to ask for help. People in Israel love to help.” 

Stephen Reingold (credit: Personal Photo)

Dr. Stephen Reingold, 50, married with three children, made aliyah in 2009 from the United States. He is a pediatrician with an additional specialty in pediatric ADHD and is the medical director of the Azrieli Clinic in Modiin Lev Ha’ir.

What made you decide to make aliyah?  

“I grew up in a Zionistic home and we all shared a love of Israel. While studying in Israel during my gap year, I made a personal decision and promised myself that my children would grow up and be educated here,” says Dr. Reingold. “I returned to the US and received my undergraduate degree at Yeshiva University, and then returned to Israel to study medicine at the Technion. While here, I met my wife and we got married in Jerusalem, though we had to return to New York for my residency in pediatrics.  As our children approached school age, we decided that it was time to return, and this time for good. Fortunately, we were soon followed by my eldest sister and her family, as well as our parents.”

What is different about your work as a doctor in Israel compared to the United States?

“I have a special relationship with my patients in Israel. I speak with them openly and honestly,” says Dr. Reingold. “I do not sit behind a desk so that there is no partition between me and my patients when we face each other. I recall the first day after I had moved the desk aside against the wall, a four-year-old patient saw me from across the waiting room and ran to me and jumped straight into my arms with a hug. That’s the best kind of feedback I can get from patients as far as I’m concerned,” says Dr. Reingold happily. 

 “When I ask most of the patients how they’re doing, many first ask me how I’m doing,” he said, “and on occasion, when the waiting room is full, some offer to bring me coffee.” 

“Upon making aliya, most doctors are required to perform a brief observation period before receiving their specialty license. Fortuitously, just as mine ended, Meuhedet opened a large clinic a short walking distance from our home. It was bashert, and I have been there ever since.” 

 “Israel is a small country, and anyone who wants to make an impact can do so and on various levels,” he notes. Dr Reingold teaches residents and medical students at two Universities. “Helping develop the next generation of medicine in the ‘start-up nation’ is exciting. Whether its teaching, creating policy, or helping develop new medical technologies, opportunities are abound.” 

As a board member of the Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association, Dr Reingold is involved in various national projects and has represented Israel in several international efforts in Europe. “Good advocacy is important, and I am happy to contribute.” 

Tell us about your first steps in the Israeli healthcare system and what pleasantly surprised you here

“People here are very generous and always happy to help – and that includes both colleagues and patients,” says Dr. Reingold. “What I love here is that I never feel like I’m alone and colleagues, even at the senior level, are available if you reach out to them.”  Israelis are also very forgiving if your Hebrew is not perfect – we are a country of immigrants, and most are simply grateful that you came. I have a deal with my patients – they help me perfect my Hebrew and I help them with their English.”

What would your two cents be to doctors who want to make aliyah?

“Nefesh B’Nefesh is extremely helpful and held my hand throughout the aliya process, including in obtaining my licenses. I highly recommend the MedEx conference. Learning Hebrew will improve your own confidence working and living here.” He adds that one should consider a pilot trip to Israel before aliyah. “A pilot trip will allow you to meet colleagues ahead of time and become familiar with medical practice in Israel. Once you make aliya, allow yourself time to acclimate to the language and culture, and reach out to colleagues. It’s a process, but certainly worthwhile.”

This article was written in cooperation with Meuhedet