Friday, May 17, 2024

My Vacation at Laniado Hospital: Part II of my Trip to Eretz Yisroel

There's nothing like spending a day at the hospital to top off a blizzard-struck vacation. Okay, okay. Just kidding. Still, you can't deny that my experience is every writer's dream. People often ask me, “How do you come up with all these stories and ideas?” My steady response? “I don't ‘come up' with them. They just happen.”

This time, the story happened to yours truly. What resulted was an incredible kiddush Hashem, a feel-good type of story I feel compelled to share.


As I mentioned in last week’s installment, my trip to Eretz Yisroel to attend a close friend’s simcha and daven at the holy sites coincided with the worst blizzard Eretz Yisroel has seen in over fifty years. But I wasn’t going to let a bit of bad weather get me down. And so, wearing my trendy, suede (non-waterproof) boots, I hit the water-logged streets, navigating the snowdrifts in my desperate desire to see the land.


I spent almost the entire Thursday, Friday, Shabbos and Sunday out and about, trudging through five-inch puddles as there were no buses until Tuesday, when the glorious sunshine melted the snow banks a bit. My poor feet were drenched and frostbitten after all the walking.

The end result, a serious infection.


I first noticed the bruising and inflammation on my right toe on Monday morning, shortly before I embarked on a full-day trip to Meron, Tzefas, Amukah and Tiverya with Hoffman Tours. I dismissed it quickly; the tour was leaving at 8:45 a.m. and I was running late. Yikes!

We ended up departing after 9:15, eight passengers in a cozy little van, lumped together at random to spend the day together. By the time we got back to Yerushalayim, after midnight, most of us had become fast friends. We’d spent hours in the van sharing nosh, exchanging wry insights, grousing about the weather, and sharing more nosh.


Our initial route took us south, past Maaleh Adumim, to the Dead Sea. (The northbound roads were closed due to the weather.) I marveled at the vast difference in the landscape as soon as we left the Holy City. In the Dead Sea area, there was nary a hint of snow or cold. The sun shone gloriously on the red rock and Bedouin tents that dotted the landscape. A little Bedouin girl, she couldn’t have been more than five years old, wearing a bright red jumpsuit approached our van and begged for money. We gave her a few coins and she jumped up and down, grinning from ear to ear.


We continued descending below sea level, marveling at the stunning desert rock and the feeling of isolation. Soon we passed Yericho and began to climb again, ascending on our journey toward the Galilee.


After several hours of pleasant travel, we reached the northern part of the country. Our first stop was the kever of Chavakuk Hanovi, the miracle child who was brought back to life by Elishah Hanovi.


A few minutes later, we ascended Mt. Meron, headed toward the kever of Rav Shimon bar Yochai. The entire mountain was covered with a layer of pristine snow, giving the ohel a warm, welcoming glow. We were fortunate to have ample room to daven in the spacious chamber, unlike at the time of the hilulah, when there’s nary an inch of breathing space.


Our next stop was Tzefas, which was nearly buried in two-foot snowdrifts. We ascended to the Old City, a beautiful maze of winding alleyways and hidden haunts. The iconic artist’s quarter was shut down due to the inclement weather, yet we were able to get a glimpse of its charm and whitewashed beauty.


With incredible skill, Mr. Hoffman somehow managed to drive down to the base of the mountain, from which we ascended via a steep staircase to the kevorim of the Arizal, Rav Yosef Karo, Rav Shlomo Alkabetz and others. By this time it was after dark, and we traversed the long, lonely road to Amukah, which were covered with a layer of slippery slush. Our heartfelt tefillos, the pages of our Tehillim illuminated by cell phone, resonated in this isolated spot, where we pleaded on High for shidduchim for all those searching for their zivuggim.


By the time we arrived in Tiverya at the kevorim of the Rambam, the Shelah, RebbiAkiva and Rav Meir Baal Haness, it was late in the evening and our tefillos took on added urgency. So many burdens on our collective hearts and so little time.


Our final stop in Tiverya was at the beautiful hotel belonging to Kibbutz Lavi, where those who were continuing with Hoffman’s two-day tour of the Golan were hosted overnight. I was incredibly relieved when the kindhearted staff at the hotel allowed me to email the articles I’d written to my editor, which had been stored on a flash drive in my purse. The inability to receive messages and send my articles was but one of the logistical difficulties I’d encountered. In the end, though, all my deadlines were miraculously met, with even more speed and efficiency than when I am back at home. Go figure.


The following day, Tuesday, was the wedding in Netanya, the original purpose of my trip. But first I had work to do: a pre-arranged meeting in Bnei Brak at the offices of Lev L’Achim. I enjoyed an early-morning ramble in the Machaneh Yehudah Shuk and was then picked up by Rav Zeivald, an indomitable menahel of Lev L’Achim, who graciously drove me to Bnei Brak. The two-and-a-half hours I spent in the offices, meeting the women on the front lines, the devoted Lev L’Achimrebbetzins and staff, and hearing their stories, were simply indescribable.

These noshim tzidkoniyos give up their days, nights, talents, kochos and downtime to be there for “their” girls, through thick and thin. During my visit, I was introduced to Anat, an aidele young mother from Elad, whose face shone with purity. She spoke Hebrew and a little English. I managed to grasp that she had spent years searching for her identity in India and South America before turning her life around. My initial introduction to Lev L’Achim and the scope of their operations deserves a complete article, which it shall receive in due time.


It was nearly 5 p.m. by the time I caught a bus to Kiryas Sanz, Netanya, clutching a bulky carry-on with my wedding attire. By this time, my foot, which I’d studiously ignored, was throbbing, and I was finding it hard to walk. When I finally arrived at the Galei Sanz hotel just in time for the kabbolas ponim, I could no longer ignore the obvious: my foot was in bad shape.


My tried-and-true mantra for physical aches, “Ignore it and it will go away,” didn’t seem to be working this time. There was a mushroom-shaped purple cloud of pus covering a large portion of my big toe, and most of my right foot was dark red, swollen to nearly double its size.


I contemplated going to Laniado Hospital, just a few blocks away, for medical attention, but I didn’t have the heart to miss the chasunah of my best friend’s son, for which I’d come all the way from New York. Somehow, I managed to make it through the evening and even dance, while praying that no high heels spear my infected foot.


Early the next morning, another friend who’d come for the simcha dropped me off at Laniado Hospital, a unique medical institution, perhaps the only one of its kind. Laniado is a completely frum hospital, with shomrei Shabbosdoctors, nurses and secretaries, whose entire premise is based on chesed, on giving without expecting anything in return. In fact, Laniado Hospital is known as the only hospital in Israel that has never closed due to a strike.


Located in Kiryas Sanz, Netanya, the hospital was founded in 1975 by Rav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam zt”l, the Klausenburger Rebbe.

This dream was conceived during the Holocause, when the rebbe experienced the brutality and inhumanity of the Nazis first hand. At the cornerstone-laying for Laniado’s second building in 1980, he told those assembled inYiddish:
“I was saved from the gas chambers, saved from Hitler. I spent several years in Nazi death camps. Besides the fact that they murdered my wife and 11 children, my mother, my sisters and my brother – of my whole family, some 150 people, I was the only one who survived – I witnessed their cruelty.
“I remember as if it were today how they shot me in the arm. I was afraid to go to the Nazi infirmary, though there were doctors there. I knew that if I went in, I’d never come out alive.… Despite my fear of the Nazis, I plucked a leaf from a tree and stuck it to my wound to stanch the bleeding. Then I cut a branch and tied it around the wound to hold it in place. With G-d’s help, it healed in three days.
“Then I promised myself that if, with Hashem’s help, I would get well and get out of there, away from those resha’im (wicked people), I would build a hospital in Eretz Yisroel where every human being would be cared for with dignity. And the basis of that hospital would be that the doctors and nurses would believe that there is a G-d in this world and that when they treat a patient, they are fulfilling the greatest mitzvah in the Torah.”
The Rebbe regarded the hospital as a Torah institution and instructed his staff to treat patients with kindness and compassion.

I witnessed this compassion firsthand, when I walked, or hobbled, into one of the Laniado buildings, seeking medical care. The complex of buildings is well kept and modern, yet I felt as if I’d walked into a friendly, small-town doctor’s office.


A kindhearted, Yiddish-speaking receptionist, one of the residents of Kiryas Sanz, listened to my story: I was a guest at a wedding in Galei Sanz, I had (stupidly) neglected to buy medical insurance, and I was in tremendous pain due to an inflammation in my foot. “I can’t afford medical care,” I confessed, “but I can barely walk at this point.”


The receptionist guided me through a maze of corridors to a nearby clinic, where I met Dr. Marusha, a sweet young doctor, an émigré from Moscow. Dr. Marusha looked at my foot and gravely shook her head. “This does not look good,” she said.


“How much will it cost?” I stammered. “Can it wait until I get back to the States on Thursday?”

“Absolutely not,” she averred. “The infection can spread. It’s dangerous to travel like this. We’re going to the emergency room right now.”


“Don’t worry about the cost,” the receptionist told me with a smile. “You came to a wedding in Sanz. You’re our guest now. We’ll take care of the bill.”


I was speechless with shock and admiration. Who ever heard of a hospital treating patients free of charge? What kind of hospital was this, anyway? Back home, such a visit would cost a minimum of five hundred dollars for an uninsured visitor.


I hobbled along with Dr. Marusha to the emergency room, which was located across a quiet street. After a short wait, I was placed on a bed, and another doctor professionally drained the abscess with a needle, treated the area, bandaged the wound and gave me ten days’ worth of antibiotics. I thanked the staff profusely and hobbled out the door, feeling like I’d been given a new lease on life.


I spent the rest of the day sitting near the ocean, soaking in the sunshine. (Netanya is located along the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean.) Though Yerushalayim was still frigid, the weather in Netanya was a glorious seventy-five degrees, and the waters were deep blue. On this day, my last day in the Holy Land, I’d planned a full day of work-related appointments, including a visit to Mifal Torah Vodaas, the well-known remarkable learning program for Sefardic children, plus a rendezvous with a wonderful group of writer-friends in Beitar. But, as they say, “Man toils and G-d foils.”


I was stuck in Netanya, in tremendous pain, barely able to drag my infected foot, so I spent the final “leg” of my vacation relaxing by the water instead of conquering the world. I returned to Yerushalayim in the evening, bought some last-minute gifts, packed my paraphernalia, and prepared to leave early in the morning.


One final “only in Eretz Yisroel” story: Since Nesher was not available to take me to the airport, I called a private taxi service. The dispatcher told me that it would be two hundred shekel, or sixty dollars. Since all I had was a hundred dollar bill, I asked the driver for change.

Unfortunately, he only had eighty shekalim, far less than what he owed me. “Can I go into the airport and get change?” I asked, hopefully.


“I’m sorry, but there’s no time,” the driver said rather abruptly. Just as I was about to give him a piece of my mind for ripping me off, he asked, “Do you want me to give the difference to tzedakah?”


“But of course,” I said, instantly mollified. “Give it to Kupat Ha’ir.Todah.”


Bevakashah,” he replied, before gunning the motor and driving off. I dragged my luggage into the terminal, shaking my head in wonder. Only in Eretz Yisroel…


P.S.As I write these lines, my foot has healed, boruch Hashem. My only souvenir of my adventure is a tremendous sense of hakoras hatov to the wonderful staff of Laniado. May they go from strength to strength.



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