St. Louis family embarks on new life in Israel

In July, Judy and Josh Rosenbloom of University City, and their children, Nesya, Akiva and Nili, made aliyah. Here, the family is shown in Jerusalem. Family photo

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

TEL AVIV — Judy and Josh Rosenbloom have the sorts of jobs — dentist and obstetrician-gynecologist — that require years of difficult study and long hours. 

But in their early and mid-30s, about the age when many doctors start to see the payoff of that hard work in the form of high salaries, the Rosenblooms, who earned their advanced degrees from Harvard University, had a different dream: making aliyah, the Hebrew word used to describe Jews immigrating to Israel. 

The young couple lived in University City and belonged to the modern Orthodox synagogue Young Israel of St. Louis. They were interested in moving to the Jewish State despite the fact that it would likely mean a pay cut and having to adapt to a foreign and government-run health care system. 

But those challenges were outweighed by the chance to live in the Jewish homeland.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

“I don’t need to live in a huge house in America, I don’t need fancy cars,” said Judy, 32, whose children are 8, 5 and 1. “To be able to raise my kids so that they are learning Tanakh [the Hebrew Bible] in a Hebrew-speaking school is just much more important to me.”

And so, on July 23, the Rosenblooms left behind what Josh described as a “great, warm, welcoming community” in St. Louis and boarded a plane for a less certain but hopefully more meaningful future. 

Streamlining the system

In 2018, the Israeli Ministry of Health reported that Israel had 3.1 doctors for every 1,000 people, below the average of 3.3 per 1,000 among 36 developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And it has only 6.8 medical graduates per 1,000 people compared with an OECD average of 12.1.

Israel needed doctors, but it often could take six months for immigrants to get licenses to practice, said Ronen Fuxman, Nefesh B’Nefesh director of government and advocacy, and medical professions liaison.

So seven years ago, the organization started holding an annual medical seminar, MedEx, in New York and New Jersey, where prospective immigrants, including Josh, could start the process before moving to Israel. That has meant doctors often receive licenses within about two weeks of immigrating, Fuxman said. 

He also advocated on behalf of immi grant physicians in 2017, when the Israel Defense Forces proposed raising the age that immigrants with medical degrees would need to serve in the army (to men and women ages 35 and under from men 32 and younger). Nefesh B’Nefesh and other groups representing immigrants argued that the policy would deter people from immigrating and thus hurt a country in need of doctors. 

Last year, the army revised its policy so that male doctors and dentists 33 and youngerare required to serve for two years. For female doctors, only those immigrating before age 29 are required to serve.

Judy Rosenbloom said the age of conscription was not a factor for them in deciding when to immigrate. The number of doctors who make aliyah from North America increased to 60 last year from about 40 each year before Nefesh B’Nefesh started holding the seminar, Fuxman said. Both Rosenblooms received their licenses within a few weeks of landing in Israel.

Starting a new life in Israel

Josh Rosenbloom will begin work at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem later this month. He also will work remotely for Washington University, doing consultations and reading ultrasounds one afternoon each week for patients in Carbondale. 

“I think more than likely it’s just going to be cultural differences but not medical differences. It’s what I’m used to,” said Josh, who describes his Hebrew ability as intermediate and will have to spend three months being supervised by doctors at Hadassah before being cleared to independently practice medicine in Israel. 

One difference for OB-GYNs is that regular deliveries in Israel are done by midwives rather than doctors.

And then there is another difference: pay. The average salary for a gynecologist in the United States is $314,000, according to the Economic Research Institute. In Israel, it’s $176,000.

On that pay gap, Josh said: “I never made a real doctor’s salary in the U.S. because I have always been in training, so I guess I don’t know what I’m missing, exactly.”

Judy will start training in ulpan, the Israeli program to learn or improve in Hebrew, in September and then look for a job as a dentist.

Time for ‘some Israeli papers’

Josh and Judy were neighbors in Cambridge, Mass., and Judy offered to share her copy of the New Yorker with Josh.

Judy recalled: “His mom very soon after offered to gift him a subscription for his birthday, and Josh said, ‘No, that’s OK, I’m going to share it with Judy.’ And his mom said that’s when she knew it was serious.” 

They recently canceled their subscription. 

“It was time to read some Israeli papers,” Judy said.

Josh, who grew up in Bethesda, Md., and attended a Conservative synagogue, had been waiting 25 years for the opportunity to become a citizen of Israel since visiting with his family when he was 10 years old.

“I don’t remember that much from the trip, but I just remember feeling that I wanted to live there one day,” he said.

About a year ago, the couple decided it was the right time for the move. In June, Josh completed a fellowship in obstetrics at Washington University. Their oldest daughter, Nesya, is 8, and they didn’t want to delay any longer her integration into the Israeli education system.

“We’ve been calling it an adventure, so they are excited to go on their adventure,” Judy said before they left. 

The kids used journals to chronicle their experience. 

The couple rented a 20-foot shipping container to transport their belongings – including Ikea closets and materials for a sukkah — from University City to an apartment in Tzur Hadassah, a community settlement southwest of Jerusalem. Judy said the couple chose the area for its proximity to the hospital where Josh will work, its small-town feel, its mix of English and Hebrew speakers and secular and religious people, and its affordability compared to living in Jerusalem. 

“It’s not majority-Anglo like some other places, so the integration might be a little harder in the short term but better in the long term,” Judy said. 

Young Israel’s loss, Israel’s gain

The Rosenblooms left the mezuzahs on the doorframes of the University City home they were renting because the incoming family is also Jewish, and Jewish law states that they should be left there if the next tenant is also Jewish. 

Their community at Young Israel has seen about seven families depart or prepare to depart for Israel or other parts of this country this year. 

That includes Michael Oberlander, chief philanthropy officer at Jewish Federation of St. Louis, who is heading to Israel later this month to join his wife and four children who already live there. 

Oberlander said he attended a funeral Aug. 4 for Ruth Shanker, a Young Israel member who would have turned 101 in September. She always told her children and grandchildren, “You should have no regrets. You should not look back on your life and say, ‘I wish I had done …’ ”

Oberlander, who will live in Ra’anana in central Israel, said: “For us, maybe we are trying to live what Ruth was trying to teach.”

Jonty Felsher, president of Young Israel, which has about 160 families, said the shul is proud to have families like the Oberlanders and Rosenblooms leave. 

“We wear our Zionist credentials on our sleeves,” Felsher said. “It’s a badge of honor for us, and we have always been a synagogue, probably more than any other synagogue in the St. Louis area, where our members have made aliyah over the years. It does have an impact because the people leaving are an integral part of the community.”

Felsher said the Rosenblooms “were always there to help with whatever was needed, always offering to serve on our committees to get things done.”

At Shabbat services on Saturday mornings, Josh would “be there at the beginning of services at 9 a.m., sitting there with his two older kids. … They were active in the youth programming and whenever we needed help if the youth leaders weren’t available, the Rosenblooms would be around to help with that,” he said.

“I actually have a dream to live in Israel one day myself, so I only wish them well because I know that while it’s going to be challenging for them initially, this is a wonderful move for their family.” 

On the way to Tel Aviv

For the Rosenblooms, the adventure began before an aliyah group flight on El Al airlines organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh from Newark, N.J., to Tel Aviv. The family left St. Louis on July 3 for a vacation/shalom-for-now tour through Memphis, Tenn.; Destin Beach, Fla.; Charleston, S.C.; Washington, D.C.;  and finally, New Jersey. The night before the flight, they were staying with friends in Highland Park when a storm caused a power outage. That meant no lights or air conditioning and sleeping in the basement with flashlights, which is all helpful when you’re preparing to take an 11-hour flight with three young children.

“It was fun before we went to bed because we got to have a dark party,” said Nesya, who along with her brother, Akiva, wore a tan Nefesh B’Nefesh baseball cap on the flight. 

There were enough strollers in a waiting area at Ben Gurion Airport to fill a buybuyBaby store.

“The oldest kid here looks like he is 11, 12 maybe,” said Marc Rosenberg,  Nefesh B’Nefesh director of pre-aliyah planning, who was on the flight and along with other staff from the organization, assisted the new olim (immigrants) as they went through processing. “And the idea is that it’s easier to integrate with younger kids.” 

In 2018, more than 29,600 people made aliyah, including 3,550 from North America. On the Rosenbloom’s flight, there were a total of 62 immigrants — 33 of them were children. 

Within a couple of hours, they would all be Israeli citizens and have ID cards and be registered for health care. Over six months, the Israeli government provides each individual immigrant about 18,600 shekels, which is around $4,500. 

As the Rosenblooms and others left security, a group of about 40 Orthodox Israeli teenage girls greeted them with cheers, “Siman Tov u’Mazal tov,” welcome signs, Israeli flags and candy for the kids.

“It’s always nice to feel welcome, that even strangers, people we don’t know, are excited that we’re coming to live in Israel,” Judy Rosenbloom said.

From there, the family spent the next week with Josh’s aunt in Rehovot and then moved into their apartment Aug. 4. A few days later, while waiting for their shipping container to arrive from the United States, they had made trips to the post office and grocery store and met some of the neighbors. 

“We have this amazing view, really all of Tzur Hadassah has this amazing view, of the hills [around Jerusalem], so just to walk down the street sometimes feels surreal, like, how lucky are we that we get to live here?” Judy said. 

“It also feels hard when I realize how limited my Hebrew is, but it’s an adventure.”

Nefesh B’Nefesh sponsored the expenses for Associate Editor Eric Berger to travel to Israel with the Rosenbloom family while they made aliyah. However, Nefesh B’Nefesh did not review or direct the editorial content of this story.