Arrivals: The doctor is (finally) in the house

The Sullum family made aliya in stages with the daughters and wife coming first while Daniel built up his business.

November 12, 2010 16:43
New oleh Dr. Daniel Sullum

311_daniel Sullum. (photo credit: Abigail Klein)

Just before the dramatic 1976 Entebbe rescue operation in Uganda, Daniel Sullum and Deborah Dworman celebrated their wedding at the Holyland Hotel in Jerusalem. Though their hearts beckoned them to the ancient city, their feet took different routes. Debbie and their daughters came on aliya in 1995, while Daniel continued to work in Pennsylvania and made the move just this year. This is not an arrangement the practicing psychiatrist would recommend to other families. But it worked out fine for the Sullums.

The Back Story

 Born in 1954, Daniel was one of the seven Sullum children brought up in small-town Pennsylvania and educated at a day school in Kingston. His father, Arnold, was active in Jewish War Veterans and served as a regional president of the Zionist Organization of America. Daniel spent ninth and 10th grades dorming at Yeshiva University’s boys high school in Manhattan and the following year at an American program at Mollie Goodman (Kfar Silver) agricultural technical school near Ashkelon, where he met his future wife.

“Debbie loved Israel so much that she convinced her parents to sell their condo in Puerto Rico and move to Caesarea in 1970,” he says. His own parents started planning their aliya in 1948, but arrived only 40 years later. Sullum’s sister Adina preceded them to Israel in 1981. After high school, Daniel went on to Cornell University, where Benzion Netanyahu, the prime minister’s father, was his first adviser. Always in touch with Debbie, who was studying at the University of Massachusetts, he arrived for his junior year abroad at the Hebrew University just before the Yom Kippur War broke out.

The couple gained some early experience with a commuting marriage when, right after their Israeli wedding, Daniel began medical school in Philadelphia and Debbie began a master’s program in art therapy at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Later, they moved to Allentown, Pa., with their first two children, Rebecca and Naomi.

As Daniel established his private practice and took on leadership roles in the local Jewish community, they added Jessica and Mollie to the family. Debbie started taking the kids for long summer trips to Israel; Daniel would join them for a week or two. “With Rebecca finishing eighth grade, we got to a point where we had to decide what to do,” says Daniel.

Though he did not feel financially ready to make the move, he supported Debbie’s decision to bring the four girls in 1995.

Settling In, Sans Dad

Rebecca had a challenging adjustment to high school in Israel, but ultimately thrived. “I remember that she arranged her own sweet 16 party at the Botanical Gardens,” her father says.

Now married to an Israeli architect, Rebecca served in the first mixed combat unit, and became active in Journey for Jewish Heritage, Kids for Peace and working with disadvantaged Arab children.

Little Mollie, at four, was initially bewildered at being spoken to in Hebrew at preschool, but soon was conversing fluently – with a Yemenite accent she has since lost. Today, she trains army recruits in teaching special needs children. Naomi did her second year of National Service in Beverly Hills and now teaches at a pluralistic junior/ senior high school in Ra’anana. Jessica, recently married to a sabra, is in her last year at Hebrew University in Rehovot, studying agricultural economics.

While they grew up and got used to life in Jerusalem, their father kept up his psychiatric practice and visited every few months. Eventually, he closed the practice in order to spend more time in Israel, and commuted to work – first as a “locum tenens” fill-in physician at several different hospitals in Pennsylvania and then as director of the psychiatric geriatric unit and outpatient mental health clinic at St. Joseph’s in Reading, Pa.

“It was hard on the children,” he admits, “but they adjusted well in spite of my absence. The big strain was clearly that I was out of the country often, yet our financial needs made the goal of aliya elusive.”

Debbie and the children rented a spacious apartment in the German Colony and she forged a career as an art educator. They bought a home in Arnona, but missed the old apartment so much that they moved back to the same place a year and a half ago. Last November, they brought their dog, Penny (short for Pennsylvania) to live with them. “I knew I had to come when we sent Penny over on El Al sitting on Debbie’s lap for 12 hours,” Daniel jokes.


Daniel sold the house in Reading, arranged to become registered as a doctor in Israel (“If the country really wants more American-trained physicians, they need to simplify the process,” he warns) and finally joined his family full time a week before Pessah 2010. He is slowly establishing a private practice in general and geriatric psychiatry, a field that is not well developed in Israel.

“My aliya was made because of my love for Israel and the Jewish people, but I love America – especially small towns with significant Jewish life,” says Daniel. “Still, I never thought not to do it. Coming here just feels very comfortable.”


To celebrate their father’s aliya, the Sullum daughters bought their parents a membership to the Cinematheque, “one of the nicest things in Jerusalem” in Daniel’s opinion. “It’s a five-minute walk from our apartment, with a view of the Old City that I hope I never take for granted.”

But his major passion is collecting. “What kept me busy in America was going to country auctions three or four times a week,” he says. “I enjoy learning the history of the items, knowing their backgrounds; the sense of discovery and excitement. At one auction, they were selling Palestine coins and nobody was bidding, so for $5 I got a poor condition Bar Kochba rebellion coin. I once found a Theodor Herzl rug among a bunch of velvet Elvises. For several dollars, I would buy boxes filled with newspapers, magazines and documents going back 10 to 200 years, detailing life years ago. I collected memorabilia of small-town Jewish businesses, a Main Street phenomenon that is disappearing in America.”

The Sullums’ Jerusalem apartment is filled with the eclectic treasures Daniel shipped over, from menoras to watches, from paperweights to Fifties advertising posters. He’s adding pottery and metalware items acquired lately from the flea markets of Jaffa.

“We moved a lot more things than we needed, but I hate to disperse the items,” he says, fingering a pile of stereoscope cards showing 3D shots of Palestine in the late 1800s. “I’m hoping that, with time, the children can take more of them.”


“I was lucky that the children turned out so well, and for having a very supportive wife,” Daniel says. “Otherwise I wouldn’t necessarily advise that anybody do what we did. It’s best if people can limit their time abroad, maybe three or four months a year.”

A successful aliya, according to this new immigrant, “entails a love of Israel, knowing the reality of Israel and being economically prepared.”

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