The Rabbi who serves as a spiritual ― and medical ― guide

L’Ma’anchem performs holy and specialized work, guiding those who need help arranging and directing medical care for themselves or others

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July 10, 2019 16:16
The Rabbi who serves as a spiritual ― and medical ― guide

L’MA’ANCHEM FOUNDER Yossi Erblich visiting the surgery suites at Sheba Medical Center.. (photo credit: MANDY ROTH)

 
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 Rabbi Yosef Erblich was only 22 in the late 1990s when doctors recommended cardiac bypass surgery for his uncle, Rabbi Aharon Rosenfeld, the Admor of Karlin. Open-heart surgery wasn’t as advanced or safe as it is today, and the Admor and his family were in anguish trying to decide about the potentially hazardous operation. 

“I was very close to my uncle,” recalled Erblich, as he sat in his office in one of the recently built towers on the seam between Ramat Gan and Bnei Brak. “I went to visit him and he completely surprised me, as he ordered me to take care of this. It was his decision, his order, and I became the only one assigned to the task. I found myself, hardly 22 years old, suddenly responsible for the health of my Admor, a man I admired, who was important to so many people in our community. I was assigned by the Admor and the family to talk to the doctors, to the specialists, to learn about his condition, the tests that had to be run, to find out everything about this operation. 
 
“What would be the best place to have it done? Who is the best doctor? Where is the best hospital? I had no idea, no knowledge, not a clue where to start. 
 
“After a moment of shock, I dove into the matter and collected all the material and knowledge I could find, and the Admor finally had the operation. That was, in fact, my initiation to what I have been doing since: helping people find the best answer for their medical problems.”  
ERBLICH, NOW 42 and a father of six, is the founder and head of the medical branch of the Bnei Brak-based nonprofit L’Ma’anchem. Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Erblich later immigrated to Israel with his family, where he grew up in Tel Aviv. He studied at some of the most prestigious haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshivot and graduated from Ponevezh. During those years, he also served as an assistant to then-health minister Tzachi Hanegbi. That enabled him to reach Prof. Gabi Barabash, who was director-general of the ministry at the time, to ask for advice and guidance. That’s when L’Ma’anchem (“for your sake”) was founded, funded generously by The Avraham Noson and Shoshana Foundation. 
 
L’Ma’anchem essentially does one thing: guide people whose medical conditions requires some major step, such as an operation. People call 24/7 – often in emergency situations – to ask for advice, the name of a doctor or how to obtain a second opinion. The organization has evolved into a sophisticated resource in modern medicine, which in Israel has reached what until recently would have been considered science fiction. 
 
Erblich is an associate in his brothers’ real estate business, which allows him to concentrate on helping others obtain the best care available – primarily in Israel, but if necessary, abroad. L’Ma’anchem isn’t the only organization in the haredi sector that offers these services. A few years ago, Rabbi Elimelech Fuhrer was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for this kind of service. Today, however, L’Ma’anchem is considered the rising star among these groups. This is largely because Erblich understood immediately that a benevolent organization must have a strong structure in order to continue being accessible to anyone in need. As a result, L’Ma’anchem is now fully computerized, and uses the most up-to-date hi-tech software. This enables answering even the most complicated medical questions in the shortest time possible. Erblich says L’Ma’anchem’s standard now is to answer any inquiry in no more than four hours. 
 
Information and guidance are given to anyone in need of a professional, whether Jew, Arab, haredi, religious or secular. Over the course of some 20 years, Erblich has developed a network that can connect patients to the best doctors and answer the widest range of medical questions. 
 
“Thousands of patients in Israel are desperate for counseling and guidance, an additional opinion, or assistance in overcoming Israeli bureaucracy, but are unacquainted with the relevant medical channels or are simply lacking information. Those experts who are able to help are few, and usually too inundated to be easily accessible, and that is where we get inside and in-between.” 


OVER THE years, a strong and friendly relationship developed between Erblich and Prof. Barabash, who is now the director of Ichilov Hospital. From that friendship, Erblich was able to develop a network that includes Israel’s highest-ranking medical officials and, eventually, contacts with some of the best hospitals and surgeons overseas, mostly in the USA. 
 
Last week, Erblich and his team were hosted by the top echelons at Sheba Medical Center, including directors of most of the facility’s wards. They listened carefully to Erblich for more than an hour, then took him on a guided tour of the hospital’s surgery suites. Sheba chief of staff Dr. Yoel Har-Even said of L’Ma’anchem, “Such an organization saves us precious time and significantly reduces the risks of any wrong direction. We actually need Rabbi Erblich’s cooperation to reach our primary aim – to give the best care we can.”
 
As for Erblich, these meetings with medical institutions across the country are the best way to widen his knowledge base. But he is already looking to the next step. “At L’ma’anchem, we have decided to prepare the next generation of counselors and compile an orderly database for them. These counselors will learn how to deal with the medical bureaucracy and acquire tools to advise patients and form ties with prominent medical entities. Their goal will be to provide a professional solution and guidance to the patients and their families, so they can understand their test results, know which experts to turn to in each field, and... reach the best solution to their problem.


ASKED WHY such institutions exist only in the haredi sector, Erblich said the need is highest in communities that are generally closed to the wider outside world. 
 
“We are used to living in relatively closed communities. For most haredim, reaching out to find the best doctor, surgeon or hospital is not easy. Most don’t know where to go, or to whom, when they are in distress and facing serious medical conditions. 
Of course, this a problem that non-haredim also face, including Arab citizens. 
 
“And that’s what we do, “Erblich said. “We identify the problem and establish the connection with the best solution available.” Recently, L’Ma’anchem has received appeals from people in Arab countries that have no official ties with Israel. “They have heard about us and they call us,” he said. “We answer anybody who needs our help.”
 
L’Ma’anchem does not advertise. Erblich believes that news of good work eventually reaches the largest possible audience, and says that time has proven this to be true. Ronen Tzur is one such an example. Tzur said that he and his family were facing a major medical issue and needed outside advice. 
 
“I heard from friends about L’Ma’anchem” Tzur recalled during a recent phone conversation. “We were in anguish as to what to do with our medical problem and a friend suggested we call them. I am not haredi, not even religious. I never heard about Erblich or his organization until then. I called, with very low expectations. The reaction was nothing less than astonishing. Within a few hours we received a detailed answer – what to do, where to go, who to speak to. It took him just a few hours! We did what he suggested and the results were fantastic. Since then, I have taken it upon myself to spread the word. I have become his most faithful ambassador.”
 
Pnina (not her real name) is another success story. She needed spinal surgery. Not only was she fearful, she was lost in deciding whether to have the operation, which method was best, where it should be done and many more questions. A friend suggested that she ask Erblich. An MRI was sent through a WhatsAppp message. There was no need of an appointment, time or money. Within a couple of hours, her confusion and fear of the unknown were largely resolved. She had a recommendation – tailor-made for her situation – for the best surgeon, the best surgical method and the best hospital to choose.


ERBLICH EMPLOYS a small, 11-member team, each one responsible for a domain. But the organization is growing fast, along with the number of appeals. Erblich’s assistant said he rarely sleeps more than three hours each day, and answers phone calls any time, including on Shabbat and chagim. “I have a Kosher phone for L’Ma’anchem,” he explained. “It is a phone that is always open, and serves only for that matter. When there is a call, I see a red light flashing and I know it is a matter of pikuah nefesh, [saving a life] and I answer any time.”  
 
Erblich recalled what happened to his uncle, the Admor, when he had the surgery that was the impetus for L’Ma’anchem. 
“Two days later, while he was still recovering in hospital from the procedure, I saw that he had some redness on the scar… albeit no temperature,” Erblich recalled. “I insisted that a doctor see him and check. At first the nurses disregarded me, but I insisted and it turned out that there was indeed an infection that could have killed him had it not been taken care of. I realized that once I stepped into that matter, I had to be alert all the time and check everything. That became my responsibility, and that’s how I act to these days. I keep in contact with the patients, l see that everything is going the right direction. That was a lesson for me – to trust my instincts and to dare.”
 
Asked how he protects himself from exceeding his role as an intermediary, Erblich smiled and said that he keeps in mind the warning of his uncle while he was recovered from that operation 22 years ago. “He told me: ‘Never forget that you are not the doctor!’”

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