Yaakov Dickstein 88 298.
(photo credit: YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO)
As a kid, Yaakov Dickstein, 25, first wanted to be a paleontologist, then an archeologist.
"Eventually I decided that people are more interesting than rocks, so I chose medicine," Dickstein says. The decision to go to medical school ultimately resulted in his aliya on August 3, 2005.
"I was interested in international health, so I wanted to study at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev," he says. "I knew I didn't want to live in the US, and Israel is the next obvious alternative, but I wasn't sure about aliya when I first came in 2004. After a year, I decided I liked it here, and my life would be simpler if I made aliya. I was tired of being asked for my teudat zehut (identification card) and not having one. So I went back to the US, did all the paperwork, and came back as an oleh with Nefesh B'Nefesh."
Dickstein's maternal family were almost Mayflower Americans, and can trace their history in the US back hundreds of years.
His father's family came from Vienna, and his grandfather narrowly escaped to the US.
"After the 1938 Anschluss, the danger became more apparent, and ultimately my grandfather realized he needed to leave immediately - but by then, it wasn't easy. He could no longer leave Austria legally, but he and a friend tried to sneak across into Switzerland.
"They were caught by the Gestapo, but told the officer they'd been working in Switzerland and had crossed the border by mistake. The Nazis gave them 48 hours to prove it. All attempts failed until the 36th hour, when an acquaintance provided false papers and insisted they were telling the truth. My grandfather worked on a farm in Switzerland while he waited for a visa to travel to France. The moment it came through, he fled, buying a ticket for the next ship leaving for the US. He sailed on August 30, 1939 - the very last boat out. We still have all his papers and passports."
"My father passed away three years ago and my mother moved, so we'd cleaned out the family home pretty well. I didn't have many possessions, but every time I visit, I bring a few more bits and pieces with me. Once I have my own home here, I'll bring everything else," says Dickstein.
"I didn't have much time to fill out all the paperwork, and proving my Jewishness was a hassle. My rabbi wrote a letter saying I was an active member of the Orthodox congregation, but it didn't say the magic words, 'He's Jewish.' So during the summer, I tried to track down someone who could verify it - except that everyone seemed to be away. Eventually it got done."
"I went to the airport by myself - no one saw me off," he recalls. "But I'd had so many trips back and forth during those weeks - I was on the East Coast, then back in Ohio, then to the West Coast where my father's family is. They'd been seeing me off, all summer long."
"Coming back I was a new oleh, so I had my free taxi ride right to my apartment in Beersheba. One of my friends invited me over as soon as I came back, so I went to her apartment, and there was a surprise party, a whole group of friends who'd come to welcome me. It was a mix of everyone I knew - classmates, people from the neighborhood, families I'd had Shabbat with, Israeli friends. It was a really nice welcome."
Dickstein's first-floor apartment is a 15-minute walk from Soroka Hospital. "I'm a committed pedestrian. I like having that walk. It lets me get away, unwind, leave class behind."
The two-bedroom apartment is unusually large, with a unique floor plan that includes not only living and dining rooms, a study and laundry room, but also another room filled with memorabilia from Dickstein's travels. Paisley floor pillows and unusual wall hangings create an exotic place to stretch out and relax.
"I wake up at 7 a.m. with my cell phone alarm. I dress, daven and get to class, which starts at 8:15. I'm in class six hours a day, with a break for lunch, so I'm usually free by late afternoon.
"When I get home, I flop down and do something mindless to unwind - I go through my e-mail, explore Wikipedia, read or watch TV movies. Maybe twice a week I go out with friends. I don't actually study much - I'm great at cramming. I know that's not the best way, but as long as I can do it successfully, I guess I'll always do it that way."
"Before I started medical school, I took a year off to travel. I visited cousins in Australia, went to an island off Fiji, and then did the things Israelis do post-army: Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, India," says Dickstein.
"During that trip, I met a lot of Israelis, and they're still friends. I have classmates, and here, in Beersheba, several Anglo families have invited me for Shabbat, so I know them quite well. They give me a sense of family - they're maybe not my family, but it's nice to have a place that feels like home."
"My father provided for my education before he passed away, so that gives me the freedom from loans for school or living expenses. It also means I can do my residency and stage, apprenticeship, here in Israel. Most of my classmates who borrowed money for school can't do that. They have to go back to the US for residency, to start paying off loans. I'm really lucky."
"At the moment, it looks as though I'll do six months of army. Although I was 24 when I made aliya, I was 23 when I came. So if that's it, I'll do it. I'm not exactly looking forward to it, but I realize it'll give me that sense of inclusion here, going through the same thing as everyone else."
"I'm Orthodox. I go to a variety of shuls. One time I decided to try going to a shul I didn't know, not far from where I lived. Everyone was taking off their shoes, so I did too. There were no chairs, so I sat on the floor with everyone else. They were all very friendly and someone handed me a siddur. But as I flipped through it, I couldn't figure it out. I couldn't find the Amida. Finally it dawned on me: there are probably 200 shuls in Beersheba, and I'd stumbled into the one Karaite synagogue."
"I'm Jewish. That's my prime identity."
"My Hebrew's getting better. I went to a Jewish day school, took Hebrew in college and when I was traveling with the Israelis, I spoke Hebrew with them. So I was okay when I got here," he says.
"But I have this American accent I can't get rid of, which reminds me of my grandfather: He worked very hard to learn English, and spoke really flawless English with no Austrian accent. But every now and then, someone would ask where he was from, and he'd tell them. Then they'd say, 'Oh, of course. I recognize the accent.' It just infuriated him. Now I understand."
"There's no way to satisfy the travel urge, so after medical school, I'm taking off another year. Once I get started in my career, I won't have time. After that, I'll come back, do army, residency, stage, everything else. Am I going to specialize? I'm thinking maybe surgery. I plan to do my international study in Ethiopia, and I'm looking forward to that.
"I want to have a family, and my plan is to live in the Galil - maybe a moshav, with a few hundred families. Not too big, not too small."
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