Dr. Jim Lando sees his work in the US Public Health Service as an extension of his Jewishness. “I grew up in a household that was Labor Zionist and social justice oriented, formed by our Jewish values,” he told The Jerusalem Post last week. He arrived aboard a Nefesh B’Nefesh chartered aliya flight to Israel facilitated in cooperation with Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, the Aliya and Integration Ministry, the Jewish Agency for Israel, JNF-USA and Tzofim-Garin Tzabar.
“The idea that we are all taking care of each other, that the conditions we live in and the way we live together affect our personal health and the health of others – that’s where I got the drive to be in public health.” Lando, 51, is a physician and a retired Admiral and Assistant Surgeon General. He made aliya from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Leigh Winston, 52, who is also a physician.
In 2013, Nefesh B’Nefesh launched a program, together with Keren Kayemeth L’Israel and JNF-USA, to draw new immigrants to southern Israel, where costs of living and housing are lower. The Go South program offers additional incentives and benefits in addition to those offered to all new immigrants by the Israeli government.
Recognizing the advantages found in the South, and through the NBN program, the Landos have moved to Beersheba, where they will spend the first five months learning Hebrew at ulpan and living in the Nurit absorption center.
The couple raised their children in a Zionist household in Atlanta, sending them to Jewish day camps and hosting Israeli emissaries from the Jewish Agency who participated in those camps; they were also involved in the American Friends of the Israel War Disabled Foundation.
“We had these interactions and developed ties to Israel – even though we have no family there – and that factored into our decision,” Winston told the Post. She spent nine months at Kibbutz Tzora when she was 20 and Lando had visited Israel as a teen with his family. They visited the country together for the first time in 2005, after a gap of almost 20 years. “It was interesting to see how much it had changed in that time,” Winston reflected.
The couple started discussing aliya a decade ago, but decided it would be disruptive to both of their medical careers, as well as to their children’s lives. Their children, now 19 and 22, moving out of the family home, combined with the fact that Lando was eligible to retire, drew them to the conclusion that the time was ripe for aliya.
Lando and Winston are both vegan and are experts in the new field of lifestyle medicine, which promotes healthy habits instead of an over-reliance on medications.
“I hope I can contribute to the field of public health in Israel, especially the field of wellness – I feel fortunate to be able to come at this stage of life and to bring my experience,” Lando said. “I am a proud American and was privileged to serve my country for 20 years. Now we are becoming Israelis as well and look forward to contributing our skills here.”
As an assistant surgeon general, Lando was the chief federal public health official for a six-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. One of his main activities was trying to integrate mental health into public health. “It has been separated, as though heads are separated from their bodies, but we know they are intricately intertwined,” he explained, adding that spiritual health is also an important component.
The couple now aspire to open a wellness practice, but they are not sure yet whether it will be situated in Israel, the US or both – a lot hangs on the progress they make with their currently basic level of Hebrew.
“I am taking a leap and trusting that once my Hebrew is good enough, I will be able to integrate into various public medical health services and the academic system, to help improve the health and wellness of Israelis,” Lando said.
It’s not just in the realm of health that Lando seeks to make a difference in Israel. As Winston wrote in her “Israel Adventure” blog, her husband is on a “quixotic mission to insert kindness into Israeli culture.” On one of his first days in Israel, Lando gave his earliest post-office waiting line ticket – he had accidentally taken a few – to an elderly lady who appeared to be in a hurry.
“She did not understand at first, and thought he was commiserating about the slow service,” Winston wrote, having observed the exchange. “Then, as she realized he was offering her the ticket, her entire body softened and she looked at him with a big smile and thanked him profusely. It was a beautiful moment to witness.”
“If we really want Israel to be a place of refuge, then it’s incumbent upon all of us to be engaged in building a country we would want to live in,” Lando had told the Post en route to Israel.
“We have influence as Americans via money and the power that the US has, but we were not Israeli, and it is not fair to have that degree of influence on a political system if you’re not a citizen.
“By engaging in the dialogue of what we want our country to be, we ensure the future of Israel for our children,” he continued.
“It’s a real privilege and special moment in time that we have our own state, and to be part of that endeavor is something that I have dreamed of since I was a child,” Lando said. “It started with a deep understanding of the Holocaust and what it meant not to have a state.
“Israel is our country but the idea of Israel as a light unto the nations has yet to be realized. It certainly can be realized, but it will require a lot of hard work and commitment.”
This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh.