Gung-ho on serving his country and patients

Dovid White is the first chiropractor – and first haredi-born medical professional – to be recruited by the Israel Defense Forces.

Soldier 370 (photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-Itzkovich)
Soldier 370
(photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-Itzkovich)
Israeli combat soldiers – and even some behind the frontlines – drag around heavy arms and equipment, crawl on their bellies over uneven topography, bear real or simulated wounded on stretchers and march long distances in heavy boots.
Is it any surprise that a relatively large number suffer from skeletal pain? Now the Israel Defense Forces has enlisted into the ranks its first-ever chiropractor. And that is not the only news – the new recruit is an ultra-Orthodox young man who immigrated from the US.
Dovid White – 25, married, the father of an 11-month-old son and living in the haredi enclave of Ramat Beit Shemesh – has in recent months treated more than 200 soldiers on bases at Tzrifin and Tel Hashomer. Serving in the regular army, White (whose family name was Americanized by his forebears who were Bianchi in Poland and Russia) is part of the SHAHAR program of haredi service in the IDF.
The son of a Detroit chiropractor who was his role model, White was interviewed recently by The Jerusalem Post about his still-controversial profession, life in Israel and enlistment into the military.
“My grandparents were born in America, and my mother was a nursery school assistant in a Hebrew day school. My father studied chiropractic for four years, and I grew up with the profession. I had thought of being a physician or a dentist, but I always came back to chiropractic.”
His three sisters live in Florida, New York City and Baltimore.
Dovid spent his teens at Yeshiva Toras Haim in Denver and then four years at Life University in Marietta, Georgia. He had been thinking of aliya to Israel, but the idea became more concrete when he met Natalie, a young haredi woman who was born in Jerusalem and taken at the age of 10 to live in the US. Born in the capital’s Misgav Ladach Hospital, she is a 10th-generation Jerusalemite, and most of her family members are Israelis.
Natalie, he said, always wanted to come back to Israel. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in chemistry from Georgia State. Yet she also studied at Jerusalem’s Michlalah Jerusalem College for religious women.
Having planned their aliya and expecting a baby, Dovid his wife wondered about IDF service.
“As she was pregnant, the IDF told me I’d have to serve. When the baby was born, they offered me an exemption,” said White. But he met up with haredim from the SHAHAR program who urged him to join. “I didn’t know very much.
They offered to train me as an electrician, but I laughed. I said I had a degree in chiropractic. I was ready to be a soldier if I could work in my field,” said the uniformed, lightly bearded soldier, whose Hebrew is elementary but enough to speak to patients and improving all the time. He went through four weeks of basic training and started to see patients. He is permitted to return home every night.
The appearance of women soldiers on the base where SHAHAR soldiers function is prohibited, and they receive food with the the most rigorous kashrut (Badatz) strictures.
There are also regular prayers and Talmud-study breaks. But as a medical practitioner, White treats women soldiers as well as men.
THERE ARE over 100 chiropractors in Israel, some of them born here and having studied abroad, but most of whom were born in the US, Canada, Europe and South Africa.
Chiropractors practice in scores of countries, but they are found mostly in North America.
Although most soldiers probably don’t know even how to spell or pronounce the word for his profession, the IDF saw potential in him.
Dr. Yoel Har-Even, the commander of the central clinic, said, “Dovid White, a new immigrant from the US and a trained chiropractor, was drafted into the IDF as part of SHAHAR.
His contribution during the last few months to improve the service of combat soldiers is very significant. May there be more professionals – and more haredim – like him.”
The practice in integrative (complementary) medicine is accepted mostly in North America, and in some places practitioners may use the title “Dr.” or “Doctor of Chiropractic.”
But in Israel, they may not describe themselves as physicians or use the term “Dr.” so as not to mislead, according to the Health Ministry. Some four years ago, chiropractic was “recognized” by the Health Ministry as a paramedical profession like physiotherapy or occupational therapy, but it did not actually implement the law. However, the ministry’s division of medical professions headed by Dr. Amir Shanon does give a certificate to all practitioners of chiropractic who can prove they have completed their studies in a recognized institution.
Its approach to healing involves the non-invasive diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractors perform manual and manipulative therapy for the treatment of what they call “vertebral subluxations.”
The field mostly involves manipulating spinal joints and nerves using the hands or simple implements.
Chiropractic was established in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer, a “magnetic healer” in Davenport, Iowa, who even thought of turning it into a religion. He finally settled on calling it “a science of healing without drugs.” Over the years, many in medicine have been opposed to chiropractic because they regard it as “pseudoscience” or even a “cult” whose claims have not been proven by medical investigation.
Even chiropractors disagree among themselves.
Some practitioners have joined the “crackpot” opposition to fluoridation of water and vaccination against disease. But chiropractic has grown due to public demand, and despite various lawsuits, it has become more legitimate.
While D.D. Palmer originally claimed that the elements treated by chiropractic are the basis for all disease, these have been narrowed down to the spine, nerves and health. Chiropractors believe the body has the natural ability to heal itself, and that the “vertebral joint misalignments” interfered with the body’s ability to do so. Although subluxations cannot be seen on an x-ray or ultrasound scan, chiropractors argue that they can exist without being seen because they are “functional but not structural.”
The main tools for alleviating skeletal pain are sudden “dynamic thrusts, using the hands or sometimes implements.
AN ESTIMATED six percent to 12% of Americans say they have gone to a chiropractor for treatment, but in Australia, most private health maintenance organizations cover the cost of chiropractic. When patients claim to have been helped by the manipulation, most of the cases involved lower-back pain, although some maintain that it eases upper-back pain and headaches as well.
Professionals say it is safe when performed by a trained and licensed chiropractor, who aims to balance the body’s structure and function and promotes self-healing.
However, it should not be attempted if the patient suffers from a risk of stroke, spinal cancer, serious bone thinning or numbness, tingling or loss of strength in a limb.
“The soldiers who are referred to me have a wide variety of problems – things you would expect to see in much older people, around 40 or 50. They have spinal disc injuries, scoliosis, shin splints and back injuries, both cervical and lumbar. Men soldiers are more likely to have lower back pain and the women upper back pain and scoliosis. The body isn’t made for all [that] training.
“So I enjoy working in the interdisciplinary clinic, together with spine surgeons, orthopedists, physiotherapists and others, as our goal is to do everything to make the soldiers feel better,” White says. Prevention of injury and not just treating it has high priority in the IDF today, according to the Chief Medical Officer’s office.
“Soldiers undergo a lot of training for a range of tasks. Sportsmen have exercise rooms and the latest equipment at their disposal, but soldiers have to use existing tools in the field to simulate combat. Still, recently we have introduced a number of solutions to create a stronger combat soldier with higher muscle mass. Our physical training officers teach a graduated program of training for soldiers wearing military equipment such as weapons and a bulletproof vest. We add more weight gradually, over several weeks, because we can’t skip a stage and be successful. The Medical Corps also runs workshops for doctors and physiotherapists in field units so they can identify orthopedic problems at an early stage.”
White notes that he and his colleagues receive patients from all over the country, from Eilat in the south to Tzipori in the north.
“Even very senior officers have come in for help with their back pain. He also reads MRI and CT scans. Sometimes, soldiers are sent for steroid injections to treat pain, but these provide only temporary relief. Since I arrived, we have sent a few soldiers for operations at orthopedic departments in Hadassah University Medical Center, Soroka University Medical Center or the Rabin Medical Center. Occasionally, soldiers have been found to fake it. They are usually stopped by a doctor before getting to me.”
He tries to send soldiers for x-rays as little as possible, because “I don’t like to expose them to radiation unnecessarily.” Acupuncture for treating back pain “is interesting, has its place, but I don’t use it. I prefer to be a master of my own craft.”
CHIROPRACTIC HAS a very different goal from physiotherapy, which focuses on exercises and strengthening, mostly of the muscles, White said. “As a chiropractor, I work with joints and the nervous system, making sure that all the bones are in the right places so the nerves can function at their best.”
Once White has diagnosed the problem, there are various types of manipulation at his disposal.
“Some are light, while others are more forceful. One soldier yesterday told me it was so pleasant that I was spoiling him. I mostly use my hands, but there are also implements. I work in quarter-hour blocks of time, but sometimes it takes less than five minutes to do what’s needed. I brought here a special table with some pieces that can drop down a millimeter or so under the pelvis and lumbar spine. This table makes the work much easier for me. Patients may be very stiff or nervous or their body may be in trauma from shock. They just can’t let go.”
The IDF is “constantly working to help improve our treatment of soldiers. We just attended a conference at the Wingate Institute of Physical Education. Soldiers are urged to exercise, do sports. There will always be heavy weights to carry; it’s part of war. But there are things that can be done, including a better diet. I talk to soldiers about disease prevention, better ways of lifting, muscle balance and tone,” said the chiropractor.
WELL AWARE of the controversy about haredim serving in the IDF, White still tries to skirt the subject. “My upbringing was American haredi, which is very different from here. I can’t advise others what to do. It’s a different culture for haredim. There, it’s more culturally accepted to study in university. I’m not yet familiar enough with Israeli haredi culture,” said White.
“I would like to see more people making their own choices. We are bringing our son up in Israel, and we’d like to give him options. If he wants, he could study in a yeshiva or do his matriculation for higher education if he likes. He could be a physician or a chiropractor. We will give him the tools he needs to make his choice. In any case, we want to show him our love for Torah and the mitzvot.”