Arrivals: The benefit of helping others

Gillian Braunold, 60 From London to Zichron Ya’akov , 2012.

Gillian Braunold (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gillian Braunold
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘I’ve always worked in socially deprived communities,” says general practitioner Gillian Braunold of her work running a contraceptive clinic for refugees at the Tel Aviv bus station.
One day a week the 60-year-old new immigrant from Leeds, England, makes her way to the old and less-than-salubrious area of the bus station to oversee the running of a walk-in center where mainly Eritrean refugees will be able to come and be fitted for whatever contraception is most suitable for them.
“In general, refugees lead a chaotic lifestyle and they need long-acting contraception, such as intra-uterine devices or hormone implants,” says the experienced doctor who made aliya in 2012, settling in Zichron Ya’acov, where one of her three children already lived.
She started the clinic soon after arriving in Israel, and has since trained two nurses to help with the work. One is Eritrean herself, the other is from England, and they are now able to do follow-up injections. Most of the patients being fitted with contraception are Eritrean, and an interpreter is on hand to explain what is going on in Tigrinya – the only language most of them speak.
In England she was known for her social activism and was frequently interviewed on radio and television about her liberal views in relation to workers and their rights. When she decided to move to Israel, she wanted a break from the intensity of her work in England.
“I was traumatized when I first came,” she says. “My husband had died and I had nothing to stay in England for – I wanted to pack it all in and restart my life.”
She went to a medical ulpan, run especially for health professionals, commuting to Haifa every day from the holiday home she already had in Zichron, which quickly became her permanent home.
She also joined the Haifa English Theater and took part in two of their productions.
“It was very good fun and it kept me busy,” she recalls. But medicine is her calling and before long she was back doing what she does best – taking care of underprivileged and deprived members of society.
Although born in South Africa, she was brought to Leeds as a baby and raised there.
She studied medicine at the prestigious Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, graduating in 1979. She decided to specialize in general practice and trained with John Marks and Lawrence Buckman, two wellknown teachers of the subject. She married her computer expert husband Max in 1978 and they had three children.
She quickly became known as the go-to doctor when comment on any medical topic was needed on television and radio, and she was appointed by then prime minister Tony Blair to lead a project whereby the health files of every citizen would be digitally linked between the general practitioners and the hospitals and the whole National Health Service would be connected on one network.
The project received very bad press – there were fears that patient confidentiality would be affected – and Braunold asked if she could lead a smaller project in which everyone in the UK would be entered in a database listing their medications and allergies.
“Today, if a person finds themselves in an emergency situation, all of the necessary information about medication and allergies is to be found on this database,” she explains.
A year after making aliya, Braunold met her second husband through the Jewish-focused Internet dating site, J-Date.
“He was Israeli, a widower, with three children,” she recounts. They married and were together from October 2013 until the following August. Tragically, he also died, leaving her widowed for the second time.
Today, living in Zichron, she is picking up the pieces of her life and trying to be optimistic.
Her three children have all followed their mother’s example of choosing careers with social responsibility. Her daughter Tamar is head of the English department in a high school; her son Daniel is a doctor at Rambam medical Center. Her other son, Joel, is a journalist for Haaretz and the founder of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a cooperative of NGOs working towards fostering reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs and Jews. He has been active in the OneVoice movement, which advocates for a Palestinian state.
She finds Zichron a great place to live with friendly people and many other Anglos who have settled there. With four of her grandchildren living nearby, she tends to be a helpful hands-on grandmother, picking kids up from preschool once or twice a week.
“But I rarely babysit,” she insists.
She lives in the house that her second husband, David, had built for his new wife, and which took him six months to complete. “He didn’t even spend one day there, as he died before we could move in,” she says sadly.
For Braunold, the work at the Tel Aviv bus station is clearly something she needs and feels very strongly about.
“The moment I walk through the door of the clinic, I feel at home,” she says.