Kosher Kismet

Arriving in 2006 in the heat of the Second Lebanon War, the Litman family has never experienced a "dull moment."

Litman family 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Litman family 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Few new immigrants exemplify the “never a dull moment” concept better than Maya and Mel Litman. Arriving in 2006 in the heat of the Second Lebanon War, at the last minute they had to switch their plans to live in the North and scramble to find housing in the South. Ten months later, Tamar, their almost two-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a particularly deadly form of cancer. Despite spending a full year concentrating on her intensive treatment and recovery, the Litmans also managed to buy a home, to open an orthomolecular medical clinic in Omer and to add two children to their aliya family of four.
Mel’s family enjoys deep roots in Toronto, but Maya’s parents had Israeli connections. “My one grandfather came to Israel from Poland in the in the 1930s,” Maya recalls. “Every month the British allowed a very few Jews into Palestine. If a couple was married, they counted them as one, so they paired my grandfather off with my grandmother and they both came. Many of those unions later divorced, but not my grandparents.
“My mother was born in Rehovot. Her father served in the Hagana and was one of Chaim Weizmann’s bodyguards, but after the Holocaust, my mother’s mother learned that her father and brother had survived and were in the US. She wanted to be there with them, so they moved to America. My father had a very different situation. He was a Holocaust survivor and it had always been his dream to move to Israel. Now, with our aliya, I feel as though I’ve brought the family back. I’ve closed the circle.”
“I always had aliya in mind,” Maya says. “When I met Mel and discovered he was also interested in aliya, that was it. But 20 years later, we still hadn’t made the move.
Then one day my sister came over, sat down and out of the blue said, ‘I want to know when you’re going to make aliya.’ I started telling her about our plans, but she interrupted and said, ‘No. I want to know now: What’s your date? You’ve been talking about it for years.
Enough is enough! If you don’t make a decision now, I’ll know you’re not serious.’ “Wow, that was like a frying pan in the head! I called her back the next day and said, ‘Okay, here it is: We’re making aliya in the summer of 2006.’ That was about a year and a half out – I figured I could handle it in 18 months.”
“We’d always wanted to live in the North, in the Galilee,” Mel recalls. “But 2006 was the summer of the war – Grads and rockets exploding all over the North.
Nefesh B’Nefesh didn’t want new olim going there, so we had to make other plans, quickly.”
“We’d sold our house,” Maya continues. “We sold it to an Egyptian for gold. Can you believe that? An Egyptian made it possible for us to make aliya! So we were in a rental house, waiting to leave. Two weeks before our flight, and we still didn’t have a place to live. Then on Shabbat, a complete monsoon hit just as everyone was leaving shul. We decided to wait out the rain, as did another doctor who was just visiting that Shabbat.
“We were talking about our predicament, and he said, ‘I had a friend who made aliya to Metar, a moshav near Beersheba. They like it there.’ We’d never heard of Metar, but it sounded nice. We found a rental, and drove from the airport to Metar, a place we’d never seen. It turned out to be a wonderful decision.”
“We’d been in Israel for 10 months and Tamar was just a month shy of two years old,” Mel recalls. “For several days, she just hadn’t been herself. Nothing in particular, but clearly she wasn’t feeling well. One night she was lying in bed with us, very fussy, and I pulled down her lower lip. I could see the row of tumors across the inside of her lip.
“‘Tamar has cancer,’ I said, hardly believing it myself.
I had a pretty good idea what it was right away. From that moment on, we had no time. For the next six months, we were with her all day, all night. She was in the hospital most of the time, first at Soroka, then at Hadassah. We knew what the standard treatment was: Give her some chemo, watch it not work and then let her go. I can’t even describe how intense those next months were.”
“God’s timing was incredible,” Maya notes with a smile. “If she’d been diagnosed while we were still in Canada, we might not have come. But from here, we called all over the world, asking where the best treatment was, and were told that Israel was as good as anywhere.
We knew she had a very bad case. ‘People don’t walk out of here,’ one of the nurses said afterward. But with the chemotherapy, plus Mel’s orthomolecular treatments, Tamar recovered. It’s been three years now, she’s just a regular little kid. The only difference is that she has more energy than any of the rest of us.”
The day Tamar was diagnosed, the Litmans closed on the house they’d bought in Metar. “I was frantic,” Maya recalls. “I didn’t know what to do, but decided we had to go ahead on the house. I drove back by myself and signed the papers.” Laughing, she adds, “And that same day I found out I was pregnant! Can you imagine?” The Litmans’ home is best described as warm, welcoming and extremely kid-friendly. “The best part is the backyard. We poured a concrete bed for Maya’s full-sized Olympic trampoline that came on our lift,” Mel says.
“Someone’s bouncing on that all day long. We also have a basketball court and a climbing wall. Kids love our place.”
As an MD with a specialty not yet recognized by the health system here, Mel knew he’d be better off practicing on his own. “Orthomolecular medicine uses therapeutic nutrition as alternative therapy for all kinds of conditions, including menopause, ADHD and cancer,” he notes. “I started working out of other clinics, a day here, a day there, mostly in the center of the country.
Then a year ago we opened our own clinic in the Omer Business Park.”
“When Tamar was ill, the whole community helped,” Maya recalls.”Neighbors brought food every Friday for Shabbat, even did our laundry. Our close friends are both Anglo and Israeli, but most of the Israelis are doctors who have spent considerable time in the States. We feel more comfortable with them, I guess.”
“I attended Jewish day school so I had a good grasp of Hebrew basics,” Maya says, “but every time I needed a word, it wouldn’t be there.”
“I have basic Hebrew, but I’m still studying,” Mel says.
“For patients, if I need help, our secretary is fluent in both languages and she helps me explain.”
“We had four kids when we came: Ari was seven, Talia five, Lironne three and baby Tamar,” Maya says. “Now we’ve added two more, Eliya and Akiva. It’s really for them that we made aliya. We really believed there wasn’t a continuation for us in Canada. If we didn’t come to Israel, our children would have had to. For the continuity of our family, to prevent assimilation and intermarriage, it was the right thing to do. I firmly believe that our place is here, in our land.”