The good doctor’s advice

Living is Israel means putting up with rude drivers and line-cutters, but the annoyances are more than offset by the joys.

Sternlicht with his wife, Abby, and children Arava (Jamie), Moshe, Asher, Akiva (in front) and Marganit (photo credit: IFAT GOLAN)
Sternlicht with his wife, Abby, and children Arava (Jamie), Moshe, Asher, Akiva (in front) and Marganit
(photo credit: IFAT GOLAN)
For seven years after making aliya, Dr. Harold (Tzvi) Sternlicht worked one week each month in Pennsylvania, staying in a room of his family’s former house in Pittsburgh – 9,000 kilometers away from his wife and four children in Rehovot. The child psychiatrist gave up that grueling commute in 2014 when he began evaluating patients and managing their medications via a secure Internet connection.
“You’d think my kids would be happy I was home, but they missed all the treats I used to bring them every week from Walmart or Target,” he says with mock horror. “And on top of that, I took over the mamad [safe room], which used to be where they hung out.
Now they’re getting used to it. My oldest son gave me an ‘I love telepsychiatry’ T-shirt for my birthday.”
The good-natured doctor also has been working locally since getting his Israeli medical license, a process wrapped in reams of red tape. “It took me a year to get my license. Some people give up, but I really wanted to do something to help Israel also,” he explains.
During that first year, from 2006 to 2007, he studied in an ulpan to improve his Hebrew enough to work with Israeli patients. He worked for four months in the adolescent unit of a psychiatric hospital in Ness Ziona and did some group therapy. Once officially licensed, he interviewed for a part-time opening at a mental health clinic in Ashdod. When he heard how much he’d be making – 10 times less than in America – he politely turned down the offered position.
“But they said, ‘You’ll be starting on Monday,’ and wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he recalls. “So I started working there three days a week, three weeks a month – now sometimes four because I can. The team there is fantastic, and though the kids laugh as soon as I start talking, this is who I am.”
Doing the right thing
Sternlicht grew up in the New York City borough of Staten Island, where his father was chief psychologist at the former Willowbrook State School for children with intellectual disabilities, and taught psychology at Yeshiva University. His mother was a teacher. He and his three siblings were brought up Conservative, and Harold attended a Jewish school until eighth grade.
He earned his medical degree from the State University of New York, did a post-grad year at the University of Kentucky and then in 1986 accepted a residency at the University of Pittsburgh’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.
A religious coworker influenced his move toward modern Orthodoxy ideologically and geographically, as he relocated to the heavily Orthodox Squirrel Hill community. Zionism was one of the values this change cemented into his heart and mind.
“If you accept that Torah is true, you realize how important Israel is to Hashem [God],” says Sternlicht.
“He’s giving this gift, and the majority of Jews are saying ‘I don’t want it, I want to stay where I am.’ So I felt if you don’t go to live in Israel you’re basically insulting Hashem and not doing the right thing. He really wants us to be here.”
He adds that aliya is a mitzva easier to accomplish now than ever before, although his departure for Israel in 2006 painfully lengthened the distance from his parents and from his daughter Arava (Jamie) from his first marriage, who was then 13. But his 1999 marriage to Abby Aronson, and the swift arrival of their four children in five years, gave him the motivation he needed to put theory into practice.
“I always wanted to move to Israel but there wasn’t a definite time when. If not for Abby, I would have waited another year or two,” he confides. “There were excuses to hold it off, but Abby felt we should go before our oldest, Moshe, started first grade.”
The Sternlichts have an Israel National News clipping from August 10, 2006, showing the young family on the podium at Ben-Gurion International Airport after arriving on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight.
They were chosen to say a few words to the crowd. “For many years people have come to Israel running away from things – the Holocaust, persecution. Today we are running to Israel!” Sternlicht is quoted as saying.
They chose Rehovot because they had visited an old friend there and were impressed with the “downto- earth” community of English-speakers, the short commuting distance to Tel Aviv and the airport, the affordable home prices and the pool and gym facilities at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
“We’re happy with our decision,” says Sternlicht.
“All our kids went to a great independent elementary school with small classes, where the teachers are very caring. The kindergarten teacher said to us, ‘Your child will be loved here.’” Happily, within the past three years Abby’s parents and Sternlicht’s daughter Arava have all made aliya too.
Life in Israel
The move ended Sternlicht’s 12-year career at the largest community health center in Pennsylvania.
For a couple of months, he job-shared with a geriatric psychiatrist at Mercy Behavioral Health in Pittsburgh, whose family was living in Israel.
“Then I got a letter from Adelphoi Village, a series of group homes near Pittsburgh, telling me that they were looking for a full-time psychiatrist. I said I could do the job one week in every month. There is a big shortage of child psychiatrists, so they had no choice but to let me try.”
He remained at Adelphoi for five years, until new management took over and demanded he work longer hours. Instead, he went back to Mercy and started thinking about how to shift his career to the Internet.
“At a meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, I took a seminar on telepsychiatry and found out that the major shortage of child psychiatrists worldwide has caused this to become a necessity. A little while later, Pennsylvania approved insurance to pay for it.”
Through another new immigrant practicing telepsychiatry in Cleveland, Sternlicht learned about Arcadian Telepsychiatry, a mental-health clinic serving rural Pennsylvania towns. He took the two-days-a-week job in November 2013 but continued spending one week a month in Pittsburgh.
“In May 2014 I told Mercy I didn’t need to keep going back and forth, because I could do this without leaving my family,” says Sternlicht. He also continues to treat children in the Ashdod clinic – often for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder due to air-raid sirens.
Without the frequent transatlantic travel, he now has more time to participate in a local “Halacha of the day” class and to learn Torah with a friend for an hour or two every week. “To me, that is part of living in Israel,” he says.
Living is Israel also means putting up with rude drivers and line-cutters, he admits, but the annoyances are more than offset by the joys.
“I was carrying $30 in my pocket when we made aliya. My daughter got hurt on her bike, and in the confusion I somehow lost the money. That night, I went to New Pharm and saw a 100-shekel bill on the ground. Only in Israel do you get your money returned and Hashem keeps the commission!”