BJVoices From Israel: “Zeh Mitchamchem et Ha’lev"(It Warms My Heart)

 A Berkshire doctor shares his experiences in post-Oct. 7 Israel

Last autumn, Dr. Fred Landes and his wife Brenda of Pittsfield had plans to visit Amsterdam; but after Oct. 7, he perceived that “the environment there seemed really hostile to Jewish people, and we decided that's not such a great idea.” After conversation at dinner with friends whose son-in-law was looking into working in Israel as a doctor, Fred explored possibilities for himself. An emergency room doctor by training who currently performs wound care procedures for diabetic patients and others with skin problems, he thought he might be able to provide similar services for Israeli patients.

He spoke to an old friend from the Berkshires, Shira Moskowitz, who now lives in Israel and works as a fundraiser for Wolfson Hospital in Holon, one of Israel’s largest medical centers. “She said, ‘Fred, I don't know if you're going to come here or not,’” he remembers, “’but even the fact that you're thinking about it – zeh mitchamchem et ha’lev – it warms my heart because we feel so isolated here right now. We feel really alone and kind of forgotten.’ When she said that, I realized, I may not be able to work as a doctor, but I can do something over there, even if I have to package sandwiches for troops or who knows what.”

He eventually secured short-term positions with Wolfson Hospital and with the Kupat Cholim clinic system in Tel Aviv. He left on the Sunday following Thanksgiving and returned 15 days later. Since his return, he has been speaking about his experiences with different congregations and local groups – here are some of the impressions he shared with the BJV, edited for length and clarity.


Before I left, I read a news story that after October 7, 12,000 healthcare professionals – 7,000 of them doctors – wrote to the Israeli government saying they would volunteer. But when I was there, the Times of Israel reported that some 150 foreign doctors were actually working in Israel. The need for assistance was extreme initially, but it became less extreme as they increasingly found ways to deal with the problems that arose, like problems with agriculture. In addition to the non-Israelis who were killed on October 7, a lot of people left. Subsequently, a lot of people have come from overseas to Israel just to get those jobs.

Another thing that is so interesting is the involvement of Israeli Arabs in Israeli society. At Hadassah hospital, there were very few Jewish doctors that weren't called up somewhere, and so the jewel in the crown of Israeli medicine was basically being run by Arab Israelis.


This was an experience I had at the house of people who had kids in the army. You would eat dinner and then you would watch the news. Then, you would watch another version of the news. And then you would watch a third version of the news.

These were all in Hebrew, and I understood maybe 60 percent of it. After the news, we watched a satirical program about what's going on in the world – comedy routines that were totally on par with Saturday Night Live, except that what they're talking about is not some theoretical political argument in Washington. They're talking about how the Gaza war is being managed.

One comedy routine about a guy who goes to his first visit with a psychologist. It's a hamish office and the psychologist is wearing the psychology sweater, which seems to be internationally mandated. He says, ‘What brings you here?’ The patient says, ‘Well, I'm here because of anxiety.’ The psychologist asks why? ‘Well, I don't know,’ the patient answers. ‘The Lebanese hate us, the Jordanians hate us, the Saudis hate us, the Egyptians hate us, and on and on and on and on.’

And as he's talking, you can see that the psychologist is getting a little edgy. Ironically, the patient, as he's dumping all of this baggage, he's actually beginning to sound more rational. Finally, the psychologist says, ‘Okay, enough already.’ And the patient says, ‘What do you mean enough already? I haven't even mentioned Iran. They have 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel.’ And the psychologist says, ‘Come on, don't exaggerate. Things are bad enough. You don't have to exaggerate.’

The patient says, ‘No, they really have 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel.’ Then, the psychologist takes up his cell phone and says: ‘Alexa, how many missiles does Iran have aimed at Israel?’ Alexa’s answer is meya-v’chmishim-elef, which means 150,000. Now you see the psychologist starting to have a panic anxiety attack asthe patient leaves the office, doing much better.


There is the new National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. It is a magnificent structure, and you have ready access to unbelievable stuff. But they also had a huge photo montage of all of the hostages in one enormous room. They also had seats in the library, one for each hostage. On the seats, they tried to find out what book that particular hostage would be reading, if they could find out. What was very moving is that they also had seats for the kids who were hostages, and they set up had the kids’ books that the kids would have been reading.

In the days after October 7, Israeli troops were recovering the kibbutzim – going into safe rooms and finding whatever they found. And they found living people. So, these were soldiers who were, what, 18 or 19? And they would go into the safe rooms, and when they found living people, before they were allowed out, they told the people, ‘Listen, I'm going to take you outside, but I want you to close your eyes and not see what's here.’ And many of them were let out by these kids so as to make it less traumatic for the survivors. But you have to wonder, what about those kids? What are they going to be dealing with from all this?


When you go to Israel, it's relatively easy to have intense conversations with Israelis. They're not shy. There's an old joke that there are only two tones of conversation in Israel – one of them is screaming and the other is fraught screaming. But there was third voice that I encountered, more so in artistic settings or other types of representations, that was a response to the horror of what took place on October 7.

What I'm going to tell you is going to sound really crazy, okay? The people in Israel are much more upbeat than the Jews in America. When I come back home, people were morose and weeping, whereas there, people are, to a large extent, leading, believe it or not, relatively normal lives. The resilience of that society is interesting. There's an understanding that Israel truly f***ed up. Okay. They f***ed up so many different ways. I don't know how closely you've been following stories about the intelligence failures that took place before October 7. What are the big issues that have taken place in our lifetimes? This one dwarfs them all. And yet people are shelving it because they can't deal with that reality. Ultimately, there's no way that you cannot deal with that reality. But now, they have this war going.

Israelis are really looking at the world. When I was there, the subject that captivated Israelis about America was the House of Representatives hearing with those three university presidents. It absolutely captivated them. I had a bunch of people stop and talk to me about this. ‘Explain this to me. What's going on?’ If I said I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it, they’d ask ‘What part of the United States are you from?’ Western Massachusetts. And they’d want to know: ‘Is there a lot of antisemitism there?’

Back in the day when you talked about antisemitism with secular Israeli Jews, the response was often, ‘Well, that's antisemitism. I'm Israeli. I'm not Jewish.’ After October 7, we are all Jews now. That thing about ‘we're Israelis, not Jews’ – those people who died, they didn't die because they were Israelis. They died because they were Jews. And I think there's a fairly universal feeling about that.

A pollster was asking people all kinds of questions, including whether, if one had the opportunity to live in the United States or some other Western country, would leave Israel and go there now? I think one of the things that Israel very legitimately was afraid of is, after the absolute failure on October 7 to protect its Jewish citizens, would they want to leave?

Yet 90% of the Israelis said they would not leave. They still felt confident enough to stay.