Photo Credit: Jewish Press

It’s said that “practice makes perfect.” Keeping that in mind, I try to take advantage of every opportunity I get to practice my Hebrew. (National lockdowns don’t provide too many opportunities for social conversations.) I chime in with comments on parents WhatsApp groups. I chit-chat with the repairmen who visit our home.

In one aspect of my life, however, I have determinedly stuck with my mother tongue: in choosing our family’s doctors. Especially today – when most doctor visits are phone “visits” – being able to precisely describe what’s happening is important.

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Thankfully, in a city like Modi’in, which has a large Anglo presence, we’ve easily been able to find through our kupat cholim (health care provider) eye doctors, general practitioners, and pediatricians who are either Anglo or speak English.

However, you can’t always choose your provider. My daughter, baruch Hashem, is a happy, healthy, and vivacious little two-year-old, but from a young age she’s needed some help reaching developmental milestones. From our research prior to making aliyah, we were confident that she would be able to easily resume her various therapies in Israel.

(In fact, our kupat cholim offers all sorts of therapies, either for free or a subsidized fee, including hydrotherapy swimming, art therapy, and even therapeutic horseback riding!)

Our first step was back in May, when we finally were able to have an “in-person” visit with my daughter’s pediatrician. Together, we reviewed her medical file and therapists’ reports. Based on the records, her pediatrician completed a referral for my daughter to be evaluated by Hitpatchut Hayeled (the Child Development Center – the kupat cholim’s institution that conducts evaluations for children seeking services).

After the referral was completed, we waited to be “invited” to meet with Hitpatchut Hayeled. We received the call in early July and were set up for a dizzying schedule of appointments over the next few weeks, during which we would meet with a social worker, developmental pediatrician, and evaluations with a speech, occupational, and physical therapist.

From our first appointment, which was with a social worker, I realized that we were going to be facing a challenging experience. The social worker didn’t speak any English and had a list of detailed questions about every facet of my daughter’s development for me to answer. Our pile of evaluation reports was utterly useless to this kind woman who couldn’t read English.

For close to two hours, we covered questions about crawling (bizchila), grasping toys (achizat tza’atzuim), and babbling (mikashkesh). While in English, I knew all these answers offhand, it was exhausting trying to decipher the questions and then translate my responses into clear Hebrew.

(Thankfully, our second appointment, which was with the developmental pediatrician, went much smoother. While the doctor preferred conducting the meeting in Hebrew, she had a fluent understanding of English, so I could answer in English when I needed to.)

When we finally met with the therapists in August for my daughter’s evaluations, the experience was pretty disastrous, though none were worse than our meeting with the speech therapist. While we had already been in the country for about five months, thanks to quarantine, lockdown, and social distancing rules, my daughter had very limited exposure to strangers and to the Hebrew language.

When the masked therapist began speaking to her in Hebrew, my daughter burst into tears. While I tried to serve as the translator, my daughter who had a very limited vocabulary, completely clammed up. Needless to say, when we got the report, my daughter qualified for speech therapy with flying colors.

Though approved for speech therapy, we haven’t actually started the services yet, as there is currently a shortage of speech therapists in the kupat cholim. Baruch Hashem, since my daughter started her bilingual Hebrew/English gan back in September, her vocabulary has blossomed. As we sit locked away at home, my daughter has been the play-by-play announcer, narrating our daily actions. (“Adi [my son’s name] hockey!” and “Read book!)

I only realized just how far she had come when we found ourselves back at Hitpatchut Hayeled for a physical therapy evaluation. Again, the therapist was a Hebrew speaker, but my translating services were no longer needed. When asked “likfotz” (to jump), my daughter launched herself off the floor. When asked to “l’alot b’madragot” (climb the stairs), my daughter grabbed the banister and started up.

My daughter was thrilled that as she completed each task the therapist rewarded her with a doll to play with. As the therapist sat with me to go over her recommendations, I was both amazed and thrilled when my daughter interrupted to ask, “Od buba” (another doll)?

It looks like I just found another person to practice my Hebrew with.

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Aviva Karoly made aliyah to Israel with her husband and two children on March 19, with Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, and JNF-USA. She can be reached at myaliyah2020@gmail.com.