Israel’s first home-grown ultra-Orthodox doctor in midst of coronavirus fight

Dr. Yehuda Sabiner started his internship at the country’s first dedicated coronavirus ward.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s first home-grown ultra-Orthodox doctor has landed in the trenches of Israel’s coronavirus fight, Channel 12 news reported Saturday.

On the first day of his internship at the Tel Hashomer hospital near Tel Aviv, Dr. Yehuda Sabiner, 29, said a senior doctor called him over and said the department was transitioning to become Israel’s first ward dedicated exclusively to coronavirus patients.

“She said I could refuse,” Sabiner told Channel 12. “I thought once or twice and told her I’m OK with that, let me just ask my wife, who said to me straight out wherever you are, whatever they ask of you that’s your job.”

It turned out that 70 percent of the patients in Ward C, the corona ward, are fellow members of the ultra-Orthodox community from the hard-hit city of Bnei Brak and Sabiner knows some of them personally.

Emerging last Wednesday after spending several days in the ward to minimize exposure to others, Sabiner said his last overnight went well and he was excited to be able get a special short leave to go home for a short time to celebrate Passover with his family.

“There was also a bit of drama during the night,” Sabiner said, during which doctors needed to stabilize some patients and “for the meantime to defeat the angel of death.”

As a young child Sabiner was so impressed with his family doctor he made his mind up to make it his life goal to become a physician.

In his youth, he studied Torah all day, and when he told his rabbi his goal was to be a doctor, the rabbi’s response was he needed to see a psychiatrist, Sabiner recounted.

Sabiner said his rabbi told him, “It’s not realistic, you won’t be accepted, you are unable, you can’t go in opposition to your community.” However, he persevered and became the first ultra-Orthodox Jew to come out of Israel’s yeshiva world and graduate from medicine, getting his degree from the prestigious Technion University in Haifa.

All other ultra-Orthodox doctors in the country got their medical degrees abroad and immigrated to Israel, Sabiner said.

When the coronavirus outbreak turned serious and his children’s school was still holding classes, Sabiner called the principal and explained the gravity of the situation after which the school closed its doors.

As the outbreak worsened and the religious community was still not fully accepting health directives before the Purim holiday, Sabiner arranged to meet Rabbi Yitzhok Zilberstein, one of the more prominent and respected leaders in Bnei Brak.

After only five minutes of explanation, the rabbi issued “a very extreme proclamation” to help keep people at home, Sabiner said. “If that ruling hadn’t come out in time, the catastrophe we are in today would have been much, much, bigger.”

Sabiner will not have much time off in the coming months. With its dense population and tradition of group prayers and large gatherings for both weddings and funerals, total closures were only imposed after Bnei Brak became Israel’s most infected city.