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Monday, September 1, 2014

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Lessons learned walking the dog

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Yair Lootsteen

Two years ago, my wife and I got Natan, our son, a dog for his 12th birthday. Something he’d been nagging us for, for the longest time. He was smitten by a two-week-old Lab puppy we visited at a kennel not far from Ben-Gurion airport, and after reaching an agreement outlining his new responsibilities (I am a lawyer after all), the new addition to our family arrived home at the ripe age of six weeks.

Mooi, my Dad’s apt suggestion for a name, meaning “beautiful” in Dutch and pronounced “moy,” has changed our lives. She’s brought much joy and unconditional love into our quarters as well as some new challenges. And now that she’s two, we’ll be replacing most of our living room furniture, having been told she’s through the destructive stage of her life.

More than anything else, she has forced us out of our home. Three, four, five times a day. If you really want to get to know your neighbourhood, there’s nothing quite like walking a dog, day in and day out. I’m now familiar with every nook and cranny and aware of any change that occurs in the geography.

Even more, I now know the neighbourhood characters – two of whom are a pair of wonderful, heavyset women originating from the former Soviet Union. One, from St. Petersburg, could be my mother; the other, from near Kiev, a considerably older sibling. They meet daily on different benches and just love Mooi. Turns out “moy” in Russian means “mine,” and they’re certain that’s how we named her. They provide her with treats and she races to them upon catching their scent.

I would never have stopped to talk to these lovely babushkas were it not for Mooi. Nor would I have met Oscar.

At the end of our street, there’s a large building, bigger than the others, which serves as a hotel cum residence, mostly for foreigners, here to get medical care at one of Jerusalem’s hospitals. Almost all of them come from countries in the former Soviet Union.

Medical tourism has become an industry in Israel. According to an article published recently in The Marker, Ha’aretz’s financial section, it’s currently bringing upward of a half-billion shekels into the Israeli economy annually. That’s roughly $160 million Cdn. We compete with Germany for this trade.

The problem is this business is not yet regulated, and in the interim, doctors, hospitals, agents all seem to have gotten into the action. In December, Uvda, a leading investigatory TV program, screened a report in which three respected surgeons were surreptitiously filmed demanding exorbitant sums of money from someone posing as an agent for foreigners in need of medical help. The story sparked suspicion that desperately ill patients and their families are being exploited and that public hospitals are being used for private consultations and procedures, detrimentally affecting the medical care we Israelis are receiving.

So what does all this have to do with Oscar? He’s a Russian kid under 10, who’s been living in that residence on my street for the last several years. He was terribly disfigured in a fire back home in which his father was killed and his mother rendered incapable of taking care of him. Apparently, a wealthy oligarch heard his story and sent him to Israel to receive the best possible medical treatment. He lives here with two Russian women who’ve also been brought over to care for him while he’s here.

Oscar has undergone many operations to try and repair his appearance and to create some form of manageable fingers and hands for him. During his stay, he has learned a bit of Hebrew, as have his caregivers. He walks with them round the neighbourhood and has become a fixture. Despite everything he’s been through, he almost always seems happy and curious.

Sometimes we meet Oscar and his helpers when they’re spending time schmoozing with our two elderly Russian women. He likes Natan and Mooi and always asks about both of them.

I don’t know if someone in the medical industry has made too much money on Oscar’s case. It’s plain to see he’s receiving excellent medical treatment, and while he still has a long way to go, he looks much better than he did when he got here.

He has also taught many of us in the neighbourhood to be happier with our lot.

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