The Man Who Chose Israel
I am the CEO of the Israel Scholarship Education Foundation. This organization, founded in 1977, helps young people in Israel’s periphery and development towns to excel in their education and future careers, providing them with scholarships from their BA studies to a potential Ph.D. Recently, I have had the pleasure of knowing someone who exemplifies everything ISEF seeks to embrace and encourage.
Dr. Yitschak Biton today holds a medical degree and is considered a leader in his field. He was an ISEF scholar from his first day in medical school and was also involved in volunteering with underprivileged children.
He feels very lucky in his life and has enjoyed success in the military, academic, and medical fields. He has won several major awards and has also been the recipient of generous professional and financial offers from prestigious institutions in the United States.
But he feels luckiest of all to have been born an Israeli, and thus has decided to return to Israel and give back to the country that has given him, and all of us, so much.
Yitschak was born in the city of Lod in central Israel. His grandparents were part of the mass aliyah of Sephardic Jews from Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Like their fellow olim, they left all their wealth behind for the opportunity to live in Israel. They truly believed that, in doing so, they were playing a part in the Geulah, the redemption of Israel. In this cause, his family has sacrificed a great deal. Indeed, his father was severely injured in a terror attack while serving in the Israeli security services.
Because of all this, Yitschak’s connection to Israel is very deep: a combination of religion, ideology, and family.
He served as an officer in the IDF and graduated from the officer’s training course with honors. After his service, with ISEF’s help, he studied at the Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical School. Eventually, he became a cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology. This involves medical intervention in dangerously irregular heart rhythms through techniques such as ablation, medications, pacemakers, and implantable defibrillators.
Following his studies in Jerusalem, Yitschak was invited to New York to work on the problem of sudden cardiac death. He published scholarly articles and won an award in his field. He was then invited to a two-year fellowship at Harvard’s Mass General Hospital in the field of cardiac electrophysiology.
Eventually, he was offered a position at Harvard University, as well as private employment at a salary of $550,000 a year.
He turned them both down.
Yitschak did so in order to work at his alma mater, Hadassah and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He did this because he felt a very strong need to give back to his country, and he knew that there are very few in Israel who specialize in his vital, life-saving field.
In the end, Yitschak consulted his mentor, Nina Weiner, the president of ISEF for 40 years and now its chairwoman emerita, to ask her opinion. Her reply was in accord with his own instincts and was a major determinant in his decision to go back to Israel.
Yitschak’s entire family lives in Israel, and his desire to be close to them was another important part of his decision. As a Jew, he values family. And, of course, Yitschak is a Zionist and has strong feelings of commitment and belonging to Israel. Finally, he believes that it is important to keep Israel at the frontier of medicine and science, a goal to which he can make a major contribution.
Today, Yitschak is a cardiologist specializing in interventional electrophysiology, which is the current cutting edge in the field. He is going to work at one of the best hospitals in Israel, Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, and the Hebrew University. He believes it is a great privilege and a mitzvah to work in the holy city. His hope is to advance the field of electrophysiology together with his highly-trained colleagues.
I strongly believe that Israel is a place of innovation and hope, a home to many, many good people. However, Israel must work to keep those people and not allow them to drift away into high-prestige, high-paying jobs overseas. Many people in Yitschak’s position go to the US and are made offers even more lucrative than he received. The professional and financial rewards make it very difficult for them to return.
It is my hope that Israel will be able to bring more of its talented sons and daughters back to work in the homeland. In particular, this will help continue Israel’s proud history of innovation. The stent and the implantable defibrillator were both originally developed in Israel, and who knows what accomplishments Israel could attain if it works to retain people like Yitschak.
Ultimately, all Israelis must make individual choices whether to stay in Israel or seek success overseas. Yitschak has made his choice, and he is proud of it. ISEF continues to embrace and encourage all Israelis to develop their talents to the highest degree, and is doing its utmost to ensure that the Jewish State continues to benefit from those talents for decades to come.