Guest blogger Harold Halpern is a lawyer who grew up in Buffalo, retired at age 85, and traveled by himself from Sarasota, Florida to Tel Aviv, Israel at age 88 in May, He is a board member of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. He also writes a column for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. He is currently planning a trip to Abu Dhabi for February, 2023. Here is his story of his recent May trip to Israel.
I was delighted to accept my daughter Lisa’s invitation to be a guest blogger. In mid-May I went to Israel with four legal colleagues for a week of informal meetings with judges, lawyers, think tanks, members of the government, and opinion makers to learn about legal, political, and social matters. I met up with my colleagues at the Newark airport on May 14th.
After meeting with retired Supreme Court Justice Ely Rubenstein on May 19th, I missed a step as we were leaving the Supreme Court Building in Jerusalem. I went flying into the wall and floor with my right foot splayed out perpendicular to my body. I could not move it, nor could I get up. One of my colleagues was able to help me sit up, which enabled me to slide my back against the wall.
From that moment I was physically unable to care for myself without help. Soon a wheelchair was procured into which I was physically lifted. Now what do I do? I called my good friend Stuart Fischman, originally from Buffalo, who made Aliyah to Israel about 20 years ago. We had made plans for lunch together with a group of his Israeli friends.
“Stuart,” I said, “change of plans.” I told him what had happened, and he directed me to a clinic where he would meet me. I could do nothing on my own. My friends hailed me a taxi, lifted me into it without twisting my leg or foot, and the leader of our small mission, Steve Greenwald, went with me. He went into the clinic and found a wheelchair. It was a hard push and a long walk.
I pointed to a young man wearing a kippah; a head covering worn by traditional Jews. Steve asked him to push me, a stranger, to the 2nd floor clinic. He did so without hesitation and refused to accept any money. He was fulfilling a mitzvah to help a person in need.
I had fractured my hip. I decided to go back to my hotel and then later was taken by ambulance to Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv. I was there from May 19th to May 29th. I was unable to do anything to help myself or even get out of bed until the last couple of days. After some uncertainty, the doctors decided not to operate but to let normal healing to take place, as the fractured bone had not been displaced. I was totally dependent on the nurses and attendants each day.
My daughters, Lisa and Samantha, took over the mysteries of my travel insurance to have me flown home. This task was not easy. I had bought a travel insurance policy on my own before I left for my trip in case something went wrong. Pursuant to the provisions of my policy, I was promised 24/7 emergency assistance services.
But Lisa was not able to get anyone from the travel insurance company to pick up the phone or respond to emails. She and Samantha spent hours calling the company and holding on the phone each day, hoping that someone would answer, as well as emailing the company. They finally sent messages via LinkedIn to the CEO, COO, Counsel, and Executive Assistant to the CEO of the company asking for help on my behalf. Five long days after the fall, someone returned Lisa's call. Lisa used her dispute resolution skills to persuade the insurance company’s representatives to give her their personal cell numbers so that she could easily communicate with them.
She also persuaded the company to send a medical escort from the United States to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv so that I could travel home since I had missed my flight scheduled for May 21st. This win was accomplished after many required forms were filled out by the clinic in Jerusalem and the hospital staff in Tel Aviv to convey the need for a medical escort. I was scheduled to travel from Tel Aviv to Sarasota, connecting through Newark, New Jersey. The escort was a medical doctor who helped me to pack up, check in for the flights, be transported by ambulance to the Tel Aviv airport, obtain a wheelchair, and transfer me from wheelchair to airplane seat. He stayed with me throughout the change of plane and stop over in Newark, the plane ride to Sarasota, and the ambulance transport to Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Lisa reinforced my opinion that interest based negotiation and mediation are effective tools for dispute resolution. I initially had concluded that the insurance company was a scam due to the complete lack of response and was ready to fight. I had contacted my own personal lawyer back in Buffalo from my Tel Aviv hospital bed and asked him to run a global check to see if the company was legitimate. Before he had a chance to do so, my daughters were able to establish a very friendly relationship with a wonderful representative of the insurance company. They all worked together for days to ensure that I was able to fly home safely. At present, we are still sorting out all of the medical bills with Medicare, my supplemental health insurance plan, and my travel insurance plan.
I spent two weeks at Sarasota Memorial Hospital as I slowly began rehabilitation. Now, two months after my fall in Jerusalem, I am walking with an appreciated sense of freedom which disability inhibits. So, I marvel at those who struggle to overcome greater disabilities. We must do all that we can to help to enable everyone who is physically or mentally impaired to cope and to succeed in our complex society.
A final word. I am appreciative of Stuart staying with me at the clinic, my daughter Samantha’s in-laws, Yossi and Netta Kantor, who guided me through Israel’s medical systems, and my colleagues and friends who visited regularly. My wife, Susan, kept up my spirits with her love and devotion. And our children and grandchildren’s love touched my soul.
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.