Microwave and Bidet: VIP Care for Rabbi’s Wife Secured by Deputy Health Minister

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is being harshly criticized for the treatment he ensured for a Hasidic leader’s wife at a Tel Aviv hospital

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Yaakov Litzman at the High Court in Jerusalem, February 27, 2019.
Yaakov Litzman at the High Court in Jerusalem, February 27, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital has declined to elaborate on the VIP accommodations provided to the wife of a high-profile rabbi on the orders of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, as revealed by Haaretz on Tuesday.

But sources at the hospital say they will have a hard time forgetting the four weeks that Shoshana Alter, the wife of the Gerrer rebbe, spent in the rehabilitation ward last summer.

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“The order was clear: ‘Everything that the rebbetzin wants, give her, without asking any questions or raising any eyebrows,’” said a hospital source of the demand allegedly made when Alter was brought to the department accompanied by a large entourage that remained present around the clock.

“It was an unusual and exaggerated demand that medical teams really aren’t used to hearing,” the source said, adding that the staff was told to address her only as “honorable rebbetzin” and not use her first or last name. No men, including caregivers, were allowed into her room.

“They cleared a double room for her that was meant to have another patient. They brought her a microwave, an electric kettle, a Shabbat hotplate and a private refrigerator – all of it hospital equipment,” a hospital source said. Her room and the area around it were repainted and plants were placed there especially for her stay, sources said.

Alter’s entourage took care of all her needs and ensured that any request of hers was expedited. “On one Friday, before Shabbat, the department staff was ordered to summon the hospital’s plumber to install a bidet in Alter’s bathroom,” a hospital source said. “The plumber was summoned and the bidet was installed.”

According to hospital sources, any request had to be fulfilled immediately, in a department where two to three nurses are responsible for 34 patients. One such request related to waking Alter up. While the ward’s routine begins at 5:30 A.M. with tests and preparations for doctors’ rounds and meetings, the staff was warned not to wake Alter before 9 A.M.

But the special arrangements were allegedly not confined to the rebbetzin’s room. The department’s meeting room, where staff meetings and briefings on patients’ conditions are held, was appropriated for the Gerrer rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Alter, Litzman’s patron.

“They simply gave him the department’s meeting room for his personal needs,” says a hospital source about the rabbi, also known as the Gur rebbe. “He would sit there all day and receive the people who come to him because of his role and status. For a month [the room] was simply off-limits.”

The rooms where the duty physicians nap were appropriated on Shabbat for members of the rebbetzin’s entourage, hospital sources said. “The staff was incensed,” one said. “At one point one of the duty physicians got up and said he couldn’t accept this and added, ‘It’s me or them.’”

The crisis was resolved only when hospital’s director, Roni Gamzu, found a solution – sending the doctor to sleep in the duty rooms of the adjacent department. Sources said Gamzu would visit the department once every few days, something that didn’t usually happen, and made sure to supply any specialist or test for Alter immediately.

Sources said Litzman visited the ward every other day or so, to keep close watch.

Ichilov Hospital responded by saying, “There are statements here, some of which are exaggerations divorced from reality, some of which are false and some that are distortions of the truth. Public institutions are at times required to adjust the hospitalization conditions for certain people for a variety of reasons, not necessarily for comfort.”

Litzman, meanwhile, responded to Haaretz’s article by sending photos and videos to ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, websites showing boxes purportedly filled with files of petitions from people seeking assistance. The photos and clips were published on the Behadrei Haredim and Kikar Shabbat websites.

Litzman’s office said the dozens of boxes shown are just from the past five months, “and these are only the public appeals that were documented and filed. In addition there are at least twice as many appeals of an immediate nature, which are dealt with through written orders but without accompanying documentation.”

The pictures were accompanied by a response from his office submitted to Haaretz. “We never examine who is calling us for help; most of the callers are unknown to us and do not belong to the Haredi community or any particular community,” the office said. “Secular and Haredim, religious and nonreligious, Arabs and immigrants, all are equal in terms of our efforts to help on any medical issue.”

According to sources in the health system, Litzman and his aides are often readily accessible, especially to Israelis from the Haredi community. This includes publication of the personal phone numbers of Litzman’s assistants, at least in the Haredi media.

According to health care managers and staff, the vast majority of referrals and requests relate to Haredi patients, with an emphasis on members of the Ger Hasidic community.

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