In 1952, just before he made aliyah to Israel from Argentina, a young doctor named Chaim Doron sent a letter to the Clalit healthcare network asking them to find him work in the Negev. “The shortage of doctors was so severe that after 10 days I received a detailed answer,” said Doron years later.
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The job offer was to become regional physician at Kibbutz Gvaram. For Doron, this was the first step in expressing his Zionist worldview through his work in Israel’s healthcare system.
He was born in 1928 in Buenos Aires to the Derchinsky family. His grandfather immigrated to Argentina in 1900 from the town of Slonim, today in Belarus but then in Poland, as part of the project for Jewish agricultural colonies sponsored by Baron Maurice de Hirsch, who tried to solve the problems of the Jews of Eastern Europe by establishing farming communities for Jews in South America.
After high school, Doron began studying medicine at Buenos Aires University as he had heard Israel needed doctors. He did his residency in the city’s Jewish hospital. In 1953, his job offer in hand, he moved to Israel with his wife Naomi, a nurse.
The doctors of Clalit were surprised when they met the couple: A young doctor and nurse, new immigrants, fluent Hebrew speakers, who wanted to work in the Negev. According to the plan, they moved to Kibbutz Gvaram and he began working there. In a jeep he got from Clalit, he drove to examine patients among the nearby communities too, despite all the dangers along the way. Naomi worked as a nurse in the transit camps in Ashkelon for Jewish immigrants.
The next station in Doron’s career was Be’er Sheva, where he began working in a clinic in 1954. “The patients were olim from all over the world: From Iraq and Morocco, from Egypt and Hungary, from Romania and Yemen and other countries,” said Doron. “We worked, three doctors together, in the clinic, and we too were an example of the ‘ingathering of the exiles’ – Danon from Bulgaria, Boazon from Holland and Doron from Argentina.”
Treating different population groups and especially new immigrants was a challenge. Doron tells how he worked in the community of Tifrach with a Haredi population as well as in Moshav Nevatim, made up of immigrants from Cochin in India. “When I asked the olim if their stomachs hurt, they would answer, ‘Yes,’ but meant the opposite. I was forced to ask for an interpreter for the regular medical work.”
To make things easier for the doctors in the south, he formulated a special plan for absorbing young doctors from South America in Israel. “On one hand, there is a shortage of doctors in southern Israel and on the other hand there are many young Jewish doctors in South America who are looking for both professional and patriotic meaning in their lives,” he said. “Why not encourage the aliyah of these doctors to Israel?”
He put the plan into effect in cooperation with Clalit and the Jewish Agency, which gave the new immigrant doctors good conditions in return for their work in the Negev. Doron brought 250 people to Israel through the program, 90 percent of whom remained permanently, he said. The success of the program is reflected in a common joke among Israeli doctors at the time – that doctors who do not speak Spanish could not work at the hospital in Be’er Sheva.
At the end of the 1980s, Doron headed a government committee planning the absorption of immigrant doctors from the Soviet Union. “We developed a special program based on my previous experience in absorbing doctors from Latin America: First [Hebrew language] ulpan, after that learning about the Israeli health system and after that a year of experience,” said Doron. In the end, some 10,000 doctors from the Soviet Union were absorbed in Israel.
Doron filled a long list of senior positions, including head of the Negev region for Clalit and later as CEO of the health maintenance organization. He is credited with establishing the medical school at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in 1974.
He passed away a month ago, leaving his wife Naomi, three children, 12 grandchildren and 43 great-grandchildren. His last great grandchild underwent brit mila (ritual circumcision) on the day of Doron’s funeral, and the boy was named after him.