Bar and bat mitzvahs tend to be a formative moment for the child being celebrated, but not for the attendees. This certainly wasn’t the case for Miriam Barker, who was fascinated by a childhood friend’s bar mitzvah that she attended in middle school.
Between the singing and the dancing, Barker was able to appreciate the beauty behind the coming-of-age custom.
“It was a beautiful introduction to Judaism, and I was really touched by how the Jewish people really value passing on tradition. I also read a lot about the Holocaust, and the Jewish people’s story of resilience against all odds really resonated with me,”
Barker herself became a successful adult against the odds. Born in China and adopted at age 2, Barker was raised Baptist by a single mother.
As a teenager, she distanced herself from the church, but as she grew into young adulthood both she and her husband—whom she also met in middle school — found themselves searching for God within the Jewish faith.
“I started being more open to the idea of a higher being. My husband introduced me to his rabbi and I listened to YouTube channels about Judaism. During Purim 2020, my rebbetzin spoke to me about Esther and how she stood up for the Jewish people and how there can be duality in customs — after all, you fast but then it’s followed by a celebration. This idea of being joyous and connecting with God everywhere really resonated with me. It was then I knew I wanted to be Jewish until the day I died,” she said.
With her conversion made official last year, Barker recounted her journey into Judaism on the sidelines of MedEx, an event for medical professionals considering aliyah hosted by Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Some 400 medical professionals attended the annual event earlier this month in Teaneck, New Jersey, where they received expedited processing and networked with Israeli medical professionals, employers and on-site licensing officials. The event was geared toward those in the advanced stages of aliyah as well as young professionals contemplating a similar move in the future.
Tony Gelbart, co-founder and chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, said, “MedEx is an integral part of our aliyah vision. It is not enough to simply help olim [immigrants] move to Israel, we must make the journey as streamlined as possible. Through this in-person event in New Jersey, MedEx paves the way for medical professionals across North America to cut through bureaucracy to enable physicians and medical professionals to concentrate on building their professional and personal lives in Israel.”
In cooperation with Israel’s Aliyah and Integration Ministry, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and Jewish National Fund-USA, alongside Israel’s Health Ministry and the Israeli Medical Association, Nefesh B’Nefesh launched the MedEx stand-alone event to enable medical professionals to take major steps toward transferring their North American medical licenses before making aliyah — all in person and in one dedicated location.
This year’s event at the Glenpointe Marriott in Teaneck offered that streamlined experience to physicians, nurses, dentists, physician assistants, podiatrists, psychologists, ophthalmologists, pharmacists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech therapists, audiologists, dietitians/nutritionists, dental hygienists and medical laboratory professionals.
Barker, a registered practitioner, hopes to make aliyah with her husband in the next year and a half. While she made some useful connections at MedEx, she realizes there’s still a lot ahead of her before she moves to Israel, where she hopes they will settle somewhere in the north.
As a nurse, her presence in the periphery will be particularly welcomed, considering Israel is experiencing a looming medical personnel shortage, with the north and south being impacted the most.
There simply aren’t enough medical professionals to meet the needs of the country’s growing population, and the problem is only going to get worse.
As olim who came to Israel from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s begin to retire in the next few years, the talent pool of medical professionals will shrink.
What’s more, due to new regulations set to go into effect in 2026, which will render medical diplomas acquired from countries abroad that have far less stringent medical standards obsolete, that talent pool will further dwindle. This will leave Israel with an unprecedented medical crisis.
The crisis is amplified in Israel’s periphery, where 63% of medical professionals have obtained their degrees from countries that will no longer be recognized. In the Negev, for example, 51% of medical professional degrees will no longer be recognized in three years due to the new restrictions.
“The goal to increase the number of medical personnel, specifically in the Negev and Galilee regions, is modern-day Zionism at work and will provide the shot in the arm the medical establishment in these communities need,” said Negev, Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf. “This initiative also helps promote quality of life and resilience in the periphery, and that is one of my office’s core issues. As such, we hope to provide opportunities for immigrants to be absorbed into strong communities that offer a myriad of employment options upon making aliyah.”
Dr. Sefi Mendelovich, deputy director general of Israel’s Health Ministry, added, “Recently, the Health Ministry has dedicated itself to addressing the shortage of doctors in the Israeli health system. Among other initiatives, we are working to bring some 600 doctors to Israel each year — which will triple the current number. This is a national undertaking of the utmost importance.”