Moving his medicine from the gilded halls of Johannesburg to the bustling Bnei Brak, Dr. Jonathan Klotnick’s brand of practicing medicine is universal.

By Chandrea Serebro

For Dr. Jonathan Klotnick, medicine isn’t a mere profession—it’s a calling to contribute to the collective well-being of societies and the world. And if one sees it like this, then no matter where in the world you are, you will not only find your place, but you will find yourself filling a need that only you can cater to. This is why Jonathan can find joy in the ever-changing dynamics of practicing medicine in Israel, satisfaction from the fusion of old and new ideas, and a daily sense of excitement from the diverse people who walk through his doors.

“I am exceptionally grateful that Hashem has put me into this field where I can be seen as attending to the needs of broader society.  There is constantly something interesting going on, and stimulation to be had.”

Jonathan is a beacon for all those who see medicine as a means of service. Not least because of the hoops one has to jump through to practice successfully as a doctor in Israel. “The process of making Aliyah as a doctor from South Africa has not been simple. There is very little available information and many organizations here in Israel are not aware of the process that one must undergo and the regulations that need to be followed.”

To start, the all-important need for documents to be in order –  a recurrent theme amongst professionals when summating the Aliyah journeys, the grit behind ultimately practicing a professional vocation in Israel. “Documents have to be signed and apostilled at the Israeli embassy in Pretoria or you have to find a registered Israeli notary in South Africa to apostille documents. The documents won’t be accepted without a recognized Israeli apostille as well.” It is a bureaucratic back and forth which Jonathan began a year before making Aliyah. “Once I submitted my documents to lawyers here in Israel, the process took a few months to be notarized. Once notarized they need to be submitted to the Department of Health (Misrad Habriut). They take time to review the documents and will not grant your registration until you have officially landed in Israel.”

The not-so-small victory, Jonathan explains, is that, at the moment, no conversion exams are needed to register as a general doctor in Israel. So, after landing and getting one’s teudat zehut (Israeli identity document), one can submit it to the Department of Health and voila – four weeks later general registration is given.

While the next process involved an observation period and the potential of having to write some exams in Medical Hebrew if some of the degrees or qualifications were not accepted, these challenges were not roadblocks but rather proved to be stepping stones toward enriching his medical proficiency.

Despite the scarcity of doctors in Israel and the value Olim doctors can offer the medical landscape in Israel, finding a niche in Israel’s medical realm proved to be daunting, perhaps more so than Jonathan had anticipated it would be. The transition from private practice in South Africa to the unique demands of Israel’s government system was an eye-opener –  “no one is going out of their way to help you get into the system. No one knows you and you have to start from the beginning and ‘prove your worth’. The system of practicing medicine differs substantially from what we are used to in South Africa.” His perseverance bore fruit when he found his place working for Kupat Cholim, Leumit — “the smallest of the kupot (medical schemes) but one that has a wonderful work environment.”

Having been a lecturer in Family Medicine for Wits University in South Africa before making Aliyah, Jonathan now imparts knowledge to medical students from the University of Tel Aviv, enriching the next generation of healers further by accepting students and recently qualified doctors to observe and manage patients with him ‘on the ground’. This contributed to his being awarded the Family Medicine Prize from the University of Tel Aviv for the most outstanding lecturer in Family Medicine in Central Israel in November 2022.

His advice to fellow doctors eyeing the prize of practicing in Israel: embark on the bureaucratic process well in advance, seek insights from those who’ve walked this path, and be prepared to adapt.

Medicine in Israel, despite its challenges, is something that proves that dedication can shape, or even reshape, lives. Jonathan’s journey echoes his sentiment that, especially in the heart of Israel, the practice of medicine is not just a profession; it’s a transformative and deeply rewarding life calling.