The following is is an email forwarded to me by some friends in Phoenix. It was from their tour guide for when they were in Israel. It also gives some insight into reality here. It says it all.

Dear Kirschners,

This is to wish you and yours the sweetest and most heartfelt wishes for a wonderful, healthful and peaceful New Year!

Here in Jerusalem we are experiencing the first cooler days and chilly evenings, after the long hot and dry summer. The first rains normally arrive during Succot, which is in a couple of weeks. The dusty pine tree forests around our village, and the rock-hard dry earth all around, as well as all of us humans, will welcome the rain with much gratitude. The hills and plains are now covered with clusters of squills, a long white flower that blossoms – the only wild flower to do so! – at the very end of summer, and heralds – we all learn this in kindergarten – the arrival of winter.

This summer we saw very few Americans here, a reflection, I assume, of the economy. Tons of East Europeans: Russians, Poles, Romanians; Indians, Brazilians, Koreans, – their economies must be booming! Those of us who love Americans best loitered around with our tiny groups, drooling with envy at our Slavic-speaking colleagues leading their gold-toothed undeodorized hordes of pilgrims. I can’t stop marveling at the sight of the black clad Russian Orthodox priests, large gold crosses on their breasts, leading their flocks of scarf-wearing Babushkas, scenes out of Czarists Russia. In my mind these scenes always evoke the word “Pogrom”, which was actually a riot led by the Russian clergy, who looked just like them. Now they come here to visit, with an Israeli stamp in their passport. But when will the Americans return?

Let me share one more thing. Two nights ago, Dorit and I had a high blood pressure scare and we rushed, at midnight, to the emergency room at the Hadassah hospital, which is 10 minutes away from us. We spent three hours there; everything is all right now. This was an opportunity to observe the Israeli “health care” system in action. The place was busy (though without any ER television drama). The patients were mostly middle and low class – the regular Jerusalem crowd, secular, religious, Arabs. The place was sparkling, the staff was efficient and very polite and patient, the whole place functioning smoothly and efficiently. The ECG was in place within 10 minutes of arrival; the eye test that was required was done at the proper department immediately upon arrival ( at 1 in the morning ). There were people groaning around us, some looked really bad, and all were attended to. It was very impressive. The bill was $150, and will be covered by our (government-subsidized) insurance.

All this becomes poignant to us as we watch the acrimonious debate you have about health care in America. The intensity of the opposition to the plan baffles us completely, and those of us who admire America find it embarrassing. Our socialized health system – which is similar to most of the West European health systems – is one of the most shining aspects of life here, and draws no opposition at all. The rich can still get some extra perks, some expedited non-urgent procedures with greater comfort, but overall it is a system that works well, at a fraction of what it costs in America, and it provides us with one of the highest life expectancies in the world (this, and plenty of humous!)

So, may you enjoy this holiday season (which here, need I mention this, is a big deal), and may you have a healthful, peaceful and happy new year!