Having spent Passover as the only Jew at a medical mission in East Africa, where patients routinely die from conditions easily treated or prevented in the U.S., Aaron Rothstein considers the frustrations and disappointments of his work in light of Jewish history:
This Passover overflows with a sense of displacement, disorder, and exile. This is not an unusual feeling for a Jewish physician. It is probably closer to what most Jewish physicians have experienced throughout Jewish history, not merely because of what they saw and whom they treated but because of who they were. . . . In the 14th century, a prominent Gentile physician, Arnold of Villanova, told Pope Boniface VIII [that] “every Christian who entrusts his body to the medical treatment of Jews merits excommunication and is guilty of a capital crime.”
[Nonetheless], Jewish physicians occasionally had more freedom than their fellow Jews. True, Jewish physicians were maligned, but often with a wink and a nod. When Queen Isabella married King Ferdinand in 1479, thus creating a unified Christian Spain that would hunt down the Jews, exceptions were made. Ferdinand and Isabella retained Jewish physicians in the court. . . .
The royal courts persecuted the Jews but defended the retention of Jewish court physicians in the same breath. Thus, the tension between exile and redemption, or freedom and bondage, is inextricably linked in Jewish history and in the medical profession. Indeed, for Jewish physicians that tension is particularly poignant as Jewish physicians had some sense of freedom but mostly remained in bondage.
To be sure, I have been fortunate not to experience any kind of discrimination here. . . . But I still recognize that tension and experience it, being in a city devoid of Jews and saturated with tragic medical outcomes. . . . As Jews we know freedom never exists without exile; redemption never exists without slavery. We are poised on the brink of freedom, but it is a freedom that is always in question, always with an asterisk.