CHIEF RABBI, HACHAM SHAUL KASSIN 5681 – 5779 / 1921-2018

Past Articles:
ONE ON ONE WITH TEHILA ABRAMOWITZ SAADIA





“My secret to success?  It’s having a great page turner.  My husband Meir was my page turner for my piano performances and has been my page turner in life, supporting me and on the same ‘page’ regarding life goals and needs.  Even if he wasn’t a musician or physician like me, he would still be able to read my non-verbal cues.”  

It was with joy, anticipation, and nachat that I traveled to my old neighborhood to interview one of my son’s classmates from Yeshivah of Flatbush (“YOF”), Dr. Tehila Abramowitz Saadia.  Not only was I going to be reacquainted with Tehila, but her husband Meir Saadia is a high school friend of my son’s. 

How intriguing to talk to Tehila, who transformed from a quiet and serious student into a poised, self-aware, and talented physician, wife, and mother. How fortunate to have both Tehila and Meir in our community!

A Little History

Let’s step back to Tehila’s journey from childhood to womanhood. Tehila was born in Boro Park, Brooklyn where her mom, Shira Burnstein, was doing her Internal Medicine residency at Maimonides Hospital.  Tehila’s father, Avram Abramowitz, is a Hematologist Oncologist.  She has an older sister, Meira (also a physician), four younger brothers, and two younger sisters.  Tehila is so proud of their accomplishments. 

When she was in the second grade, Tehila’s family moved from Boro Park to Flatbush. Tehila attended YOF from kindergarten through 12th grade.  She was accepted into the Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College CUNY as well as the BA/MD program at SUNY Downstate Medical School in 2004.  I wondered why and when Tehila chose to become a physician. “My parents, aunts, and uncles were doctors; it was a family business.  I was always a science person, and we always had lots of kids’ books about the human body at home. I loved when our second-grade teacher, Mrs. Feder, read us books about the body.  I loved science and writing.”

The Musical Angle

Medicine is not Tehila’s only passion.  She started piano lessons at the age of two-and-a-half and also plays violin.  Tehila’s former violin teacher is training her own children to play both piano and violin. Tehila explained that she inherited a genetic predisposition for perfect pitch from one of her maternal great-great grandmothers who received professional music training in pre-war Austria. In high school Tehila became the student music director for school plays, and she taught piano during college. In her sophomore year of college, Tehila was the musical director for various productions at YOF Middle Division and High School.

Tehila also worked on school performances at Heschel Day School and at Shulamith, and she occasionally helped conduct the YOF High School choir.  She was dedicated to music education through her first year of medical school. 

“Teaching kids music (including directing them) was an eye-opening experience which helped me get out of my shell.  I developed leadership skills which I still use today.  It also helped me choose a pediatrics residency.”

Even as a devoted and engaged wife, mother, and doctor, Tehila manages to carve out the hours and has the drive and creative energy to assist in arranging music for her brothers who are members of popular Jewish acapella groups.  She encourages women to set aside time to fulfill their passions, even if they are busy with career and family.

Balancing Marriage, Medical School, Training, and Family

Tehila and Meir got married in January, 2011, during their third year of medical school (Tehila at Downstate and Meir at Albert Einstein College of Medicine). Tehila and Meir had a lot in common, with their passion for medicine, similar education, and also growing up as the oldest or next to the oldest child in a large family.  Tehila, however, is of Ashkenaz descent and is a third generation American, whereas Meir’s parents are Syrian, and he is a first generation American.  Meir’s mother and father, Becky and Habib Saadia, emigrated as newlyweds from Damascus, Syria, to the U.S.  Tehila is the child of two doctors, and Meir the child of an entrepreneur father and a stay at home mother, who both worked tirelessly as immigrants and successfully raised six children. Tehila and Meir partnered to beautifully blend their cultural backgrounds and differences and “have a strong foothold in both the Ashkenaz and Syrian communities.”

Shall we return to January 2011?  Tehila and Meir are in their third year of medical school. They get married and live for 18 months in Einstein’s married students housing.  Tehila drives to Downstate and they both apply for shomer Shabbat residencies, preferring to stay in the Northeast. While applying, Tehila discovers she is pregnant with twins.  The couple graduates from their respective medical schools in June, 2012.  Meir is accepted in Internal Medicine at Maimonides in Brooklyn and Tehila in Pediatrics at Downstate.  The twins, Rivka Ilanit and Haviv Ilan, are born in the fall of 2012 and the young family lives in Boro Park at Maimonides housing.  Sounds familiar?   Tehila lived not too far from there as a little girl, while her mother trained at Maimonides. After an eight-week maternity leave, Tehila returned to her residency at Downstate.  How did she do it?  The couple hired a nanny, plus Meir worked close to home at Maimonides and popped in often to visit the twins.  “In the beginning, we were always awake at night.  We had our routine: Meir changed one baby and then handed me the baby to nurse.  After I started nursing the first baby, Meir had diapered the second one and handed me the baby to feed in tandem.”

Their son Doron Moshe was born in the summer of 2015 soon after Tehila completed her residency.  In November 2015, Tehila began her career as a pediatrician in private practice, working four days a week.  Tehila always knew that she wanted to specialize but she did not get a specialty match the first year.  “It was wonderful!  I had a long maternity leave with Doron and enjoyed my work. I applied again and got into an allergy fellowship.  It turns out the lab research I did as a resident helped me get into the fellowship program.”

Allergies Enter the Picture

Tehila found her two-year allergy fellowship at SUNY Downstate to be much “lighter” than her residency, and also it made it easier to balance career and family.  The fellowship was very research oriented and included days for research, in addition to other days dedicated to patient care.  Nissim Orel, Tehila’s youngest son, was born on Hanukah of 2017 during the second year of her fellowship.

Tehila completed her allergy instruction in June, 2018. She kept asking herself, “Did I actually finish my training?! I’m really graduating for the last time.”  Tehila accepted a full-time position, with a flexible schedule and no weekend hours in the Queens office of a very large allergy practice, New York Allergy and Sinus Centers.  Meir is currently the Medical Director of Emblem Health Advance Care Physicians in Crown Heights.

Tehila is thrilled with her specialty and compares it to detective work.  “There is a constellation of symptoms to analyze.  It’s crucial to ask lots of questions, like a journalist, and get a good medical history to pinpoint the patient’s triggers.”  She can usually figure out the patient’s allergies before the testing is performed.  “The testing is fascinating and includes immediate sensitivity and delayed testing. The research findings on allergies and how to introduce foods to babies earlier on to avoid allergies is also very exciting.”  Tehila also enjoys the education component of her job.  She sees patients after an acute reaction, and empowers them to save their own lives by providing then with EpiPen training. 

Family Partnership

Tehila “can’t speak enough” about her husband’s loving support throughout their marriage and training.  Meir is an equal partner in all aspects of his children’s education.

When their nanny unexpectedly left, members of both Tehila’s and Meir’s family devotedly stepped in to help with childcare on a rotating basis. Tehila's grandmother, Feiga, a retired kindergarten teacher, who taught youngsters for decades, now generously takes care of her young great-grandchildren. Tehila’s mom takes one day off a week from her own busy practice to babysit.  Tehila says, “If my child cries when I go to work, I know he/she is with family members who love them.”

When Tehila is asked to present research findings at medical conferences, Meir and the children accompany her.  They have traveled to Texas, California, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts, and Ontario.   The Saadia’s always stay in a Jewish neighborhood and the entire family delights in experiencing a new and unique community.

Tehila’s future goals include raising community awareness about allergies and the "false sense of security" implied by having "nut-free" schools, advocating for better access to EpiPens and for training school staff on EpiPen use for students with lesser-recognized allergies, and to educate parents about the importance of vaccinations.

Tehila encourages students who want to pursue medicine to get out of their comfort zone to achieve their goals. Her advice to working mothers?  Don’t give up on things that bring you joy!

You can connect with Tehila at drtehila24@gmail.com.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Ellen can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).