Name: Esther Tiferes (Hong Zheng) Tebeka
City: Palo Alto
Position: Herbalist and acupuncturist
J.: You own and operate Tiferes Medical Group in Palo Alto, where you practice traditional Chinese medicine. In China, you worked in broadcast journalism. What motivated you to change your career when you came to the United States?
Esther Tiferes Tebeka: When I first came to the U.S. [in 2000], I was busy; I was learning English, then I started learning Hebrew, then I converted, then I got married and had three kids. Just as I was thinking about finding a job, my father called me. He has 50-plus years of experience as a Chinese doctor, and my family [has knowledge of] very effective healing methods. They’re usually passed down generation to generation, but only to boys. That’s why I didn’t think I would learn … I have a brother, [but] he wasn’t interested. My father said, “I’m over 70 years old. If you don’t want to learn [the family medical tradition], it’s going to be lost forever.” So I said, “OK, fine.”
But you had such a robust TV career in China! You were at times a producer, a host and an investigative reporter. You never thought of trying your hand at it in the United States?
As an investigative reporter or TV show host, or even a producer, you need to speak the language very well. Since I am a foreigner and English is my second language, I would have been competing [for TV jobs] with native speakers.
How long has your family been practicing Chinese medicine?
I don’t know how many generations. For centuries.
Do you think you’ll teach your kids (ages 7, 9, and 11) the healing methods that your father taught you?
Yes, I started teaching them already.
You studied acupuncture and TCM at the University of East-West Medicine in Sunnyvale for two years. How is business?
I only opened my practice last August, and I already have a lot of patients and good reviews, baruch HaShem.
You converted to Orthodox Judaism in 2001 when you were living in New York. Did you grow up with any religion?
I believed in Buddha before, when I was younger in China. You don’t really have much choice because that’s part of Chinese culture. I was pursuing the truth, but I knew something was missing. I had read a lot of books, ancient Chinese books … but I still couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong.
You also read the New Testament, after a friend suggested you convert to Christianity.
I read the whole book … I brought up a lot of questions, and he could not give me satisfying answers. [So I decided] to go back to the original source, Judaism, which is recognized as the mother of all religions. I told myself, “I want to convert. I want to be part of this people.” Then I started looking for a rabbi.
Tell me a bit about that process. It was while you were in New York?
HaShem put a really wonderful idea inside my head. I borrowed a tape recorder, and went on the street in a religious area and started to interview women. One asked me, “Why are you asking these questions?” I said, “I want to convert, but I don’t know how to start. I was wondering if you could help me.” She came back with a phone number of the head of Orthodox conversion in Brooklyn. After about six months, I started keeping all of the Jewish holidays. Three times, I was interviewed in a beit din.
As an active member of the Chabad community in Palo Alto, do you have many Orthodox patients? Have you found Orthodox communities to be receptive to Chinese medicine?
No. Actually I would say they are the least [open] to Chinese medicine … Little by little, people start believing, but most are highly skeptical. People are afraid of things they don’t understand, and in Chinese medicine, sometimes it takes a lot to understand a tiny concept.
Are there ways you accommodate Orthodox patients?
Definitely. Herbs are not certified kosher. There’s no hechsher on it, so a lot of times frum people come in and they need to take herbs, but they’re concerned about it being kosher. Herbs are mostly vegetation, but we don’t know the drying process or if there are bugs. Some rabbis would say, “If it’s medicine and you don’t take it for pleasure, it should be OK.” So what I do is I prescribe herb pills … or if it’s in a powder form, I make a veggie capsule using the powder so you don’t taste it.
What’s an everyday health tip you can share?
Americans tend to be overweight compared to native Chinese. The reason is mainly because their spleen system is not functioning well. Americans tend to damage their spleen functioning by drinking and eating cold food and drinks all the time. It feels good in your mouth, but the body doesn’t like it. Water should be warm and food should be warm.
“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.