Israel is a land of many cultures and conflicts. A land where sometimes bureaucracy can make you feel like a blubbering fool. Yet in times of crisis, people pull together. In my little community, where everyone knows me, it’s a friendly world. As a tiny country, there are usually fewer than six degrees of separation and people here are basically amicable.
But even more so when one is wearing the red nose.
Yesterday, I was at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, for a stint of medical clowning. I usually get there at the end of a day’s work, arriving in professional attire, only to sneak off to undergo the transformation from teacher to clown. Like Clark Kent ducking into a phone booth, I enter the room as the mild-mannered teacher-trainer Adele Raemer. From behind the curtains of the empty Day Center ward, among the empty daybeds and occasional blood stains that were overlooked when cleaning, emerges red-nosed Leechee Spielberg (distant cousin of Steven Spielberg — it’s a long story connected to how my clown was born).
Yesterday, however, with school out for the Passover vacation, I had spent the morning working from home. There was no need to get dressed in the hospital, so, instead, I made the 45-minute drive to Ashkelon already kitted up and decked out in my clown attire: the striped underwear-cum-hat, rosy-sparkly cheeks and recycled shiny nightgown from our second-hand store, my uniform since starting medical clowning, five years ago. The drive was eventless. Nobody really looks at who’s driving the car they pass. However, upon my arrival at the hospital parking lot, I donned the humongous clown shoes and finally, the pièce de résistance: the red nose…and presto! Magic!
The man talking to passengers in the car by the sidewalk, smiles and says hello.
The woman in the wheelchair with the plastic tube sticking out of her nose waves me over to wish me a Happy Passover.
A man ceremoniously opens the door so I can walk though with my colorful, oversized bespoke bag with a million pockets,sewn especially for this purpose by my sister-in-law.
(Of course, as does happen these days — and I must even admit to being guilty of it myself — there is that man walking by, so engrossed in texting something that he doesn’t even notice a flamboyant figure passing by…. Note to self: Do THAT less often)
The Ethiopian cleaning woman with the huge gaps between her teeth who rarely smiles, usually, sees me and laughs. She gives me a big hug, kisses me on both cheeks and asks where I’d been (being really busy lately, I’d not gotten there for a while).
A mature Arab woman, apparently accompanying her daughter and baby granddaughter, with whom I have no language in common, waddles after me, asking me in mime to blow soap bubble balloons at her. The language of smiles and silliness transverses communication barriers.
And that’s even before I start going from bed to bed, twisting balloons, doing magic tricks (which the older kids already know, yet still demand), and holding plastic-plate-make-believe-ping-pong-tournaments with them (at the end of which, they all get told that they are on their way to being Olympic champions).
These are people who, outside of the world of the hospital, might not even give me the time of day. Or they would shout me down at a political rally. Or cut in line at the post office. But in the here-and-now of this context, mostly flooded with concern and fear and tears and pain…. they smile.
Because it boils down to this: it’s all about the nose.
If you want to find out more about volunteer medical clowning in Israel, just ask me!