Sarah Tuttle-Singer
A Mermaid in Jerusalem

An amazing thing happened in the emergency clinic in Israel

At Terem Urgent Medical Care in Modi’in – smack dab in the middle of Israel, there’s a guy in a baseball cap from the UK and a Haredi guy in serious pain sitting side by side – they’re speaking in low tones — half English, half Hebrew.

The doctor who is treating me spoke Arabic before he spoke Hebrew.

The nurse? Russian. Da. You khev to esk?

My daughter is singing Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus, but in a serious Muzika Mizrahit kinda way with the trills, while my son belly dances and I am hooked up to an IV hissing at them half in English, half in Hebrew to SIT THE HELL DOWN. Bevakasha.

“What happened to you?” someone asks in English.

“Dr. Mengele pulled out our Ima’s wisdom tooth, and now she’s really sick” my son answers in Hebrew.

And then this family comes in — one man pinched in pain, accompanied by another man and a woman with their arms around him. They sit down with the doctor who cuts tape for an IV.

He says something to them in Hebrew, and the sick man struggles to answer.

“Do you prefer English?”

“No… Spanish, if you can,” the man answers in Hebrew and cough-laughs, because, really, if English speakers in Israel struggle, imagine being fresh off the boat from somewhere else – like Spain or Brazil, or Belgium or France, or Poland or Ethiopia or Azerbaijan, or any country where your language is relegated to kitschy songs on Euro MTV, or scary news clips on Sky News.

“Si, Yo hablo Español,” the doctor answers without blinking, and he does the entire triage in Spanish, because it turns out, his Abuela is from Barcelona, and they all grew up speaking Spanish at home.

And the stress eases a little around the eyes of the sick man, because really, it sucks to be sick in a foreign language – trust me.

And can I just tell you? I love this place – with all its mess and dysfunction, we are a nation of immigrants, and that is a beautiful thing.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel. She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems, and she now lives in Jerusalem with her 3 kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors, talks to strangers, and writes stories about people — especially taxi drivers. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.