Hadassah is My Zionism

Holding onto a pale handlebar on the wall next to my hospital bed in the middle of the night in Jerusalem.
It is an image that will always live with me.
It was the middle of the night.
I was all by myself.
Crying and alone, I wanted nothing more than my family, thousands of miles from me in New York.
My body was trying hard to recover from the trauma and pain of an emergency surgery that saved the life of my unborn daughter, who was in distress.
In the middle of the night, as I sat there wiping my tears away, someone with a gentle voice entered my room. She approaches my bed, handing me a tissue.  Stroking my face. “YaHabibit.” (My love, in Arabic) …

Earlier that day, after more than 24 hours in labor and numerous failed interventions, I quickly found myself on the operating table at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, one of the two hospitals comprising Hadassah’s medical center in Jerusalem. A team of doctors and nurses zoomed around me.  A combination of exhaustion, frustration and fear overtook me. Once an emergency cesarean section is underway, no one is allowed in the room. All my trust in that moment was put into the hands of the team.

I will never forget the nurse who stood at my right side, gently rubbing my arm. Or the anesthesiologist, an Oleh (immigrant), like myself, likely from South Africa, if my memory of those blurry moments is correct, reassuring me in English. Explaining step by step what was happening. Or the moment the young Arab member of the surgical team showed me my crying baby girl, and told me I could allow myself to close my eyes now as my own tears ran down my face and I smiled from ear to ear, relieved she she had arrived safe and sound…

Giving birth to my two daughters at Hadassah in Jerusalem was something I will never forget. Their births are the very moments that embody what Zionism means to me. The modern-day realization of the Jewish people’s aspirations to be a free people in their land arguably has no more poetic setting than that of a maternity ward in the Jewish state.

And with such an experience, comes the beauty and complexity that is Israel – . Modern-Orthodox nurses working side -by -side with Muslim nurses wearing Hijabs. An examination by a Jewish- Israeli doctor with a Kippah on his head during the morning shift and then in the afternoon by a Christian-Arab Israeli doctor in the afternoon.

All of these elements are an intricate part of the reality of giving birth in Jerusalem, at Hadassah. And most important? The young nurse with the beautiful eyes and tiny tattoo of a Magen David on the back of her neck. You need HER to be on call if you want to be released in time to get home before the hospital moves into Shabbat. She will make it happen…

Sitting with women in the nursing room in the middle of the night as we share our struggles and stories.
Women of every faith. Of every ethnic makeup one could think of. Women all in that same room, cuddling our precious new packages of pure innocence and joy. As we watch our babies’ slumber, we all play the same dreams over and over in our head. Our babies will grow up in Jerusalem. They will scrape their knees on the same dirt pavement. They will gaze at the same stars as we pace back and forth on nights when a stuffy nose keeps them awake. They will make the same water bubbles as they drink what is the most precious of commodities in the Middle East…

Hadassah represents the hope and dreams of our ancestors. It also represents the dreams of a future that is brighter, and one filled with peace for our children. The realization of the Zionist dream and with it, the present-day realities of diversity, complexity, and challenge. Just celebrated my own two miracles within the walls of Hadassah, so, too, should we celebrate the miracle that is Israel.

Imperfect, intricate and yet, a  marvel, prayed for for thousands of years, and one that we are incredibly blessed to have in our time.

About the Author
Michelle Rojas-Tal is a global speaker, trailblazer and advocate on Zionism, Jewish identity, and Israel engagement. Amongst her current projects, Michelle serves as the Zionist Scholar-in-Residence at Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

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