Sarah Tuttle-Singer
A Mermaid in Jerusalem
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I wish all of Israel could be like TEREM Medical Center

A terrifying trip to the emergency medical clinic located in, of all places, an ultra-Orthodox settlement
Doctor examines child patient (Illustration via iStock)
Doctor examines child patient (Illustration via iStock)

There are two kinds of kids.

There are the high drama kids, and then there stoic kids.

I have two kids.

And each of my kid falls into one of these two categories.

My daughter feels deeply, and it can be a beautiful thing. She tends to wounded birds. She listens to the sound water makes when it seeps through dry earth. She writes poetry and short stories. But when she’s sick, OMFG. A stuffy nose and “Mama, I am SUFFOCATING.” A sore tummy and “Mama, I am DYING.” The wind blows through her hair and it’s a Greek tragedy.

My son, however, is the opposite. He could lose a hand and a foot in a meat grinder (GOD FORBID TFU TFU TFU) and if you ask him how he’s doing, and he’ll be all like “I’m ok, I guess.” He turns blue from an asthma attack and “I think I have a little cold.” He gets a fever and he tucks in on the couch and watches Coming to America or Wayne’s World or the Simpsons, and “Mama, I think going out for sushi might help lower my temperature since it’s cold.”

So that’s why you have to understand that when he was crying — like, legit crying — I realised how sick he really was, we moved fast.

We barrelled through the night in a taxi on the way to TEREM Emergency Medical Center in Modiin when my friend and medical director David Zlotnick messaged and said “TEREM in Modiin is really crowded right now, but the one in Modiin Ilit is pretty empty.”

I have never been to Modiin Ilit although I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it from a burnt out hill in Bil’in — a Palestinian village in Area B. It was a few summers ago during Iftar, and I stood there next to a house with a tin roof and broken windows, and I looked over the big old Wall snaking through the village at the ultra-Orthodox settlement just on the other side.

It’s a beautiful place — Modiin Ilit — from that hilltop in Bil’in where two children sat with their clothes covered in dirt, next to a door that was held together with duct tape. It’s a beautiful place — Modiin Ilit — with its red tiled roofs, where you can hear the sound of a fountain or a swimming pool just there, over the wall, while flies buzz around the dusty little hill strewn with garbage, and hungry children wait.

It’s a beautiful place — Modiin Ilit — and that was the first time I saw the difference so stark and up close, and I understood what it could mean to covet.

We covet what we see. And if I were those two Palestinian children sitting there in the half shade of a tin roof overhang while the sun beat down on cracked earth, and the smell of garbage and sewage hung in the air, if I were those two Palestinian children — a brother and a sister — sitting there and looking over at the cozy little red-tiled settlement just over the wall, DAMN I’d be pissed.

I’d be really fucking pissed.

And I had never been there, but I think of Modiin Ilit often when people ask me how I started to become involved in the work I’m doing with social justice and shared society.

But there is no line when there’s a terror attack. A family slain in Itamar or Halamish or Kiryat Arba is the exact same thing as a family slain in Rehovot or Tel Aviv or Haifa.

And there is no line when your child is sick and the best medical attention is in an ultra-Orthodox settlement.

So of course we went.

The streets were full of ultra-Orthodox families — men in black hats and black pants and white shirts, and a few women with wigs and long skirts, lots of kids with shining faces, even late at night, Israelis stretch the time … and it’s no different than Tel Aviv.

Life can be short here — with terror attacks and rockets and the threat of war, especially after two years when we know we’re due for one. Taxes are high, housing prices are higher. We fight to the death on the road. But we stretch out our time when its good and stay up all night sometimes, and order that extra coffee.

We are a PTSD riddled and anxious people, and yet we grab life by the scruff of its neck and live it.

In any city or small town here – all over. Inside and outside the Green Line. It’s how we do.

But my son is sick, and that’s all that matters — the world has shrunk down into the backseat of a taxi, and that’s all I know.

“Please drive faster,” I tell the taxi driver, and he does.

We get to the parking lot, and get out, and I’m aware suddenly of how we look — my arms bare, my back exposed, my jeans tight and skinny, my hair long and loose, pierced, tattooed, mother with a little boy dressed in shorts and a T shirt with a mohawk. There’s a family in the parking lot and they gawk at us.

“Where’s the entrance for TEREM” I ask.

“Just to the left. May you be healthy.”

We get there, and by now, he’s really suffering. My stoic little son who never cries is crying. His head hurts. His neck hurts. He’s the color of spoiled milk, and his eyes are sunken.

And I’m scared.

He insists on walking, but I end up carrying him. A Haredi family sees us coming, and they hold the door open for us, because even though they were there first, they realise we are in more trouble than they are, and in more need.

The triage nurse wears a black yarmulke. The receptionist has a wig.

And we get seen immediately, while the families in their black hats and black coats and white shirts, in their wigs and heavy skirts, all those children — Praise be to God, may they be healthy! — wait.

My son lies down on a gurney. He’s very still except for the tears rolling down his cheeks.

“I don’t feel well, Mama.”

I try to make a joke about alerting the media — it’s one of our inside family jokes that makes him laugh all the time — usually he’s the one telling it. But he’s in so much pain, he tells me to stop.

“Don’t try to be funny,” he whimpers.

The doctor is an Arab.

He puts his hand on m son’s head, and my son stops shaking.

“When did the pain start?”

“This morning.”

He presses around his stomach: “Does it hurt here?”


The doctor does a thorough intake, and my son stops crying.

We still don’t know what it is, but we know what it isn’t, and that’s the good part, and we get sent home.

In the taxi, relief floods through me, and I start laughing.

“What’s so funny? ”

“I love where we were,” I tell him. “I love that there were Haredi patients and nurses, and that the doctor is Arab, and that I’m dressed like this and had calamari for dinner in Tel Aviv, and none of that matters.”

“What’s the problem with that?” he asks.

“There’s no problem with that, baby,” I tell him while I think about those two Palestinian children — the brother and the sister — sitting under that old tin roof. “Well, there shouldn’t be a problem. Except we aren’t there yet in this country. But TEREM is special, and I wish the rest of this place could be like that where everyone — Jew, Arab, religious, secular, EVERYONE — works together to make things better. It doesn’t matter where you’re from at TEREM or what language you speak or how you pray or even if you pray, I hope one day this country can be like that all over for everyone.”

“Great,” my stoic son answers, as he closes his eyes and leans against me in the taxi. “Alert the media.”

So I just did.

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.
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