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Jerusalem, you have failed me

With poor options for her son's medical care, she asks how the capital of the Jewish people could be so heartless

Jerusalem, you have failed me.

The fast of Tammuz holds a special place for me. Not only is it the day I became a mother, it is a day I think about Jerusalem and realize how incredibly lucky I am to live in here. I arrived eighteen and a half years ago. By now The City is more a part of me then my native South Africa. It’s where I met my husband (in one of Jerusalem’s taxis no less), it is where all 4 of my children were born, it is where they go to school and it is where we’ve built our home.

Every year on this day I am so grateful to The City – the capital of Israel, the capital of the Jewish people. Presidents, prime ministers, dignitaries, pop stars, and business people come from all over the world. Even when bombs go off, with terrorists blowing up buses and restaurants, when people are stabbed, I’ve never felt disappointed or let down by her. This is the heart and soul of the Jewish people. If I cannot be safe here, then I cannot be safe anywhere.

It is for this very reason that today I am so disappointed in The City. Surely a place that is a safe haven for all Jewish people, where all hearts and souls turn to from all over the world wouldn’t turn its back on my son. He is just one of a couple of hundred children currently battling cancer – to whom The City has now said there is no place for him to be treated on the same first-class standards that we would expect in any city around the country or around the world.

The City has closed the door on opening another pediatric oncology ward in Jerusalem, easing the burden of already overworked medical staff by enabling more than one first class hospital to treat some of the 120 new patients that will get sick this year. It has told us and all the other Jerusalem patients to go back to a hospital where no other in the world would even dream of combining adult and pediatric patients together – let alone oncology patients. It has told us to go back to a hospital which considers it normal to put kids in an adult ward a good 5 minutes from where the pediatric oncologists are based – 5 minutes which could be the difference of life and death to a cancer kid. And it has told us to go back to a hospital that thinks it is OK to have a doctor–patient ratio of 13 patients to 1 oncologist (as opposed to 6:1 in other pediatric oncology wards in the country).

The City has now said it doesn’t care that we have to travel to the center for treatment. Now we have no choice. We are back at Ichilov where we started. Our doctors and nurses there are just as warm as those in Jerusalem – how could they not be? You cannot work with kids with cancer and not have a heart of gold. And this is the reason I don’t blame the doctors for leaving. They left with hearts of gold, pure hearts, hearts that were breaking as they couldn’t give adequate treatment to their patients.

How could the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of Israel with almost 1 million residents, be so heartless? This is our City which is the ultimate example of coexistence between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. How can there not be adequate treatment for our children – all of our children, regardless of race or religion?

And spare me the argument that there still is adequate treatment in Hadassah. I’m talking about a first class department which has specialists to treat all major cancers, where the doctors earn modest amounts of money, not 80,000 – 150,000 shekels a month to move to Jerusalem to treat our kids (who wouldn’t love to earn that much per month). Doctors that are there every day, not on rotation every 2 weeks from hospitals around the country. And where you can go and feel secure knowing that the doctors have the experience your kid needs in his specific cancer and has your back.

Last week we were ‘lucky’ enough to have to make the decision when our son had fever of where to take him for treatment. At an hour and a half journey at least, would he survive the trip? We would have loved to go to Ichilov – his doctor was there waiting for him. But as another parent said to me when they debated this decision when their own son had fever “Can Ichilov guarantee that my kid won’t die on the way?” So we went to Hadassah and even then the 15 minute journey from our house felt like a lifetime. We were met by the same wonderful nurses that were familiar with him, but not our doctor. There was no doctor there that knows him or anything about brain cancer. And sometimes, just sometimes, you really need to have your own doctor that knows his protocol; that knows if the protocol has been altered and knows how to treat this type of cancer, to decide which medicines to now give him. This isn’t flu. It’s cancer.

Three weeks from today the whole country will observe Tisha B’av, the day we as a Jewish people mourn the destruction of the temple. The sages say that the Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred between ourselves. When will this hatred stop? This fate of ours and all the other families with kids with cancer is hard enough – without having to deal with political games and egos. And without having to start taking our kids 2 hours away for treatment (yes that’s how long it can take us to get to Tel Aviv!). These children are The City’s future soldiers, leaders, educators, scientists and more. The doctors that were treating them are top specialists in their field – some of whom are the only ones in the country that have experience in treating certain cancers. The time is NOW to stop this baseless hatred and start thinking about those that really matter – our children – your children, in fact every child that ever lives or will live in Jerusalem because cancer does not discriminate! It can affect every one of us, at any time.

Until then, Jerusalem, you have failed me.

About the Author
Gina Shaffer, a PR consultant, lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four children.
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