Parshat Re’eh in The Trauma Unit

Rosh Hodesh Elul: Call to Prayer
"Is the shofar ever sounded in the city and the people do not tremble?" (Amos 3:6)
photo: Ester Karen Aida. After E. L. Friefeld,
"Is the shofar ever sounded in the city and the people do not tremble?" (Amos 3:6) photo: Ester Karen Aida. After E. L. Friefeld,

Friday, Aug 10

I’m at a trauma unit in Tel Hashomer hospital visiting Shirin, the 22 year old who was transferred here after six months in a previous oncology unit. I’ve told some of you about her. She has undergone surgery and everything hurts. Can’t keep anything down.

She looks like that slip of a gazelle you barely sighted at Ein Gedi, enormous eyes and a remarkable equanimity. waja

Her father and her young husband slept last night- and the whole of  last week- up on the 5th floor where they managed to find a bench rather than chairs with arms. Her 20 year old sister slept by her side. The family has seven other children at home, the youngest, five years. waja

For the last six months, before an urgent request on the part of a liaison at Tel Hashomer to the Coordinator for Medical Cases in Yehuda and Shomron of the IDF, Mussa was denied a permit to join Shirin, and did not see her at all. Several organizations collaborated in pushing the request forward to the right CoGAT office; I note them below.  –Shirin has lost 14 k in the course of illness and chemotherapy, and I cringed when they took her blood pressure, because the cuff on her upper arm is no wider than my own wrist. Mussa has also lost about 8 k. waja

I began to wonder what the three of Shirin’s family who are here had been eating all week–in the shopping area just below, you can buy helium balloons, Gerbera daisies; a perplexing array of Belgian chocolates, brioche, hipster fruit shakes, coffee in any price bracket, but no chicken and rice. waja

I asked, turns out they’ve been eating “tostim” (grilled cheese sandwiches) and Dani (Israeli chocolate pudding) for a week. waja

If you have a kosher kitchen ( which would be halal kosher as well) – and live in the Tel Aviv area, are able to bring food to Tel HaShomer- or you have a halal kitchen-
please be in contact with me to coordinate?

Prayers are much welcomed. For healing, cessation from pain, for a social infrastructure that will support us all in times of need for individuals and their families…There are moments since I have been here in which I’ve seen Shirin smile, and her sister laugh for a moment. Her sister, so similar to my own daughters in age, says her mother is crying all the time. And I thought, I have steeled myself in coming, I will not cry in front of her. Don’t add to the yoke of the weary. waja

That was until, outside her room, Mussa showed me on his phone gallery: Shirin as a university student of social work, leaning over a child in the classroom.
They grew up in the same rural village and his gallery is full of pictures of her in sticker flower wreaths, edited-on bambi ears, you name it.

He showed me the video  that he made for their engagement- sepia-toned, the two walking together along a leaf-strewn train track, and sticker hearts bubbling all over the frame.

Then I lost it.

OK, ok, a little kitschy. But also reassuringly unpretentious. Earnest. waja

As I peck this out on my phone, Tel Aviv is a layer-cake horizon: cypress-green foreground; pink-orange little peaked houses… at this moment the purple haze of urban artifice might just as well be mountain. She dozed off at length, the gift of morphine, but half- speaks as her pain breaks through her sleep. waja

* * *

she awakens moaning at 12:20, ten minutes before the next two-hourly dose of morphine is due. A male nurse hears her, thank G-d so many here speak Arabic. Waja. waja. He gives her the dose.

There are times when I do not ask you how you are feeling because I am afraid I will not be able to bear the answer. (I don’t actually say this but it recurs in my oh-so-universal inner chatter)

I wish so much that I could do something.

How to be with someone in their pain? Not sure what to tell you, the first step seems to be just showing up in your caring, even if you think you’ll botch it. Less doing. Hard. waja

I stop trying to find Paddington trailers on YouTube to distract Shirin. In part because I keep pressing the wrong keys on my phone.

Later as I take a moment alone in the waiting area, Mussa will find me with a paper thimble of a coffee so bitter I can’t finish it.

Time slows, underwater in the Migdal Ishpuz, and we are not even in Shabbat yet. I massage hand cream into her fingers. because waja

If I have an agenda in sharing this with friends, part is this- I want us to be able to see one another.

-to witness one another’s distress, without getting too hung up in guilt (which can be paralyzing.) There were many shabbatot I spent in the hospital, and I know in my bones the enlivening warmth and strength I felt during the three that someone was with me.

In turning toward Mussa and Shirin, as Shabbat approaches, verses flood in:

” thus sayeth the Lord: I recall the lovingkindness of your youth; your pure love at the time of your betrothal, when you followed me into a wilderness, to earth as yet unsown.”

* * *

Sunday, Aug 12
Rosh Hodesh Elul

For the sake of my brothers and friends, please let me speak peace to you;
Let me speak of our well-being together, for the sake of our Lord’s house. (Psalm 122:8)


Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Several organizations are working together to help Mussa and Shirin. In addition to several hospitals, the issue of the permit was coordinated with help from the Sulha Project (Yoav Peck), Path of Hope and Peace (co-director Ziad Sabateen), NVC Dati-Leumi/NVC Bethlehem, and ongoing support for human connection among communities in the Gush Etzion area from Judur-Shorashim, all four of which are grassroots organizations.

About the Author
Ester Karen Aida received the gift of a heart transplant at Hadassah - Ein Karem from a Palestinian mom in 2009. She has arranged dialogue meetings for the Dati-Leumi sector in coordination with NVC - Bethlehem. A mother of six, she lives in Jerusalem. More poems -- a meditative practice -- on FB.
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