The waiting room lives up to its name–usually a place of anxiety, of standing still with one’s ailment until called forward to address an individual issue.
That said, in this waiting room in a secluded corner of Bnei Brak, with no screens or fancy technology to its name, I sit together with three other Israelis waiting for our specialist. There is no receptionist, no medical card to be swiped; just our names and our order of appointments.
I wait at the receptionist’s desk, patiently standing by so I can be checked in. An elderly woman clucks her tongue at me. “Why don’t you sit, dear? She’ll be a while.” As if to punctuate her sentiment, the desk phone rings with no one there to answer the call. I decide to search the back offices for staff, only to interrupt the secretary’s silent prayer to G-d in a back room. I return to the waiting room and impatiently take my elder’s advice.
Silence sits like a veil until it is shattered by the well-dressed Frenchman.
“8:45?” he ventures, uncertainly.
“I’m 8:55,” responds the young Russian immigrant to his left.
The elderly woman states regally, “My appointment is after 9.”
Shyly, I look up at the three others in the room. “9,” I say.
Like a maestro conducting an orchestra, the elderly Israeli woman organizes us by our time of appointment. “We’ll each go in, one after the other,” she says with a tone of finality, brooking no argument. In silence, agreement is formed between the four of us. We have become a team, a force against the bureaucracy of the Israeli healthcare system.
The Frenchman is called, and four becomes three. The receptionist meanders in, takes our names, and sips at her tea nonchalantly. Rather than the awkwardness and anxiety one would expect, a sense of peace and safety permeates the air. It reminds me of the quiet of my living room, or a sleepy Shabbat afternoon with a good book. The elderly woman fidgets with her shoes: I wonder if I should close the door sweeping in the chilly December air. My coffee cup gradually empties while someone else’s phone rings: they quickly silence the upbeat music echoing through the room.
Soon enough, three becomes two, and then it is my turn. My appointment comes and goes, but I can’t shake the feeling of unity the waiting room offers. It walks me to the bus stop after my talk with the doctor and accompanies me throughout the day. Somehow, a simple waiting room experience became a microcosm of the Israeli spirit; goal-oriented, supportive of one another despite our differences, and determined to care for each other across sociological divides and different pasts. If I could freeze this moment in time, this is how I would explain Israeli culture to an outsider.
This, I think to myself as I board my bus for home. This is what it means to be an Israeli.