The flight was no longer than usual but as usual it was long! Last winter my husband and I travelled to Jerusalem. We arrived on a stormy night when our prayers for wind and rain were being answered affirmatively. Emphatically! And then, already home, with the front door of the building inches away, sanctuary promised, so near, a fierce gust of wind blew me down to the cold wet sidewalk beneath my exhausted 80 year old torso; the fall was powerful enough to break my pelvis. I simply could not get up from that misery on the frigid stones of the soaking wet pathway. The pain was severe. Not at all a welcoming welcome!
Thus, instead of parking my suitcase in the warm Jerusalem living room, and drifting off in the cozy bed that awaited, I was moved to Shaare Tzedek Hospital. I don’t remember how I even got there but it certainly was among the last places I expected to be that night…….and not among the most desirable either.
Until then my only personal experience with Shaare Tzedek was in 1973. The original iconic building had stood on Jaffa Road, then Jerusalem’s main artery, since 1902. There our friend Yosef died on a dreary November Saturday. Since the hospital was rigorously shomer Shabbat, his wife Chana walked up and down the hilly streets, several miles from our French Hill neighborhood, to visit him in the hospital Downtown; only to learn that he had died hours before. I am not herein prepared to argue the merits of such rigid and unbending adherence to Jewish law but I will always suspect that somewhere in that crowded building a non-Jew could have been found to call Chana and spare her the crushing hike. Yet, on the other hand, ponder this, she undoubtedly wouldn’t have answered the phone anyway.
And that unhappy moment was my only recollection of Shaare Tzedek.
Until last winter.
Arriving at the hospital was like a scene out of a nightmare or maybe “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Israeli hospitals are notoriously overcrowded. My father, several times a patient at Kfar Saba’s Meir Hospital, was, years earlier, parked on a gurney in the hallway more than once, for days at a time. The fiction that they would find a bed for him was just that, fiction. I can only imagine the scene during the covid19 pandemic. Lucky for me, and I suppose luck is really the operative word although I didn’t know it at the time, my pelvis and I were mere weeks away from the pandemic’s arrival. The frantic scene that we were caught up in was just the normal frenzy. But frenetic it was! The real crisis,the virus,had yet to land in the Holy City.
There were people everywhere. Many Charedim. Arabs. Seculars and religious and American and European, Sephardim and Ashkenazim. With hats and beards and sheitels and kipot and without. With kefiyahs and without. The vast mixed up world of Jerusalem in every costume and color was sprawled out on the benches of the waiting area of Shaare Tzedek. Supposedly we were waiting for orthopedics. I was truly tuned out having expected a modern emergency room since the “new” hospital had opened its doors in 1980, relatively recently. I don’t remember much of that miserable moment but I do recall the shock of the panoply of people, languages and the moans that were beyond translation. I may have been one of the moaners. And in that Tower of Babel, I was clearly one of the babblers.
I don’t do jetlag very well. In all these hundreds of flights to Israel that have filled my life, I know that I will always need catch-up time. Some people just arrive and, well, that’s it. They’re with the local time, ready for breakfast at what my body tells me is midnight. Theirs says it’s time to rise and shine and coffee it up. And they’re good to go in either direction. So, I would have been suffering, albeit slightly and normally, even without the pelvis showing up on the ct scan with a crack. But, now the suffering was intense and it wouldn’t care one whit if I had a good night’s sleep or not. By the time, many hours after i landed in Shaare Tzedek, all the tests were done (and all means many many many) I was placed on a pillowless bed in a room with many many many beds and given no blanket beyond the coat I had been wearing when disaster struck. The walls consisted of plastic shower curtains between each bed, in a vast space filled with men and women,together. Alas aghast! I suppose the laws of sexual separation don’t apply when you might die. And then I tried to sleep.
Suffice to say that sleep doesn’t always follow exhaustion but the real point of telling you all these things which HIPAA wouldn’t allow for in America, was to talk about Mohammed. Yes Dr. Mohammed, and there were actually two of them in Orthopedics. Drs. Mohammed. They were both my orthopedists. I don’t know if Arab doctors choose orthopedics for any particular reason but years earlier my mother suffered from a broken hip and was operated on by yet another Dr. Mohammed, in Kfar Saba. We were all indebted to her doctor for treating her so kindly and competently. And I’m sure my assumptions about these Mohammeds choosing orthopedics is gross generalization but my Mohammeds were also sharp, kind, overworked and competent. I trusted them.
We’re now, a year plus beyond my Shaare Tzedek stay, in a period of hatred, aggression, and military might; we can go so far as to call it war. The cease-fire may be temporary or permanent. Who knows? Of course our family is squarely on the side of Israel. No doubt that since Hamas had so much money to build tunnels and rockets, they should have diverted that money to the indigent Gazan population rather than trying to kill as many of our people as they could. It’s very clear to me and mine even if it’s not clear to people like AOC or that pathetic Jew Bernie Sanders.
But, here’s what I want to know. If I’m hospitalized again anywhere in Israel (which I promise you I’ll try not to be) do I continue to trust Drs. Mohammed? Is it safe for me, an elderly American Jewish woman, to be cared for by enemies? Are they, in fact, enemies? Am I stupid or naive enough to think that they’ll treat me with dignity and care when some of their family members may be injured or killed by my Jewish brethern? Yes. I’m that stupid. That naive.
Israel is a small country and often Arabs and Jews can’t tell each other apart. I go into taxis without asking the nationality of the driver. I go into restaurants and cannot tell you who made the hummus and what his political views are. And, yes, I trust my survival itself to doctors and nurses who may be my official enemies. And perhaps you remember our visit to our friend Assad’s home in an Arab village to deliver a television set. What are we supposed to do? Look for sinister signs wherever we go? No.
The answer is that we will trust our cab drivers, our hummus makers, Assad, and those Mohammeds as we did before. We expect and hope and pray to be in Jerusalem in a very few days. We will trust, as always. Our lives may depend on it. The future of that land we love depends upon us living together with our neighbors. Here’s a prayer that the endless cycle of wars will end and a lasting peace shall bring us shalom al kol yisrael. Therefore I choose life and I choose peace. I trust.