Hadassah Hospital: A Point of Light

23Apr10

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By: Ayelet Kahane
Yeshiva University Observer (student newspaper)

Two years ago, while celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday in Israel, I remember wondering if I would one day celebrate Israel’s 100th birthday in Israel, too. Morbid as it may sound, I wondered if I would be around for the occasion, and furthermore if I would be fortunate enough to be in Israel. It suddenly struck me that I could ask the same question about Israel itself: would Israel be around on its 100th birthday?

While our generation tends to take Israel for granted, relating to our Jewish state as an invincible entity, there is no way to ignore the plethora of threats to the very existence of the Jewish state. Terror attacks, belligerent neighboring countries, dangerous demographic developments and shortages of water are among the threats that overwhelm me when thinking about Israel’s future. Perhaps most pressing, though, is the seemingly perpetual Arab-Israeli conflict in Israel. The conflict originated with waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine, and intensified with the War of Independence in 1948 (or Al-Nahkba, “the catastrophe,” as Arabs refer to it) and the Six Day War in 1967. The ensuing Palestinian refugee crisis and continuous wars and antagonistic behaviors have left deep-seeded animosity between the two peoples, manifesting in an endless hostile conflict that we are still contending with today. Solutions seem hopeless, and many wonder how a resolution will ever be reached.

Although I certainly do not have the answers, recent experiences at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem have offered me a glimmer of hope and revived my belief in the possibility of a future peace.

A few weeks ago, my family planned a birthday extravaganza for my grandmother’s 70th birthday. TheĀ entire family had come to Israel for Pesach in order to celebrate this milestone together. The day began with bike riding and golf carting at the Hula Valley. My grandmother is not a very physically active person, but expressing a desire to assert her youthful spirit on her 70th birthday, she opted to ride a bike instead of a golf cart. Unfortunately, within minutes she fell from her bike, broke her femur bone, and was rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem for surgery and recovery.

It was for this reason that I spent a good portion of my week in Hadassah Hospital. I generally keep my hospital visits as short as possible; I don’t have the stomach for them. But the more time I spent at Hadassah the more impressed I was with it. As I walked through the hospital I found myself amongst a wholly heterogeneous group of people. Head coverings ranged from hijabs to sheitels, kaffiyahs to kippahs. In my grandmother’s room alone there was a Russian woman, an Israeli woman, a Moroccan woman, an Arab woman from the West Bank, and my grandmother, the American. The hospital staff, too, boasted of diversity. Arab and Israeli doctors and nurses worked side-by-side to heal the sick. It appeared that Hadassah Hospital was a successful microcosm of Arab-Israeli coexistence.

“Working in Hadassah Hospital has helped me work with all different kinds of people,” said Na’ama, 21, an Arab medical aid who told me about her experiences working in a diverse environment. “The bottom line is that we all come to work, and to work together. Political matters don’t come here.”

Rania, 28, a Christian Arab nurse, echoes Na’ama’s sentiments. “If you don’t have the skills to work with all different kinds of people, then you can’t work in this field,” she stated. “In this hospital, people are people; you don’t relate to someone as an Arab or a Muslim or a Jew.” In her experience, the people who work in Hadassah Hospital know that “work is work,” and so regardless of religious or political views, everyone is treated in Hadassah Hospital as equals.

My grandmother, Esther Press, posited that this philosophy was, in fact, being actualized. “It’s an incredible thing that everyone is treated exactly the same here,” said my grandmother, “regardless of ethnicity.”

In the orthopedic ward’s thank-you book, my grandmother’s Arab roommate’s husband wrote the following: “I would like to thank all the doctors of the orthopedics department in Hadassah Hospital – especially Dr. Amal Khoury and Dr. Ofer Elishoov – for the very great care and the importance which they offered to my wife during her stay in the Hospital.”

The fact that two doctors, one Arab and one Israeli, effectively collaborated to treat an ailing Arab woman in Israel struck me as remarkable. Relationships between the patients, as described to me by my grandmother, seemed to slightly differ. My grandmother explained how the Moroccan woman in her room, Adina, did express resentment that an Arab woman would be in an Israeli hospital receiving the same treatment that she had just received.

Interestingly, Sonya, the Israeli woman in my grandmother’s room, felt differently than Adina. Despite the fact that Sonya was in the hospital for a leg break that happened while running to a bomb shelter during a “tzeva adom” (literally “color red”), a warning signal for an imminent kassam rocket from Gaza, she was much more receptive to her Arab roommate. “I believe if we can work together in this microcosm, then it can happen on a larger level,” said Sonya. “We just need many microcosms.” She described these successful microcosms as “nikudot shel or,” points of light. “These points of light do not exist everywhere, obviously, but if we create more and more points of light,” argued Sonya, “then there’s a future.”

This calls for a transformation of Arab-Israeli relations. While I am incapable of proposing an actual, large-scale strategy for achieving this transformation, I assert the broader idea with hope. Dare to dream.

Instead of warring, let us create a collaborative relationship that draws its strength from working together for the betterment of both peoples and the entire country. Granted, the reality in Israel between Arabs and Israelis is dimensional, overwhelmingly complex, but if a microcosm of “light,” of coexistence, does exist, then why can it not exist more? As the generation responsible for seeing Israel reach 100 years old and beyond, may we work to, in the words of African American leader Booker T. Washington, “cast down [our] bucket,” drop deep-seeded prejudices and work together for a future peace.

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