The mix of Jewish patients, Arab doctors, Arab patients, Jewish doctors, and therapists who speak unexpected Hebrew or Arabic makes me think peace is possible

The Chagall Windows, in the synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem. (Wikipedia, Hebrew)

Hadassah — a word that for most of the early years of my life I thought of as Jewish mothers and grandmothers attending meetings and raising money for Israel. As I grew older, I began to associate it as well with, their amazing magazine, that came to my house and which I loved to read due to the interesting articles and beautiful layout. At age 17, I came to Israel for the first time with a USY (United Synagogue Youth) summer tour group and one of our stops was the beautiful Chagall windows at Hadassah, Ein Kerem. Years later, I would make aliyah and give birth to my third daughter and second sabra in our family at Hadassah’s Bloomberg building named for the mother of the then-mayor Bloomberg of NY, from which I hailed. For my 40th birthday, my mother gave me the gift of Hadassah lifetime membership. So, the joke in my house became I am a “Hadassah Lady.” I never associated Hadassah Medical Center with peace until the summer of 2018.

In the summer of 2018, after 10 days of pain that had started in my neck, several doctor’s appointments, doctor phone calls, and a visit to an ER in which I was told that the pain — which had worsened to my not being able to use my right hand and dragging my right leg — was maybe an infection but not serious. I was sent home with pills and a prescription for an EMG. Within the next 30 hours my situation deteriorated and I became paralyzed from my shoulder down to my toes. At that point, my husband took me to the ER at Hadassah Medical Center, Ein Kerem. That visit lasted for the next 12 days.

Within 12 hours, the doctors had an idea of what they were dealing with and began treating the symptoms. Between a treatment called plasmaphereses (similar to dialysis but cleans all the plasma in the body) and high dosages of intravenous steroids the hope was movement would return to my body and thankfully it slowly did.

During the time at Hadassah’s neurology department we met other families of all faiths – some young and some old and each with their own story. Most with a family member around at all times like my husband who stayed by my side.

On the first Shabbat Friday evening we were there, we sat in the beautiful healing gardens adjacent to our department to make our Kiddush and eat our hot Shabbat meals which were provided by incredible volunteers. Sitting in the garden we took in its serenity and noticed the different things around us. Firstly, we saw very nice Middle Eastern looking blankets folded and sitting on the benches. Our first thoughts were that they were for people if they were cold, but only later realized that they were Muslim prayer mats left for those who needed them. When we realized this, we laughed at our mistake and thought it was so cool that they were there. Secondly, at the same time that we sat there and sang Shalom Alecheim and made kiddush, there were Muslims who were in the midst of their own prayers. So, there we were, patients and families, literally right next to each other, praying in our own traditional ways. It was really an experience and one in which made me believe and pray that we would really be able to live together in peace one day soon.

Shabbat afternoon, we were taken by the Shabbat atmosphere of Hadassah. Stores were closed, it was quieter and yet many had visitors either staying with them or visiting and making picnics in the public gardens. We spent time in the outdoor gardens and watched many Muslim and Jewish children patients playing in the parks. It seemed as if no matter the differences everyone was basically the same with exception of the way they were dressed. Of course, not only were the patients a mix but the doctors, nurses and staff at Hadassah were as well.

After my intense stay at Ein Kerem I returned home and began rehab three times a week for the next five months at Hadassah, Har Hatzofim. This is where I really got well, where they made me work very hard and encouraged me all the time. The doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologist, secretaries were all wonderful but the most amazing people were the physical, occupational and water therapists. They were the ones who worked me the hardest, encouraged me and got great results. The therapists I worked with were a mixture of Jews and Arabs. Some I know were Muslim, by their dress just as I know some were religious Jews. Some may have been Christian Arabs but this was harder for me to see just by clothing. They all became very dear to my heart.

We would talk during the therapy about what had happened to me, about my work, music, sports, movies or vacations we had taken or wanted to take. It was amazing to see Jewish therapists working with Arab patients and Arab therapists with Jewish patients. Amazing to see how they all made an effort to communicate as best as they could. The Arab therapists seemed to speak Hebrew quite well if not perfectly and the Jewish therapists knew enough of the correct vocabulary in Arabic in order to communicate. Therapy is hard work getting to know the therapists was heart-warming. Their jobs are sometimes very repetitive even though they vary the activities and always try new things. Their work is very difficult — patients have all sorts of attitudes and limitations. Their job is to improve your life situation as best as it can be improved.

While at therapy you work out with, sit with, wait with and sometimes eat with the same people and you naturally end up talking with them as well. At times language was an issue so sometimes there were only smiles and a thumbs up for encouragement. I remember one Arab man who always said hello and “kol hakavod” (job well done) to me and then one day he asked me for my personal story and then shared his own story. We were all there together working hard. The funniest moment for me was as I was working on beading a bracelet next to an Arab woman who was working on some fine motor-skills I suddenly thought I heard her Arabic speaking husband speak to me in Yiddish. I looked up he smiled, we spoke and I found out that he had learned some Yiddish from people he had worked with. The next day when I saw him he asked if I had made him a bracelet as well.

The very human moments and experiences I had at Hadassah have remained with me and showed me what I pray is a glimmer of light of the future. Rehab was a very tough experience, on many days one sees things that one wishes one hadn’t, however it was also an incredible experience in many ways. On most days my comment when I returned home was “If Israel were more like Hadassah what a peaceful country and life we would have.”

Original article by S. Goodstein Ashtamker, published on 19 August 2019 in The Times of Israel - Click here to read original.