Jerusalem Notes: Hospitalized in the Apartheid State

Rochel Sylvetsky,

Hospital (illustration)
Hospital (illustration)
Flash 90
Rochel Sylvetsky
Rochel Sylvetsky is Senior Consultant to Arutz Sheva's English site and serves as op-ed and Judaism editor. She is a former Chairperson of Emunah Israel (1991-96), CEO/Director of Kfar Hanoar Hadati Youth Village, member of the Emek Zevulun Regional Council and the Religious Education Council of Israel's Education Ministry. She has degrees in Mathematics and Jewish Education.

Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, the day before my scheduled surgery. There I am, sitting in the anteroom, waiting to have a medical workup and meet the anesthesiologist. 

The mike calls my number and the room I am to enter. Apprehensive, I open the door and there sits the anesthesiologist, a middle-aged somewhat overbearing Russian immigrant woman, most professional, very serious, even too serious, but suddenly the ice breaks because we can't help laughing at our awful Hebrew accents. My "r" grates on the ear, her intonation could come from a movie about the KGB, and we part with a smile. 

Who knows what's next. After all, this is the "Apartheid State.". They have Israel Apartheid Week at Western campuses to protest it. Arab MKs accuse the Knesset of it. Even the teeming metropolis of Valencia has joined BDS.  

And one Ilhan Omar, running for US Congress in Minnesota with primary elections on August 14  tweeted a critic who accused her of anti-Semitism that: “Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews…”

In a 2012 tweet, that same progressive Democrat wrote that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel”

I have just read an article in the US press praising Ilhan Omar, so I am wary, really hoping to avoid becoming hypnotized by those evil Israelis. Anesthesia da, hypnosis nyet.

Apprehensive, I enter the next room where a team of three interns are waiting to ask me tens of questions and write up my medical condition. And I realize then and there that Ilhan has a problem. So do Valencia and those campus protestors.

Sitting behind the desk and facing me are three young, bright-eyed Israeli women, one of Ethiopian origin, one  with a dyed in the wool Ashkenazi name and the third an Arab wearing a headscarf (from left to right). They are clearly friends who support one another, consulting as they go along, smiling at me and deferring to the Ethiopian-origin intern who is running the interview while recording the information.  

They are simply adorable and make my day – after all, I was the head of a women's organization once, and I make sure to tell them so to justify beaming like an idiot at their questions. I am supposed to be nervous, but all I can think of now is how I would love to photograph the three of them sitting there in their white coats in a religious hospital, so I can send it to the UN, BDS, Jerry Corbyn, and the Democratic Party, among others – okay, also our Democratic candidate from Minnesota, but I know I won't, because why confuse those human rights advocates with the facts?

I go upstairs to be accepted into the surgery department. I live five minutes by car from the hospital, and the nurse in charge in the afternoon is willing to set up my file so I can sleep at home and come in early in the morning, even though I am scheduled first and she has to rely on my punctuality. The Arab nurse agrees to keep an eye on things for her while she sits with me. Turns out as we talk that Annika davens in the same shul as my machatanim, is originally Scandinavian and also knows my one set of Swedish friends.  

In the morning I get there at the crack of dawn, change to my hospital gown and wait for the person who is to wheel my bed to the elevator. By the time he comes it is 8am and the shift is changing, meaning there are groups of nurses, interns, doctors and orderlies in the halls: Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Ethiopian Jews, haredi, secular, knitted kippa wearers, Muslim and Christian Arabs, maybe Druze and who knows what ethnic groups the many volunteers hail from.  

Erez steers me carefully through the diverse crowd, but every single one of them – tens of people, and also those visitors who spent the night at a loved one's bedside – bend their heads at me, smile and say Refua Shleima, or Hatzlacha, G-d Bless or Get Well in Hebrew. It is a chorus of angels, or at least it sounds like it. I am beaming again.

In the pre-op surgery room, after an Arab orderly wheels me in and wishes me a speedy recovery, the Israeli surgeon comes in and laughs when I say that my outspread arms remind me of Jesus on the cross. He says it's my cultural background, says it would never enter his head.  The nurse at my side is an Ethiopian Israeli young woman with religious hair covering, who, after a few minutes of relaxing talk, turns out to be my nephew's neighbor in Tsufim. That's in Samaria.

 I could add more about the caring staff– how the surgeon and doctor (both top-notch in their fields) call me up once I get home to find out how I am, before I get a chance to call them, how the surgeon warns me not to be hesitant about calling him with any questions – on his mobile phone number, which he gives me. I could mention the accordionist and flute player haredi yeshiva guys who go from room to room to play the nigun of your choice in the afternoon, the children who come to sing and the resident who went down to the kitchen to  get me food because by the time I  could eat, there was no tray of food left on the post surgery floor. And he also warmed it in the microwave for me. There's more.

I really don't want anyone, including myself, to try out the experience I have described, and I obviously cannot speak for every Israeli hospital, but if the Heavens decreed I must have surgery, they also gave me the opportunity to add another reason to the list of things that make me glad I am in Israel. 

So I am sharing the story.

Why now? Because Israel's being an open and democratic society - the very antithesis of an Apartheid State - even when it comes to medical care, can lead to absurdities. Just last week, the Makor Rishon Hebrew weekly had a supplement on childbirth which included an article about women, including some haredi women, who choose to give  birth at St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital in the Christian Quarter of the Old City because they like the care there.  Arutz Sheva reported the story.

Decades ago, I gave birth to my eldest in another St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital in Far Rockaway, Queens, five years before moving to Israel. There was no other hospital near enough so we signed up there.

Maybe it is time to tell the tale.

The first thing the nuns in white did was send my husband home, telling him he has no place in a women's birth experience. He eventually gave up and left.  Our baby boy was born within two hours, but since they put me to sleep without asking me or telling me what they were doing, our Lamaze preparation classes were as dust.  

This was Thursday night, and early Friday morning a nun asked me which Catholic parochial school I had attended, because all the sisters had noticed that my robe and nightgown were modest. My answer did not make anyone happy, so it was no surprise that the next hurdle was not allowing me to light Shabbat candles on Friday evening, not in the kitchen, social area or my room, no matter how much I begged. I have lit an extra candle every week since then.

The priest came by with his rosary and sacraments and everyone (except you know-who) fell on their knees. Another strike against me.

On Shabbat, I was alone and did not feel well, and the other women  (Catholic, not their first birth) told me I had become very pale. I called the merciful sister and she yelled at me for feeling sorry for myself, until she came to hand me the baby, and I stood up, reached for him, collapsed in a coma and almost dropped him.  I was hemorrhaging to death (hemoglobin 3-4), and was rushed to the operating room where the entirely Jewish staff of doctors saved my life.

I opened my eyes to see a gigantic cross with Jesus crucified on it filling the wall right opposite me, and remember myself, as always, fighting back with humor, saying, as if I believed I was at the Pearly Gates "Do you mean I had the wrong religion all along?" – at which the doctors burst into relieved gales of laughter.

I missed my son's brit, no laughs there.

Gimme a break. There is some balance between a Jewish and democratic non-apartheid state and the desire to be with your own – and taking advantage of another chance to appreciate the miracle of a Jewish state. Anyone who can have their baby in a Jewish hospital in the Jewish state with Israel's wonderful medical staff and elects to go to a Catholic hospital in the Holy City of Jerusalem, no matter how special the experience is today, gets my pity. As the Israeli saying goes, you can take the Jew out of exile but you cannot take the exile out of the Jew.

I am quite sure Catholic hospitals have changed, but then so has Europe, right?



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