Monday, September 22, 2008

Night and Day

My friend Chava went into the emergency room on Thursday at the suggestion of her doctor: tests had shown that she might have diabetes. Her husband, Marc, called me and asked for help. He had to go home to be with their little daughter, but Chava needed company overnight. Could I come?

Of course I could. Chava is one of my best friends AND when I'm sick, she comes to my aid all the time.

So I spent Thursday night at Hadassah Har Tzofim (Mount Scopus), first in the ER and then in the Intermediate Care unit. (She indeed has diabetes. Type I. Utter surprise for her and necessitating major lifestyle changes. A shock and a big adjustment . . . )

Then, on Friday, I came home and took a nap and showered and packed some more stuff, and went back to Har Tzofim to spend Shabbat there. Chava and Marc very generously booked a room for me and our other friend Gila at the nearby Regency hotel, so that we could sleep comfortably and still have a short walk to the hospital (since Orthodox Jews don't use cars on Shabbat).

Now, this is the second time I've spent Shabbat in a hospital. The first time was when my mother was hospitalized in Boston for over a week, and I flew back to the States to be with her because no one else in my family could do it at the time (long story).

Let me tell you, the difference between being a hospital guest in the States vs. Israel, if you are an observant Jew, is like night and day.

Let me preface this further by saying that Har Tzofim is not a particularly "Jewish" hospital. From what I could see, most of the patients and half the staff are Arab. In my 2.5 days there, I didn't see so many Jews, considering that it's Jerusalem.

However. In the States, since I couldn't leave the hospital during Shabbat, I slept on a couch rolled up in a sheet in the visitor's lounge in the hallway, underneath a blaring television which I couldn't turn off. I was on a high floor, so I didn't go outside at all because getting back up to the room would have been a royal pain. On Friday, the Young Israel of Brookline sent over catered, boxed Kosher meals for me, but finding a place to refrigerate them was an adventure. It was boring, and lonely, and incredibly depressing. (To be fair, I was alone, and my mother was unconscious most of the time, and in pain when she was awake, so the boredom was worse -- this time, Chava was awake and talkative most of the time, and Gila was there too.)

At Har Tzofim, visitors who are Sabbath observant are provided with mattresses and sheets, and allowed to sleep overnight on Friday night in doctors' offices, where one has a sink and a door one can lock. I was privileged that Chava and Marc could afford to put us up at the hotel, but what a relief to know that those without the means for the Hyatt can still sleep in a quiet, dark, private room on a real mattress.

Shabbat meals with singing, divrei Torah, and traditional (Ashkenazi) foods are served for dinner on Friday, lunch on Saturday, and seudat Shlishit, with Edah Charedit kashrut so that anyone can join. And indeed, everyone did: Men in shtreimels, men in blue-and-white kippot, and men who put on a kippah just for Shabbat. At my table there was a be-sheiteled woman from Mea Shearim whose father had had a stroke, a settler-looking labor coach spending Shabbat in the hospital because a client was in labor, a dati-leumi doctor from the pediatric ER; and two elderly patients in wheelchairs who were clearly haredi.

On Friday afternoon, patients and visitors may light their Shabbat candles at the nurses' stations. Someone comes around to say kiddush on each floor for anyone who wants to hear it -- same with Havdala on Saturday night. Traditional prayer services are conducted on the second floor. And there are "Shabbat elevators," which stop automatically on every floor.

Additionally, for Gila and me, there was the fact that the Regency is gorgeous, serves kosher food in the dining room, and also has Shabbat elevators. And the electric main door is "neutralized" for Shabbat.

Though I feel bad for Chava, and of course spending time in the hospital is stressful even for us guests, in an odd way it was all sort of fun, like some sort of twisted, but successful, Shabbaton. Gila, Chava and I had a great time indulging in "girl talk," there was lots of good, hot, kosher food easily available, the Regency was gorgeous . . . it was almost like camp.

Except that my friend is sick and was on an insulin drip.

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