I Gave a Knife to an Arab
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So it is like this… Most hospitals I have been to here in Israel have rooms with three beds in them divided by sliding curtains. As many of you know, I was in the hospital all day yesterday with my mom who had to get a procedure done on her artery to her heart. She is almost 85 years old, so anything done at that age is dangerous. When I got to the hospital a little after 6am, I tiptoed in, not wanting to wake anyone. However, I did not have to go to that effort. My mom had two room mates in her room. One a young looking ’40’ year old Israeli woman – who I will call ‘Leah’, and another roommate who was an older Arab woman who I’ll call ‘Fatima’. The Arab woman was awake, as was my mother, because ‘Leah’ who also had serious heart and internal organ problems was on pain-killing drugs, which made her ‘nutty’ and she was talking and rambling on all night long, calling people on the phone, talking loud, and also cursing out the Arabs, spitting and cursing when she said their name, and then logging on and watching movies on her lap top when not trying to talk to my mom who was trying to sleep. ‘Leah’ could not stay quiet, and after sharing with my mother all about herself and her medical problems, Leah decided to adopt my mother as HER hospital-mom (to my mother’s chagrin).
My mother’s other roommate, an Arab woman, was always sending me to ask for a nurse. She needed this, she wanted that, etc… Now like many Arabs who come to Israeli hospitals, she had her whole Hamoula (family/clan) constantly coming and going, with maybe 5 or so visitors at one time. But at this time of the morning, they had not all showed up yet. She had a 50-some year old son who stayed the night and was asleep on a couch-bed in the room -shared by my mom and Leah too. (My father went to the lobby, 2 doors down, and slept on some beds off near the wall that they had there, and would quietly check on my mom every couple of hours during the night.) When I arrived at the hospital, Fatima’s son was still asleep a few feet away. So she was asking me to call the nurse. When her son finally wakes up, we start talking, and he starts to say what a terrible night it was, that ‘Leah’ was talking all night on her phone making too much noise, making nasty remarks about the Arabs, and cursing them in an awful way, and that he was very uncomfortable about it, and that the nurses should have stopped Leah from her night-time diatribe. I empathized with him a bit, as I also heard Leah grumbling about the Arabs and spitting, behind her curtain. I don’t speak Arabic, but I certainly know how to curse in Arabic (Hebrew has very few curse words, so when Israelis want to curse, we curse in Arabic) but I also tried to explain to him that she was a bit coo-coo from the pain-killers, and that he shouldn’t take what she was saying personally. It was probably the drugs talking, I told him. – Now, I don’t know what Leah really thinks about Arabs, but I thought it was best, being in a hospital situation, to try to smooth things over and keep the peace in room 306. My mom had the middle bed.
A bit afterwards, talkative Leah engages me in crazy loud talk about the smart phone I am using. It’s a Nokia, Windows 10, which is not so common here in Israel. Now, I am on my smart phone for two reasons, one, because I am not at the office and was trying to do as much work as I could. The second reason that I was so busy on my phone, was so Leah wouldn’t want to talk to me. But it did not deter her. So as she talked, I would look up and smile and nod my head, and make some brief chit-chat. Being kind and compassionate isn’t as natural to me as I would like, I had thoughts in my head on how I was feeling like W.C. Fields and thinking, “All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”, but soon a family member of hers came to visit before I had to engage deeper with her while she was flying high on the drugs in her system. It’s real work trying to humor and comfort someone who has no control or realization of their behavior because of drug effects.
A few minutes pass, Leah is now engaged with her guest, my father is sitting beside my mom, and I decide it is time to go and visit a sick friend in Hematology on the 7th floor. Please pray for her by the way, her name is Devorah Chaya bat Sarah. I tell my parents that I will be back soon, and off I go to Hematology. After an hour or so of visiting my friend, I return to my mom’s room on the 10th floor, …and as I enter the room and take my seat opposite my mother’s bed, this is what I see. …And I think, APARTHEID not!
Fatima’s other son took time out of his visit, to pray, and without going to a more quiet place only a few doors down, decided to do it in the hospital room with all of us there around him.
Afternoon comes, and lunch is served. My mom was put on a ‘fast’ for her procedure, so the nurse brought me her meal to eat instead. It’s not a big deal. In the middle east, food is hugely symbolic for hospitality (no pun intended) and every nurse is your Jewish mother. So I looked at the tray. A plate of roasted chicken with potatoes, a green salad in a tiny clear plastic container, some soup, and an apple. I took the apple and put it in my purse for later. I drank some of the cup-o-soup and ate the tiny green salad in the plastic container. I did not touch the chicken & potato dish. After some thinking, I looked over to my right where Fatima’s family was, a whole group of people sitting on her bed and in chairs around her, and I picked up the plate and asked her Arab family there if they wanted my untouched plate of roasted chicken & potatoes. Without hesitation, one of the men, perhaps another son of hers, said YES and took the plate from me. I walked back to my chair opposite my mother’s bed and thought, “Hmmm, he has no silverware.” My knife was clean, because I didn’t use it for the salad, but I figured I would go and wash off my fork at the sink in the room and give it to the guy. I came back with the fork, took the clean knife from my tray, and offered the cutlery to the Arab who was (also) grateful for the silverware to eat with. It was only some minutes later that I thought, and silently laughed in my head, that I had just given a knife to an Arab. By the way, two more people were stabbed by an Arab today in Jerusalem, a policeman and a civilian.
I didn’t have to offer these guys my food. I could have left my un-eaten portion on my tray like people do at restaurants. And Fatima’s family was certainly not engaging with me while in the room. But I chose to do a small act of kindness.
I wrestle sometimes with the thoughts of, if our two nations can at least act decently with each other. We are all human beings, we are all brothers and sisters. We all have the same mom and dad, Adam and Eve. We don’t have to all agree and think the same, but we must be decent to each other, especially on a personal one-on-one level. I don’t like what the Arabs are doing and they probably hate me because I am a Jew and an infidel. However, derech eretz kadma l’Torah -it basically means being a mensch, a good person, a decent human being, which is the precedent to really living the Torah. In one way, I tend to look at G-d as our parent. All parents want their kids to get along together. Parents know their kids are different, have different temperaments, talents, and interests, but despite their differences, a parent wants their kids to get along together and even support each other. Sadly, Mankind has still not achieved this level, but each of us can live up to being a decent human being, and on a one-on-one level. I pray our Arab neighbors and all other people who ‘hate’, can rise above, and learn to do the same.