by David Kramer
On April 10, 2019 I met with Audrey Gross who works in the Public Affairs department of Shaare Zedek Hospital (“Gates of Righteousness”) in Jerusalem. Shaare Zedek is today the city’s fastest growing hospital and the only major medical facility in the city’s center. Shaare Zedek is well known internationally for its emergency response systems which have been extensively developed and sadly put to the ultimate test due to the area’s ongoing battle with terrorism. This includes an extensive decontamination system capable of responding to terrorist attacks involving chemical warfare. Shaare Zedek acts as the on-call facility for the entire Jerusalem area responsible to respond in the event of such attacks. During our discussion, Audrey told me how the hospital, like many of Israel’s major hospitals, treats thousands of Palestinian and Arab patients every year and when I asked if she knows the exact number, she answered it doesn’t matter since the hospital treats every patient the same regardless of their origin, religion or ethnicity. She told me the following story to illustrate the point:
In 2019, two volunteers from abroad had come to distribute gifts at the hospital to newborn babies and their families. Audrey accompanied them to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). They approached a young Arab woman, wearing a hijab on her head and tightly holding her newborn child. Initially the young mother ignored the two volunteers until they started speaking to her in their native English tongue and she responded saying that she too was born in America before her parents sent her to Israel to get married. They spoke for a while and then parted ways leaving the new mother a few gifts for her child.
A few months later as Audrey walked past the NICU, the same Arab woman spotted her, ran up to her and gave her a big hug. She proceeded to tell Audrey her story. Tragically, the day they had first met in the ward, was the day that her baby, suffering from a terminal illness, had died. Before the birth doctors gave the unborn child a zero percent chance of survival. Still, the mother decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, motivated by the feeling that there was a lesson to be learned from the experience, no matter how difficult it would be. She described her amazement by the extent to which the Israeli doctors tirelessly worked to save her Arab child, which totally contradicted what she had learned and understood of Israel’s attitude towards their Arab neighbors. Noticing Audrey’s surprise at seeing her in the NICU, the young mother opened her bag revealing gifts she had bought to distribute to other sick kids and their families in the ward. She explained that from the moment she met the hospital staff, she was treated like any other expectant mother, which took her mind off of the suffering she was dealing with, and now she wished to show the same kindness and compassion that she received. She described her volunteer activities with an organization called “First Hug,” whose volunteers come and spend time applying the kangaroo method, a technique of newborn care where babies are kept chest-to-chest and skin-to-skin. These are newborn babies that have been abandoned or do not receive enough skin-to-skin contact with their families for various reasons. Shortly after seeing Audrey, the bereaved mother penned the following letter to the staff of the NICU:
“It is with a heavy heart that I’m writing you this thank you note. As you know my precious baby girl passed away six days before she turned a month old. Although we were all prepared for her not to live a long life, we definitely were not expecting it to be this short, especially with the new diagnosis we had been given. Yet, such is life. A constant reminder of things we can and cannot control. Countless times I was told to abort while pregnant, that her life expectancy was very short, if anything at all. For whatever reason, I held on to the hope that whatever was meant to come from her life, no matter how short, would be for good. And good it was indeed. I was shown a generosity and kindness that I can’t properly express in words. Inside Shaare Zedek, there was no Palestinian/Israeli struggle. You all did your jobs like angels sent from God. My child was not shown any less love than the sweet Jewish boy next to her. You smiled and loved my daughter like any other child being cared for. You all have restored my belief in the goodness of humanity; we are all working for the betterment of our children. Our daughter was named according to the Muslim and Jewish doctors working side by side at NICU, Shaare Zedek Hospital. (Shaare Zedek Hospital) Arabic word for faith, and it’s exactly what gives meaning to our lives. Even in the darkest days, it’s our belief in faith that things will get better, that we can handle our sorrows, and overcome the obstacles we face. If I could thank each of you individually, trust me that I would. I grew so accustomed to seeing you all more than my own family. You will never fully know the appreciation I have for the job that you do. There is a bond that grows between you all and the parents in the NICU, no doubt about it. So if I happen to see you around sometime, don’t be surprised if I stop you to say hello! After all, you were such a huge part of my life and for that I will forever be grateful. Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the kindness you not only showed me, my husband, and my family . . . but for your unrelenting support and encouragement you gave to my precious baby girl, Faith. Sincerely yours, N