by Jonathan Paull
Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem is a very special place, but until I experienced it first-hand I had little idea of just how incredible and special a hospital can be.
I arrived at Shaare Zedek hospital in June of 2013. I had arrived in Jerusalem from the UK as my mother had been taken ill from the nursing home where she was being treated for late stage Parkinson’s disease. Up until that moment Shaare Zedek was a place I knew little about, other than passing by from time to time. That all changed the moment I entered the hospital to visit my mother.
Upon her arrival, suffering from severe pneumonia and complications due to her Parkinson’s, no effort or cost was spared in keeping her alive. She was resuscitated twice soon after she arrived by ambulance at the hospital. When stabilised she was taken to the geriatric department. She was 84 years of age. Yet the care and the treatment that was carried out and implemented was no different than if she had been a younger woman with decades of life before her. You see Shaare Zedek treats every patient, whatever age, colour or creed from across Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East on the basis that every single life is valuable. No distinction is made between the patient who is young with years ahead and one that is old with a lifetime behind them. It took very little time for me to realise this and understand that my mother was probably receiving the best care available in the world.
The medical staff was incredible, only focused on how to make the patient better and more comfortable during their stay. And this is the amazing thing; the medical staff is made up of people from all over the Arab world as well as Israel, and many other nationalities too.
We came across qualified doctors from Egypt, Jordan and the West Bank, the Ukraine, Russia the US and Europe. All were approachable and thoroughly professional. Shaare Zedek clearly demonstrates what can be achieved between Arab and Israeli when they work together harmoniously with a single aim, with the utmost dedication to life and respect for every human being.
In each room there were four beds and in each room were to be found patients of diverse cultures, Christian, Jew and Muslim. Arab and Israeli and those from elsewhere in the world, were all seeking the medical care and attention that is to be found here. Somehow, because we all had something in common, the strong desire to see our loved ones looked after and cured, the families and the patients were as one. Like a family caring for each other. And that really sums up what Shaare Zedek is all about: a singular family working together, single-mindedly working towards healing the sick and truly respecting the sanctity of life.
The Arab family with their mother in the room next door popped in to see my Father and I several times a day to check how we were doing .They delighted in bringing us a bag full of grapes freshly picked from their home in Ramallah. The South African sisters sitting with their elderly mother in the same room as us shared their books on Halachot (Jewish laws) for the sick and dying. The French businessman who hadn’t seen his father in years was by his father’s side and found comfort in our new found fraternity of care. The Russian doctor who shared her photos of her son’s precious first day at school bound us up in tears of joy. Then there was the Rabbi whose mother was in the bed next to our mother. She was over 100 years old, born into Ottoman Palestine, lived through two world wars and the very establishment of the State of Israel. Her son, the Rabbi, cared for all of us with his kind smile and his blessings. With care and love even in his own moments of anguish during the last days of his dear mother’s life.
Whilst truly multicultural, the foundation of Sharee Zedek is embedded in the ancient teachings of Jewish ethics. These ethics are the bedrock upon which our world sits. Nowhere is the sanctity of life and of healing more revered and elevated than in the teachings of Jewish medical ethics. The clarity with which this can be palpably felt and seen at Shaare Zedek is both impressive and moving. I felt this first hand on a daily basis whilst sitting at my mother’s bed side. The medical technicians, Jewish religious girls, wives and mothers themselves, would appear to change over the ventilator tubes. This is a particularly risky and dangerous operation as my mother was momentarily detached from the ventilator machine, the very machine upon which she relied for her survival. It was hard for me to watch the changes in her face and in her breathing patterns, and to see when her discomfort showed. But these young girls in whispering words of psalms and prayer would change the breathing tubes swiftly and with absolute loving care as if the very world rested on them carrying out their task.
My mother, Ruth Bat Zvi z’l finally passed away in Shaare Zedek on the morning of the 18th of September 2013, Erev Succoth. As she faded away in those last hours, the nurse brought us sheets of paper with prayers and psalms written on them. The medical care joined seamlessly with the spiritual. In those last hours we worked as a team, both medical care and prayer united. And when it was finally the time for the doctor to pronounce her death and to switch of the ventilator, with the heavy clunk of the switch, we knew that all and everything had been done with true care and love. Our mother was on her journey and finally at peace.
“To save a life is to save the world”. Nowhere is this clearer every day, so many times a day than at Shaare Zedek, a hospital not just with a heart but with a soul that makes the world a better place.
Jonathan will be sailing the Atlantic in memory of his mother in November 2015 please support this incredible challenge by visiting his appeal page here