Israel’s first fatality in the coronavirus pandemic was 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even, who sadly passed away on the 20th March.
He was cared for at Shaare Zedek Medical Center Jerusalem / המרכז הרפואי שערי צדק and this heartbreaking, but beautiful account of the care Rachel Gemara gave Areyh in his final days has brought tears to all of our eyes.
My heart is broken.
On Friday night my worst fears were realised as I watch my beloved patient, Aryeh Even take his last breaths on earth. By the grace of God, two patients *angels* rush to his side. With tears in my eyes, I watch them instinctively place their hands on his eyes and recite the “Shema” prayer. They comfort him and say goodbye as his holy soul enters the gates of Heaven.
I know what the next step is, and I’m already dreading it – Misrad Habriut has prepared us with instructions on how to deal with the deceased COVID-19 patients. We are the first hospital in Israel to implement this protocol. Similar to causalities in a biological war, our treatment of the body needs to be done in a way that will not endanger anyone else who will come in contact until the burial. Because of this, there can be no purification טהרה process. This Jewish ritual is sacrificed to protect us and everyone else who will come in contact with him. His soul is already so pure. Me and the other nurse Michal are responsible for identifying him for burial, we will be the last ones to see and care for him physically.
My dear Aryeh, you survived the horrors of the Holocaust, immigrated to Israel, established a magnificent family and your extraordinary journey ends here, in this new ward we hoped we would never have to open. The circumstances of your hospitalisation did not allow for your loving family and caretaker to be by your side. For us and them, this was heartbreaking. We did our best to go in as often as possible. From the outside, we monitored you as closely as we could. In the unit, we were in awe as we watched the other patients care for you, keep you company and helped you however best they could. They so badly did not want you to ever feel alone.
Aryeh, I want to ask you for forgiveness. I’m sorry for how we were required to handle your body, we did our best to preserve your dignity and respect you based on the circumstances. I know that it was done to protect us. It was a tremendous zechut and honor to care for you in your final days. You’ve touched my heart, the staff, and the patients that surrounded you. I know your life will inspire the rest of Am Yisrael as well.
Go in peace, go to your resting place in peace. Look out for us from above.
לֵךְ בְּשָׁלוֹם וְתָּנוּחַ עַל מִשְׁכָּבְך בְּשָׁלוֹם, וְתַּעְמוֹד לְגוֹרָלְךָ לְקֵץ הַיָמִים
Love Rachel Gemara