Real Life in Israel: Reality Bites

No matter who you are, or where you live, your life is filled with tremendous highs and lows that seem like you will never climb out of.

Whether you live in Indiana or Israel, India or Italy there will be easy times and life-challenging situations. For us, this past week was filled with all of the above: the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Last Tuesday we took a huge American style dinner up to my son’s IDF base to celebrate his last week there. My husband and I brought crockpots of vegetarian Texas chili with all the fixings; bowls of potato salad and cole slaw; corn bread; fresh Southwestern-style corn on the cob; broccoli salad…. and six apple pies. Enough to feed an army. Well, at least a platoon.

We met in their clubhouse and it was a blast. We heard stories; they presented him with cards and pictures and parting gifts. Max presented them with new kitchen utensils, a wok, stockpot and a coffee service for when the UN coalition comes for meetings there. They shared laughter, hugs and tears…. and we packed up all his duffel bags of gear and laundry for the ride home. It felt a lot like picking kids up from summer camp, actually. And… we have seven soldiers coming to our house for Thanksgiving. Two from last year. Nice!!

Max doesn’t officially end his army service until early October- it was just his last full day on the base he’s been stationed for the past 2 1/2 years. Definitely finished on a high note.

Wednesday, we drove down to Sheba Medical Center where my dear husband would have extensive surgery for cancer the next day. I will spare you all the unpleasant details. Suffice it to say, he was in the operating theater for nearly seven hours, and recovery for four more- waaay longer than we expected. The doctor said it went well “Not to worry.” Getting information from doctors here is, most of the time, less than minimal, but Dr. Chaikin is the world’s number one surgeon for this type of operation.

So, we’ve gone from tremendous highs to steep troughs in 24 hours. I’ve been bedside since Wednesday night. Things here are completely different than in the States as far as hospitals go. I’ve been told “It’s the European system” and “Don’t compare. Just accept the new reality.” In any event, there are lots of cultural differences and at the least, by the end of this ordeal, I’ll either have enough material to write a book on what new immigrants can expect; have a bang-up film script; or a full stand-up comedy routine.

So, first of all: we’re not in the travel tourism part of the hospital. I suspect things are a wee bit different over there. From experience, I brought towels, washcloths, all the bathroom amenities; pillows; blankets. The patient gets a bed. A fitted and a flat sheet. That’s it. There are no TVs in the room. No menus with gourmet spa food. No private rooms. Nothing that is not absolutely necessary.

It is more than strongly advised in the best-of-circumstances that you have a person to sit with you 24/7 at bedside… relatives taking turns or a hired metapellet, caretaker. The nurses are here to administer medicines, clear catheters and drains and take care of medical problems that arise. The metapellet takes care of the patient’s personal needs- feeding, washing, raising or lowering bed, walking and all else. It’s very different. In my case, my personal service also includes being a translator.

The Shabbat experience: a story unto itself. Here in Israel, the Sabbath, Shabbat, is a complete day of rest. Culturally – Saturday is really the only full day of the week off work. Religiously- it’s not taken lightly. By noon Friday, things start slowing down; a few hours before sunset, stores close up shop. An hour before, public transportation comes to a halt. I know this. I really do. I spend all day Friday cleaning and cooking for dinner Friday through breakfast Sunday, as we don’t do any work. I just don’t cook. I know this. I really do.

Friday snuck up on me this week and bit me in the butt. I’m at the hospital and the steady parade of people shlepping coolers and bags and boxes and containers of food for their loved-ones started around noon. I realized I was in trouble. So I started asking. Fortunately there are a few special “angel” agencies that come around and deliver food bags for the weekend to the caregivers that need it. Most are ordered the days before Friday.

So late Friday afternoon around four, the two gentlemen arrived. Have you seen “Shtisel” on Netflix? If so, you’ll know what I mean. The black fur hatted, black silk bathrobed, white stockinged, bearded dwarfs showed up in the lobby a little later than the agreed-upon meet-up with various satchels on a cart. They were in a great hurry. Running late. No time to waste. They spoke an Eastern-European heavy dialect of Hebrew I found hard to understand. Did I perchance speak Yiddish? Not to worry. They hand me a heavy plastic trash bag filled with Shabbos wonderfulness. My mind raced back to the mouth watering Shabbos meals my Gramma Weissman used to prepare.

I got back toJohn’s ward and opened the sack. A liter of Shabbat wine. Nice start. I can drink myself into a Shabbat stupor. Two challah breads, obviously handmade. Great. Twenty Shabbat candles. A little excessive, but if there’s a power outage, I’ll be set. Four trays of cakes. Uh…. 5 packages of napkins. Somehow I think Shlomie and Homie gave me the wrong bag. No way to change now… looks like a sugar and carb stupor is in the works for me this weekend. Honestly I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Cafeterias closed. Restaurants on site closed. Vending machines stopped… not only do you not turn on or off electricity or push buttons, or use phones, or drive or cook or anything… you don’t use money. It’s a day off from worldliness. A foretaste of heaven. Don’t get me started. I promise to write a serious Shabbat blog soon explaining the why’s and wherefore’s.

In the meantime, by 3 pm Saturday I was near meltdown when I bumped into Him! Mr./Dr. Dreamboatberg, the handsome, young intern making the rounds. You know. Tanned. Beautiful hair and smile. Wearing shorts, flip-flops and a lab coat. Progressive as all get out. With an ego the size of New York. A social activist as well. He’s spotted walking the halls of UCLA Medical Center; Sloane-Kettering; Mount Sinai Coral Gables. There’s one on every staff. He’s in control, Baby. He’s got all the answers.

So I asked the obvious question. Obviously. Duh. Dumb me. “So, is there ANYTHING open around here for food?” Simple question. Then I got it: “Madam. Tell me. Where are you?” I answered, “Sheba.” “Madam. Did you vote?” “Wha…..” I stammered perplexed. “Madam. I see who you are.” “Wha????? Me????” I am beginning to think he has x-ray vision. Perhaps a Rasputin in disguise. “Madam. Remember this the next time you vote. If you want the religious to run the country, you can expect not to eat on Saturday. And this is only the beginning. That is all, Madam.” And with a flip of his clipboard he was gone. Poof. I kid you not. Perhaps I should think about slugging the wine after all. It couldn’t hurt. Nu?

In all seriousness, for us, it will be an uphill climb. Slow, but hopefully steady. I expect we’ll be in the hospital another couple of weeks, minimum. Max will stay over one day and night so I can do laundry and shower and catch up on some zzzz’s. Already I’m trying to plan for the “weekend” ahead… the looooonnnggg weekend. Not only is it Shabbat starting Friday at sundown, but Sunday evening is the beginning of the High Holy Days, Rosh HaShonnah, the New Year (think as far away from Times Square as possible. think Jerusalem. No raucous parties; lots of rowdy prayer) which lasts through Tuesday night, translated Wednesday in reality. Lord only knows what will happen then at the country ‘s medical centers.

One things for sure: I’ll be ready for any and every possible situation. Watch out, Sheba. I’m moving in big time. You asked for it!!!

May we have only good news and peace in the new year, 5780. May we have only health. May my husband heal fully. May I be able to deal with any and every situation better than I did this morning. May we always look for the humor. May we fully rely on G-d (F.R.O.G.). May we see great and mighty miracles in our day (housetraining my dog is a good start). May we all enjoy the richness of family, friends and a roof over our heads.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, holy and peaceful new year!