Last Wednesday, my husband had triple bypass open heart surgery. We were grateful to schedule his surgery after Rosh Hashanah and everything went smoothly. By Friday he was in the step down unit, out of the ICU and we prepared to spent Shabbos together in the hospital. As chance would have it, we wound up spending that Shabbos with a young nurse in hijab who, we discovered, was Palestinian. Her family had immigrated to the US from the West Bank and she had been born in the United States. We had no way of knowing that in the Gush, thousands of miles from our hospital, a wonderful man that many of our Israeli friends knew would die from stab wounds from a Palestinian terrorist.
In the meantime, a Palestinian nurse was caring for my husband, carefully checking his vital signs and administering his medication.
We actually spoke at some length as the long night wore on. My husband couldn’t sleep well due to pain and I couldn’t sleep well in the hospital. We spoke about how others view us covering our hair, about living in the US while not a Christian. We connected. We even spoke about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, although not details, just our shared desire for peace. We talked about Synagogues being spray painted with swastikas and Mosques having bacon thrown at them. We talked about family and about prayer. She lingered in our room, in the light of our Shabbos candles and cared for my husband well.
Eventually she opened up about how not all Jewish patients had been so kind to her. An Orthodox nursing student had been angry simply because she called herself Palestinian. Other patients had not wanted her to care for them because she was Muslim. Sometimes she felt a little afraid to wear hijab in some places. I talked about antisemitism we’d encountered. We both lamented experiences with public schools.
This woman…she meant us no harm and we meant her none. We parted on good terms and yet, I wondered…will our peoples ever be able to bridge a gap of so much bloodshed, so much pain?
There was so much I couldn’t say to her, that I felt I couldn’t ask her.
I couldn’t ask her how she felt about all the Jewish refugees that had fled Muslim countries or about how there are many Muslim countries, but only one Jewish one, only one place for Jews to make a homeland. I couldn’t ask her how she felt about Hamas. I couldn’t ask her if she would be so friendly and kind if I was Israeli…or a settler. I didn’t want to offend her, but I’m sure there is also so much that she couldn’t say to me and couldn’t ask me either. Across that ocean of polite silence, we remained as we watched my husband take laps up and down the hallway.
I’m grateful for her care and that I got to meet her. I’m grateful for our late night talks and I hope, maybe…just maybe, the next time she and her family or other Palestinians talk, I will have helped put a human face to the “other” as she did for me. I wish more of her nation were as kind and open minded, but I’m sure she’s also met those of mine who weren’t either.
We couldn’t bridge the vast gap between us, but we were able to share a long Shabbos night. I said goodbye to her the following night, as my husband was released and we both returned to our worlds.