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Aliyah Chronicles #7: Assertive Israelis

May 8, 2009 | by Miriam (Tara) Eliwatt

Israel is not always an easy place. But when it's good, it's really good.

Shana, the hospital midwife, told me in a stern voice to sit down. I was peeking into the hospital offices, hoping someone official would notice me and call my name. I'd been waiting 45 minutes to meet with the doctor to review my sonogram. A recent immigrant from America, I was five days overdue with my first Sabra.

"We will call you in when we're ready. We didn't forget about you," she glared at me as if I'd committed a crime, and then quickly ushered a laboring woman down the hallway to the delivery rooms. She supported the woman with her arms, and murmured softly in Hebrew.

I sat down, defeated and angry. I just wanted to know what was going on. There was no sign-in list, no electronic numbers to be called. Just a bunch of people sitting in a hospital waiting room without a particular order hoping to be called in to the doctor's office. How did they know who should be called first? I could be waiting all afternoon. Couldn't she at least speak to me in a soothing voice?

The last time I tried to be assertive, it took me 30 minutes to work up the courage to storm the doctor's office, and then -- the doctor yelled at me. "Please sit down and wait your turn!" But when is my turn?

Really Good

An hour after finally seeing the doctor and leaving the hospital, I returned to the maternity ward to find Shana. I made my way again to the inner offices, this time with fierce determination.

I could barely speak. Shana put her papers down and ran over to me. "Is everything okay?" she said looking me over and eyeing my husband balancing a suitcase and two bags. "I thought the doctor sent you home?"

"I think this is it," I mumbled between deep breaths.

She quickly grabbed hold of my arm and led me to her office.

"Great! How exciting!" She smiled at me as if I was her sister. She hurried a new mother out of a birthing room, and instructed the cleaners to quickly prepare the room. She stayed with me until the end of her shift, and then vowed to visit me the next day.

The next night, Shana came to see me.

"Mazal Tov! I heard it went well. You look great. Let me see her!" She chatted with me for ten minutes before returning to her post.

And that's when it struck me.

Whenever I really needed attention and help, there were no lines, no stern voices, no confusion, no waiting. I was the center of the world, a member of the family. There were no doubts.

The following week, my Israeli neighbor, Ronit, knocked on my door.

It was motzei Shabbat. I was sprawled out on the couch with my week-old baby stretched out in my arms. Playmobil pieces and legos were strewn across the tile floor, and the dining room table was covered with aluminum food tins and stray pieces of foil.

When she entered, I jumped up quickly and tried to clear the jackets and puzzles pieces off the easy chair, but she brushed me aside. She grabbed the jackets and hung them up. Then she surveyed the mess while asking me in Hebrew how I was feeling.

Moments later, her husband arrived with their three kids and a bottle of scotch. He had come to drink a l'Chaim with my husband on the birth of our new baby.

Ronit, noticing the dishes piled high in my two sinks, grabbed a sponge.

"No! No!" I pleaded, "I'll clean the dishes after I put the kids to sleep."

But she was already pouring the soap over the dishes. "I want to clean them," she insisted, scrubbing away. "It makes me happy to do this."

I appealed to her, "I have a lot of energy, thank God. I want to do the dishes. Really!"

But she glared at me as if to say, "Do you really think I believe that?!"

My husband was laughing in the living room, pouring another shot for our neighbor. I handed him the baby and ran back to the kitchen to put the dishes away.

"No, no. Sit down," my neighbor scolded me.

But how could I sit down while she cleaned the sticky gook off my dishes, pulled the peas and rice off the drain, and threw away the green bread that had been left out all week? It was a disgrace!

And then, as fast as she came, she left.

I looked around my sparkling kitchen, and was secretly glad my neighbor had ignored my pleas. My husband wiped a tear from his eye.

"What nice people," he mumbled softly.

"Yeah..." I concurred, enjoying the tranquility that comes with a clean kitchen. And in that moment, I decided that chaotic waiting rooms and long lines were not so bad after all. Indeed, I benefited greatly, and began to appreciate my onsite training in Israeli assertiveness.

In fact, with greater training, I could be more like Ronit, my neighbor -- a person that uses her assertiveness skills to do good deeds.

Israel is not always an easy place. But when it's good, it's really good. And that "good" is what makes life here very special.

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