Nursing was and is a much-needed skill in Israel. I remember that during one of my interviews, people had been impressed with my nursing qualifications and experience. Although an LPN, I had good recommendations, and varied experience ranging from critical care to geriatrics and private duty. I had enjoyed nursing in Tiberias. There too, I’d done a variety of things through one of the local HMOs, called Kupat Holim Clalit: visiting nursing, treatment nursing, and running a village clinic. Most of my Hebrew was learned on the job, literally.
I still remember how I learned one interesting word. I was running a small village clinic at the time. The doctor came in three days a week. The rest of the time I made appointments, gave treatments, and sold various non-prescription items to the patients. That particular day, an older man came into the clinic asking if I had “tziud l’choken.” I knew tziud—equipment, but what was choken? I didn’t like using the dictionary, I rarely remembered words well that way. I preferred learning from context, so I innocently asked, “ma ze choken?” (what is a choken). He looked at me in shock, then realized, that it wasn’t that I didn’t know what it was, but that I didn’t know what the word meant. He turned to others in the waiting room and spoke so rapidly, I couldn’t follow. Several people started talking, then suddenly, one of them made a fist and slapped his hand. “Choken!” he said firmly. Everyone nodded, and then looked at me expectantly, repeating his gesture. Yes, they seemed to all agree that slapping your fist into your hand definitely represented choken.
One game I am not good at is charades—well I should clarify—I’m good at doing a charade but terrible at guessing what they mean if someone else does the acting. I was clueless and went in search of a dictionary. Finding it, I gave the dictionary to my patient and pantomimed that he should find the word for me. He happily complied and handed it back to me, his finger pointing to a word.
I looked closely and read, enema.
I must have turned red, I felt like I had. “Oooh,” I said and felt even worse now, because that was something I knew this clinic definitely did not have in stock.
I enjoyed visiting nursing as well. I loved visiting patients in their homes, helping them with various tasks, and then sitting with them over tea and getting to know them and their families personally. They were such special and amazing people. Not a few of my patients wanted to try to hire a matchmaker for me. One of them was an elderly woman who was religious. She kept insisting that she wanted to find a husband for me. My Hebrew was still quite minimal, but one day, I finally found the words.
“Let me find you a good husband,” Sheva asked me for the seeming hundredth time.
“Look out the window,” I told her, and she did.
“What do you see?” I asked gently.
She looked at me rather puzzled. “The mountains.”
I pointed at the mountains. “And who made them?”
She replied firmly, “HaShem” (“The Name” is how religious people refer to God so as to avoid taking His name in vain.)
“If He could make the mountains and the heavens, don’t you think He can find me a husband in His time?” I asked her.
She thought about that for a while, then gave me a big smile. Yes, she could agree with that. Instead, she gave me candlestick holders that she had brought with her from Egypt many years ago. I was sure her daughter would want them, but her daughter’s response, “No, this way you will remember us.” And I do.
Perhaps if I could have stayed with Kupat Holim, doing visiting nursing, I’d still be a nurse. But that did not work out. They had wanted to hire me, but just before the contract was to be signed Israel’s economy collapsed, and there was a freeze on hiring. I was out of a job and had to look for work elsewhere.
Elsewhere would begin as a care giver for an autistic child in a home for unwanted mentally and physically disabled children. It was an oppressive atmosphere filled with superstition… some of the care givers refused to touch the children at all—they feared that retardation was contagious! In addition, they only hired you for 6 months at a time, to avoid having to pay full benefits. Still, working there gave me yet another taste of Israeli life, a side few see, and time to look for other work.