Canadian dispatches from Israel at wartime: A student nurse’s view from inside a Jerusalem hospital

Tamar Ellis on her way into work at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital.

The CJN is publishing dispatches from Canadians currently in Israel. Submissions can be sent for consideration to Lila Sarick at [email protected].

This week I began my rotation in surgery and orthopedics at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. The shift starts early in the morning and as I wait for the bus there is a heavy fog that blankets the city, as if to try to protect it from the horrors of war. 

 Hadassah Ein Kerem lies on the eastern edge of Jerusalem, surrounded by the Jerusalem Forest. It is the biggest hospital in Jerusalem and has been accepting patients injured in the war since the beginning. The classrooms in the nursing school have been converted into makeshift wards. The seminar rooms for visitors have been allocated for the reserve soldiers serving in the hospital. In orthopedics, many of the beds are filled with injured soldiers. There is an unspoken fear the war will get worse if there is a ground invasion. 

In the meantime, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Of the war crimes, the horrific cruelty done to the hundreds of victims, I will not write about here. I would like to speak about the people who are trying to help and keep living their life in the shadow of war. People who don’t make the front page but are just as newsworthy. 

I would like to tell you about Fadhi. He’s an Arab nurse who works with intubated patients. He’s originally from a Bedouin community in the Negev desert. His eldest son serves in the Border Police Unit in the Israeli army and was badly wounded by falling shrapnel from a rocket. His son continued fighting and it was only after he had recovered intelligence with the names of many of the terrorists who had infiltrated Israel that he agreed to be treated. Fadhi left his wounded son’s side in Ashdod to come to Jerusalem to help care for the large influx of patients from the south.

I would like to tell you of a doctor (who did not wish to be named) who took a sabbatical from his high-powered job as a department head of anesthesiology in North America to volunteer as a doctor without pay at Hadassah. The hospital has over 100 operating rooms and they work around the clock.

Of a young Arab student named Raayan. Her neighbour, a young man of 19 from Abu Gosh, an Arab town just outside of Jerusalem, was badly hurt. A rocket fell on the mosque where he was praying. Raayan keeps checking her phone for updates. The young man was rushed to Hadassah, clinically dead with no heartbeat. Several surgeries prolonged his life for another week. Unfortunately, he passed away earlier this week. Terrorism doesn’t differentiate.

Of the young couple who are parents of baby twin boys. The father would like to go and donate blood but the mother begs him not to leave. How will she be able to scoop up both infants and make it down to the shelter in 90 seconds?

Of a large group of high school yeshiva boys. They heard there was a shortage of cleaning staff at the hospital and volunteered to clean. Not only did they undertake a massive job, they did so while singing and dancing!

Of Rona, my classmate who decided to go back to school after a successful career as a sports trainer. Two of her sons are serving in the reserves, one in the north, one in the south. Every ring of her phone brings a look of panic to her eyes.

Of the young girl who lived a floor above me. She showed me how fast she could run, saying she’s been practicing in case a siren goes off. No child should have to do this.

Of the young man who was used his tzitzit as a tourniquet after being badly wounded fighting terrorists at his home in Sderot, while his family hid in the bomb shelter.

Of a well-known Israeli crime family that showed up to a donation drop-off zone with thousands of illegal cigarettes for soldiers. 

Of all the people who showed up to dig graves when there was a desperate call for volunteers. 

Of people who have taken time to help stock the shelves of grocery stores.

Of professional caterers giving freely of their time and money to feed soldiers and their families at home.

We are a resilient and hopeful people. Together we will go forward with growing strength and courage. 

With blessings for a Shabbat shalom, a peaceful Sabbath from Jerusalem…

Tamar Ellis was born in Israel and grew up in Halifax. After high school, she did national service (sherut leumi) in a delivery room in Jerusalem.

She received a degree in kinesiology from Dalhousie University and worked for three years in the mental health field before making aliyah in July 2019. She is currently in her second year of nursing school at Hadassah, in an accelerated program in cooperation with Hebrew University and the Ministry of Health.

Tamar writes weekly to her parents. This is an excerpt from one of her recent letters.