Veterans: To life!

Marion Silman, London to Jerusalem, 1979

By ABIGAIL KLEIN
February 5, 2010 17:16
The Silman family.

silman family 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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During her 30-year career as a nurse at Hadassah-University Hospital Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, Marion Silman assisted in the births of 2,402 infants. Recently, she retired to spend more time with a growing brood of grandchildren and pursue interests such as quilting and traveling.

After showing a visitor an exhibition of her patchwork quilts on display at the hospital, she reflected on her years in the city she adopted as her own.

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BACKGROUND

Marion Rudolf grew up in a traditional family, becoming more observant, along with her sister, through her involvement in the Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva. Following the Six Day War, she spent a “most marvelous year” at Kibbutz Lavi, determined to return after finishing her professional training.

After earning her nurse’s registration from University College Hospital in London, she took a position in 1971 in its emergency room – known in England as casualty or A/E, for accidents and emergencies. She moved on to Barnet General Hospital and then Northwick Park Hospital, where she helped to set up a new A/E department and also was a clinical instructor.

While at Northwick Park, she met family physician Michael Silman. “It was love at first sight; I knew I would marry him the minute I saw him,” she recalls. Yet before beginning a relationship, the two ascertained that they were both committed to the idea of moving to Israel. Happily, this was a priority they agreed on. The couple wed in 1973 and settled in Wembley.

ALIYA

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Six years later, with three- and one-year-old sons in tow, they arrived at the absorption center in Mevaseret Zion. Silman went right to work in the emergency department at Hadassah.

“Standards weren’t quite as high as at UCH, but I made a good impression with my British training behind me,” she said. “I loved it, although it was completely different culturally from London and took a while to get accustomed to.”

Unlike British patients, she elaborated, Israeli patients do not sit and wait quietly for their turn in the examination room.

In the meantime, her husband practiced pediatrics in Kiryat Arba and gynecology at the old Misgav Ladach Hospital in Jerusalem. After the family moved to the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem, he opened a family practice in Ramat Eshkol, where he has been ever since. Silman credits him with doing more than his share as “house daddy” when they both were working full time.

CAREER

After nine years in the emergency department – and the birth of her two daughters – Silman cofounded the Israel Childbirth Education Center with her friend Wendy Blumfield. The women offered breast-feeding counseling and pre- and postnatal classes in addition to training for lactation consultants. In a groundbreaking advance at the time, the center provided certificates that permitted fathers-to-be to accompany their laboring wives in the delivery room.

Determined to make changes in the national attitude toward breast-feeding and other natural practices, Silman transferred to Hadassah’s newborn nursery, where as head nurse she introduced the practice of rooming in.

She then completed a nine-month course in midwifery and earned a B.Sc. in women’s health care at 40. She helped delivered her first baby in February 1991.

How did she do it all – and manage a household with four kids? “I have an amazing husband,” she said.

Silman has kept track of every birth she attended, first in an old-fashioned notebook and now on an Excel spreadsheet. Years of experience have provided her with many cultural insights.

For instance, “Russian and English ladies in labor are very disciplined; they won’t say a word. Arab ladies have far quicker births and they do a lot of yelling at the end, but the babies just pop out.”

Though she speaks only a few words of their language, she was able to forge a good connection with Arab patients at Hadassah, who are often accompanied by their mothers-in-law and their fathers. The fathers wield considerable influence. “Epidurals among Arabs are still a small percentage,” said Silman, “because the father or husband says no.”

She remembers fondly one Arab patient who suffered two stillbirths, both while Silman was on duty. She again happened to be there when the same woman finally delivered a healthy infant. “I don’t know who was crying more – her or me,” Silman said.

Working in a facility that is overcrowded and underfunded was often frustrating, she confided. There were 250 births each month at Mount Scopus when she started, compared with 450 now, yet the small department hasn’t been upgraded since 1967.

“I want us to be equal to [Hadassah] Ein Kerem and have a natural birthing center as they do, and a postnatal ward where all mothers room in. But despite our limitations, we have a good name for childbirth.”

RETIREMENT

As of October 30, exactly 30 years from the day she started working, Silman has been free of duty rosters.

“I have no regrets that I retired,” she said. “It was the right time.”

With her newfound leisure, she can pay more attention to the quilting hobby she began seven years ago. She’s been sewing for much longer – since her grandmother taught her at 11. “I love that you can create and make your own designs and it’s totally relaxing.”

Silman, who also claims to be addicted to Scrabble, fashioned baby quilts for her five grandchildren. She has a bit more time to complete two more for the grandchildren expected this spring.

Among her ambitions is learning Yiddish (“I have lots of words, but I can’t get them out”) and laying down the law to parents who drive without strapping their kids into car seats.

Though she’s been to places such as India, Russia and the Canadian Rockies, Silman relishes the idea of future travels. She has started baking bread and intends to initiate a monthly lunch club for fellow retired midwives.

FAMILY LIFE

Having served their time in the army and National Service, all the Silman children are married and living here. The oldest is a paramedic and lawyer; the second is a building engineer; the third is a physiotherapist; and the youngest is a floral designer. Silman’s mother made aliya 15 years ago.

When the family first arrived, their only relative living here was Silman’s sister. Their absorption center neighbors therefore became their surrogate family. “Having good friends helped us in the ups and downs of aliya and formed a sort of support group,” said Silman.


BEST THINGS ABOUT ISRAEL

“You live a Jewish life. You don’t have to worry about anti-Semitism. When I go back to England now, I’m horrified at the amount of anti-Semitism, and it gets worse each time I go back to visit.”

The Silmans are content in their “very cosmopolitan” neighborhood of Ramot. “We are neighbors with religious and secular people from all walks of life,” said Silman. “Our Beit Knesset Mitzpe Ramot is very warm and welcoming. We feel God’s hand making us make good choices.”

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