Christmas: The kindness of Israel's Christian Arab strangers

In my book, I will always regard the utterly generous gesture on the part of that threesome from Nazareth as my gift from the Magi.

 Christmas present (Illustrative). (photo credit: Freestocks/Unsplash)
Christmas present (Illustrative).
(photo credit: Freestocks/Unsplash)

It was December 10, 2021, early afternoon on a sunny Friday in Jerusalem. I left my apartment to go downtown to meet two of my friends. I crossed the street to throw out the garbage. As I was walking away from the bin, I tripped on the toe of my sandal and fell forward – full force on the sidewalk. There was no one in sight, so I sat on the ground, unable to get up. 

A car stopped, and the driver asked me if I needed help. Indeed I did. He helped me get up onto my feet, and I gratefully thanked him. Feeling very sore in my knees and hands, I crossed the street and went up the stairs back to my apartment. I called my friends and said I would not be meeting them.

I put an ice pack on my right knee and thought that was the extent of my injuries, other than my bruised hands. However, very soon my leg swelled up to such a degree that it was excruciating. I couldn’t put any pressure on my foot, so I couldn’t walk.

I called another friend, and she suggested that I call an ambulance to take me to see a doctor. Excellent advice. 

I called Magen David Adom. Within five minutes, a team of emergency attendants were at my home. They could not have been more warm and attentive. They bandaged my knee which was now bleeding, strapped me into a specialized chair, and carried me down the stairs and into the ambulance. 

Hadassah University Medical Center (credit: AVI HAYOUN)Hadassah University Medical Center (credit: AVI HAYOUN)

I didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital, so I asked them to take me to a Terem clinic. At Terem, the team stayed with me until they were certain that I would be attended to, then left and wished me “Refuah shlema” (full recovery) and Shabbat shalom. I gratefully thanked them.

Fortunately, the X-rays revealed no broken bones. My knee was looked at and re-bandaged. I wanted to go home, but the doctor advised me to go to the hospital to have a CT scan, as I had fallen on my chin as well, and he wanted to ensure that I didn’t have a concussion.

It was now about four in the afternoon. I called a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the nearest hospital. He took me to Hadassah Ein Kerem. Although it wasn’t the nearest, he said that its emergency room was the best. Indeed, it was topnotch. 

I was seen by several specialists, each of whom was very cordial and very thorough. The CT scan revealed no concussion. The orthopedist checked my knee and gave me a week’s supply of antibiotics, as well as bandages and antiseptic ointment, and told me to change the dressing every day. 

ATM troubles at Hadassah Ein Kerem

All these tests and check-ups took time, with a lot of waiting in between. In the waiting room, there was a small ATM machine. I really wanted to take out some cash, as I knew I would be housebound for a while and would need money to pay for grocery deliveries, etc. But I was afraid to use it, as I didn’t know how that particular machine worked and was fearful that I might lose my access card in it. 

SITTING IN the waiting room for many hours between seeing the doctors and medical technicians, I was seated across from three people – a man and two women – who were speaking Arabic. At one point, at about two in the morning, I went into the emergency room to ask the nurse when my release papers would be ready. “Not yet,” she said.

When I came back out, I smiled and said to the three people, “You’re still here, and I’m still here.” And thus we struck up a conversation. The man said he had lived in the States for a while, so we spoke easily and at length in English. They were Christian Arabs from Nazareth. At the time, they were engaged in a project of providing Christmas trees for families in their city.

As we all waited there, a nurse came out to speak to them. I had seen her use the ATM, so after their conversation was over I asked her if she would show me how to use the machine. We tried, but the ATM would not accept my card – probably because it was from my Canadian bank.

When I went back to my little coterie, the man asked me if I got what I needed. “No,” I said. “The machine didn’t accept my card.”

With that, he immediately put his hand in his pocket, pulled out NIS 200 and extended it to me.

“Oh, no,” I objected. “Thank you, but I can’t take that.”

“Yes,” he said, “I want you to have it.”

“No. It would be too complicated to get it back to you,” I protested.

“I don’t want it back,” he said. “It’s my Christmas gift to you.”

No, no, no, I persisted. 

Yes, yes, yes, he insisted.

“We want you to have it, from the bottom of our hearts,” he said, while his wife stood beside him smiling and nodding in agreement.

I finally relented. I could see how sincere they were, and I really did need it. To say that I thanked them profusely would be beyond an understatement.

O. Henry wrote a very touching short story titled The Gift of the Magi about a young married couple whose Christmas presents to each other each represented a profound act of selflessness. 

In my book, I will always regard the utterly generous gesture on the part of that threesome from Nazareth as my gift from the Magi. ■