It takes a Zionist village to heal, sometimes - comment

As Arabs and Jews, religious and secular, huff and puff, I wonder where else in the Middle East women in hijabs – let alone Jews – can exercise so freely,

 GIL TROY at Hadassah’s Marlene Post Patients’ Admissions Office. (photo credit: GIL TROY)
GIL TROY at Hadassah’s Marlene Post Patients’ Admissions Office.
(photo credit: GIL TROY)

I love Jerusalem’s Hamesila Park along the old railway track. This green thread winding through the city is forever buzzing.

Joggers there time-travel. You go back decades to 1949’s opening of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway, linking sovereign Israel’s two contrasting flagship cities. You go back a century-plus to 1892’s completion of the Jaffa-Jerusalem railroad, as Israel’s infrastructure develops. And you go back millennia, diving into stories, values and associations linking the Prophet Jonah’s Jaffa to King David’s Jerusalem.

Contemplating yesterday’s Jerusalem, I marvel at today’s Holy City, thinking how a once-abandoned dump blossomed into this urban oasis. And as Arabs and Jews, religious and secular, huff and puff away in the Republic of Sport, as I wonder where else in the Middle East women in hijabs – let alone Jews – can exercise so freely, I feel a renewed faith in tomorrow’s Jerusalem.

Last Tuesday, I don’t know what happened. Perhaps my head was so stuck in the Zionist clouds I didn’t watch my footwork. All I know is that taking my desire to bond with our old-new land too literally, I stumbled and fell... hard.

Runners know how to fall. Feeling protected from cyclists’ wipeouts, we fall evenly, skinning both palms, both knees, while bruising our egos. We usually heal quickly. Alas, this time, falling off-balance, I smashed my wrist on the metal pipes separating the path from the plants.

 JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day. The Kotel is the most visited site in Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day. The Kotel is the most visited site in Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Such fritzes trigger chain reactions of agony, errands, wasted time, effort and emotion, along with chain reactions of caring, community and generosity, amid medical miracles.

“I’m okay,” I said, resisting assistance as pain waves battered me. “You’re not okay,” an older couple and a younger guy insisted – lovingly. After calling my wife, the young man recognized the couple – as long-ago neighbors in the 4,500-person village of Kedumim, 58 kilometers away. They apologized for enjoying this mini-reunion while we waited – I thanked them for the heartwarming distraction.

Hollywood directs and redirects, shoots and reshoots, then edits and re-edits. In life, even if your mind edits out the seconds of trauma, you’re stuck living with the consequences of one fluke for days, months and years.

In a flash, the pain is searing, the New York trip is canceled, the summer is ruined – if you’re lucky; for others, it can be far worse.

Those cursed milliseconds explain why this Sunday morning, instead of my usual precious jog through Jerusalem, I found myself splayed out on a stretcher, arms outstretched and strapped down, like a man on a cross. Mind-altering drugs dripped through a needle into my left arm, numbing my right arm, while super-skilled humans poked and prodded inside my right wrist, rearranging, repairing, drilling and fastening, leaving some metal souvenirs behind. Serenaded by Hebrew, Russian, Arabic and English, punctuated by beep-beep-beeps, everywhere I looked I saw monuments to human intelligence: each surgical light, computer, medical machine and medical worker carries centuries of genius, reflecting the sacred intersection of faith and science.


Medicine reveals our civilization at its most rational, mechanical and technical. The precision every procedure demands, let alone every hospital’s administrative wizardry, testifies to our extraordinary brainpower, individually and collectively. And the results, giving life, fighting death, fixing the once-unfixable, reveal our civilization at its most inspirational, spiritual and godlike.

Suddenly you are deemed a patient – no matter how impatient you are. Frustration, fear and self-pity battle perennially with tremendous gratitude for all you still have and will have, for these medical magicians, and for all the love flowing from family, friends, community members and strangers.

So, every morning, as I struggle with one-handed-banditdom, noting that shaving is easy, but getting the toothpaste onto the toothbrush is hard, as I choose pants that simply button closed in front, I know how lucky I am to be able-bodied.

One doctor-friend wisely distinguishes between “mechanical problems” – breaks, sprains etc. – and systemic ones. To get an athlete’s pulse, you have to risk athletic injuries.

Similarly, it’s true that hours running around the medical system – including reaching three different locations for a pre-op EKG – sent my systolic blood pressure soaring 37%. Yet I remain moved by the kindness and skill of the doctors, nurses and orderlies, who welcomed me to Shaare Zedek Medical Center at 6:40 a.m. Sunday and sent us home by noon.

I ALSO feel enveloped by the love of the Jewish people as I walk the halls of Shaare Zedek and Hadassah-University Medical Center, in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, where my wrist was first set. The donor plaques create a patchwork quilt of bigheartedness.

Entering Hadassah’s Marlene Post Patients’ Admissions Office, I was thrilled to see my friend honored – this angel who, over the decades, “kidnapped” the most disfigured IDF veterans to get them treatment, led Hadassah with great vision, mentored us respectfully as brash, young Young Judaeans, and, most recently, helped launch Birthright.

Finally, from those three angel-like strangers who became friends for life, to the Herculean efforts of everyone around me to help, advise, coach, and reassure, I realize that injuries strike instantly; healing takes months, but such generosity of spirit is forever.

Recounting my experiences to a Birthright Foundation leader – as I apologized for canceling my trip this week – I said, “Of course, such kindnesses occur every day worldwide.”

While agreeing, he read my mind, adding: “But when it happens in Israel, it feels different because it’s family – and that’s why you and Natan Sharansky called your book Never Alone. He was never alone in the Gulag, and you are never alone in Jerusalem.”

So, yes, I’d happily rerun that disaster-jog safely – and never run this gauntlet of medical headaches – but I’ll keep running through my lists of blessings and heroes, appreciating how it’s taken a Zionist village to heal me.

The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism. His book Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, coauthored with Natan Sharansky, was published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.