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June 23, 2016 2:24 am

Finding Faith in an Unlikely Place: Arab and Israeli Children Bond at a Pediatric Hospital

avatar by Chani Ugowitz

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The two boys in the hospital. Photo: provided.

The two boys in the hospital. Photo: provided.

Every now and then, your faith in humanity is restored — and it’s usually at a time and place you least expect it. For me, that place was a children’s hospital in Israel. The time was the overwhelming and exhausting moment of my child being unwell.

My beautiful four-year-old son recently developed a hip disorder, and is being hospitalized in order to receive intense physical therapy and hydrotherapy. While his situation is serious and we are looking at years of treatment, we are extremely grateful that it is not life threatening. He is an amazing kid who is taking it all in stride and working hard.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. My boy, Ariel, has made a friend. In the room next to him is another four-year-old boy named Nadim.

Nadim is a Palestinian Arab.

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Ariel is an Israeli/American Jew.

Nadim speaks only Arabic.

Ariel speaks English and Hebrew.

These two boys can’t say one meaningful word to each other besides “batata” — the Hebrew word for sweet potato, which little kids think is so darn funny. Yet they communicate as only little kids can. Ariel and Nadim chase each other in their wheelchairs, play table basketball together, and just laugh. Nadim’s mom, in full hijab dress, and I walk side by side down the hallway following our boys. She occasionally says something to me in Arabic, and I to her in Hebrew, knowing that we each don’t get it. But we kind of do. The laughter and smiles express that. We walk together as two mothers enjoying the crazy antics of our children.

I’m not a stranger to conflict or a dreamer. I live in Gush Etzion in Israel. The West Bank. Over the Green Line. My husband, the gentlest, most accepting, non-discriminatory person, carries a gun in the event that he needs to protect his family or fellow Jews from a terror attack. I know the fear of driving with kids in the car and scanning the sides of the road for rock-throwers or worse. I live near red signs declaring that Israeli citizens cannot enter specific areas without putting their lives at risk. I don’t blink at the sight of boys dressed in full combat gear near our local supermarket ready to neutralize a terrorist.

Yet in our sheltered existence at a children’s hospital, we are all human. A child is a child. A mother is a mother. A doctor or therapist is there to heal, and there is no regard for outside dress, custom, or ideology. When people are stripped down to their essence, the politics, incitement, fear, and hate melt away.

It really is sad that this isn’t our reality outside of these walls. Nadim’s mother pinches my son’s cheek and kisses his face. Another Arab mother calls my son a chamud — sweetie — at the pool. I tell her that her daughter is beautiful. Because she really is very pretty.

Why can’t people be allowed to live and let live? Why do we have to feel so much fear and hate? I hope that kids like Nadim grow up to remember the love and care they received in an Israeli hospital, and the fun Israeli friends that they met along the way. I hope that mothers, like Nadim’s mom, internalize what they’ve experienced and break the chain of educating children to believe lies. I hope that children like my Ariel always see others for who they are, and not just what they look like on the outside.

It’s moments like this that awaken the possibility of change and peace. Faith is restored.

May we be worthy of seeing peace in our lifetime, and may our children do better than we have done.

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  • Susan Bergman

    So well said. We are all the same inside. Hatred is learned- we all need to stop it when we see it. World leaders could learn a great deal from these 2 four year old boys.

  • Jay Lavine

    Children intuitively understand many things better than adults do.

    As we grow up, we become indoctrinated and calloused, suppressing the inherent wrongfulness of many things adults accept without questioning, rationalizing behaviors by saying “it’s always been done that way” or “everyone is doing it.” It applies not only to people of other cultures or creeds but to all of briyut (Creation). For example, there are children who refuse to eat meat from day one because they intuitively grasp the sanctity of all life that exists as part of the same spectrum.

    We would do well to learn from our children.

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