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April 19, 2020 10:25 pm
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Israeli Arab Doctors and Nurses Help Orthodox Jewish Patients With Religious Practice in Midst of Coronavirus Crisis

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Israeli-Arab Doctor Abed Zahalka hands a Torah scroll to a coronavirus patient at Maayanei Hayeshua hospital in Bnei Brak. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Coexistence between Israeli Arabs and Jews in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic found expression in two incidents that were widely shared over the weekend across various media platforms.

In one case, two Arab nurses helped an elderly man critically ill with coronavirus to lay tefillin (phylacteries), something the man was unable to do on his own because his entire left side was paralyzed.

The incident was caught on video and broadcast on Israel’s Channel 13.

In an interview with journalist Amnon Levy, one of the nurses, Khalil Ghazawi, said he and his fellow nurse were working in the coronavirus ward when the man asked them for help laying tefillin.

“We looked at each other – it was weird – we didn’t know what to do,” said Ghazawi. “In the end we put the tefillin on, we worked it out.”

“He was very happy,” he said of the patient, “and he said, ‘Thank you with all my heart.’”

“I was happy inside, believe me,” Ghazawi added.

Asked whether he had received a positive response to his good deed, he said that he “received a lot of responses,” including from hospital staff. “They were very happy,” he recounted.

The patient, he noted, ultimately recovered and has been released from the hospital.

In the second incident, Dr. Abed Zahalka, who works at the Mayanei Hayeshua hospital in Bnei Brak, brought a Torah scroll into the coronavirus ward for patients to use for daily prayer.

According to Israeli news website The Marker, Zahalka has worked in the mostly ultra-Orthodox town – which has been particularly hard-hit by the virus – for years, and feels deeply connected to the community.

“I felt like I strengthened the connection even more, that I’m a part of this place, of the people, of the tradition,” he said of the event.

“I’m a believer and I see here a lot of believers and a lot of the Bnei Brak rabbis. I also think there is a connection between belief and the success of a treatment: you see people who just give up, in contrast to people who were in a very critical condition and deal with the disease in an amazing way and get better,” he added.

“I feel at home here, and not just at the hospital, but in general in Bnei Brak,” he noted. “I’m like a member of the household for many families in the town.”

“I even know the Jewish halacha (traditional laws) very well,” he added.

Nurse Michal Ben Dov said of Zahalka’s good deed, “It gives them meaning and strengthens them, and it helps them recover. These people who are accustomed to pray every day, and in a very difficult reality here in isolation – it gives them strength.”

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