By Amy Levinson
Patients and their families in a shelter at Barzilai Medical Center. Photo by AP
Surreal. There is no other way to describe it.
I am waiting in the delivery ward, down the hall from the room where my daughter is about to give birth to our first grandchild. I am waiting for the happiest, the best of all possible news, while the country is becoming more embroiled by the moment in a military operation in the Gaza Strip that threatens to spiral into chaos, paralyzing our lives, stopping our hearts, causing untold damage, injury and death.
Heart-rending screams. Gut-wrenching groans. Women are giving birth here, after all.
It occurs to me, in a fleeting moment of clarity, that this is the only place in the world where pain is natural and moans of anguish are, well, the norm.
I follow the doctors, nurses and midwives scurrying about, with tired and droopy eyes.
My stomach is churning.
My sons, the uncles of this as-yet-unborn child, are both Israel Defense Forces officers. They are not with us in the waiting room here, as we’d hoped. They will not share in the exquisite euphoria we will undoubtedly experience in those precious moments after the birth.
The two of them, one in the regular army and one in reserves, have been called down south, along with tens of thousands of their comrades-in-arms in advance of a possible incursion of ground forces.
Dazed by a peculiar mix of anxiousness and excitement, I can’t help but be struck by the irony: Here I am sitting in the labor ward of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. Just a stone’s throw away is the main IDF induction base, where each of my three children was brought on the very first day of their military service. I had kept joking with the boys until the very last minute about how it still wasn’t too late, they could still ask for desk jobs.
For my part, I have consoled myself and my liberal conscience over the years with the thought that the IDF will be a more human and humane place with officers such as my two sons serving in it. My apprehension was diluted by pride. Now it’s returned with full force.
At this particularly poignant juncture, I also recall the long-standing, familiar Israeli mantra whereby we – along with all Israeli mothers and fathers – deluded ourselves into thinking and declaring, upon the birth of our sons, that by the time they grew up and turned 18, there would be peace, there would no longer be a need for them to fight.
American-born and Israeli-by-choice, a person who describes herself as belonging to the so-called and sometimes-maligned left wing, I was always particularly good at deluding myself. I have always clung to the naive idea that problems can be solved by means of dialogue and compromise.
And I have a Peace Now sticker on my car along with the insignia of my son’s infantry unit.
Now, above me on the muted waiting-room television, the latest headlines and images flash – warning sirens sounding simultaneously in four Israeli locales, death and destruction after an aerial attack on Gaza. My throat constricts. Tears well up. Where are my sons, I wonder.
I catch a glimpse of some nurses and doctors going in and out of my daughter’s room. Why is the delivery taking so long, when we thought she was going to give birth over an hour ago?
A phone call from my son-in-law, summoning us to the delivery room. We rush in, hearts pounding.
“Do you see her?” my daughter asks, eyes glistening. “She’s perfect.”