The Country That Never Sleeps
Life in Israel gave me a new appreciation for sleep training. by Lynn Harris
April 15, 2009
My OB in Jerusalem this summer showed up for our first appointment wearing clamdiggers and a ratty backpack. Swear to God I thought he was going to say, “Listen, can we meet back here in twenty? There’s a Hootie tribute at the Chagall windows.” Bit of a shock, yeah, but I loved it: he was a gracious, attentive doctor, and he embodied classic Israeli informality at its refreshing, well, not-finest. It’s the same unfussiness, we think, that means doctors return calls (and emails) – and, as we also learned, actually take calls, on their cells, during their annual stints on active military reserve duty. Pre-natal technology there is also tip-top; my quickie preliminary amnio results came via a fancy technique that, as our doctor made sure to let us know, is not yet available in the States.
And so it is that being pregnant in Jerusalem, as I was for three months this summer while my husband was on sabbatical, immersed us deeply in Israeli culture at its most magnificent – and also at its most maddening.
Israelis, on the whole, are a famously tetchy bunch. Known for being brusque, impatient, irritable, they even have a word – frier – for those suckers who obey rules (traffic and otherwise) or, God forbid, wait their turn.
In fact, in response to mounting chaos in post offices and waiting rooms across the land – the other Middle East peace crisis – the government finally installed those little number-taking machines, like at Zabar’s, to prevent the hordes from storming any given bureaucratic Bastille. (So now what happens? Every waiting area – in my experience, mostly the hospital billing office and blood lab – forms its own Lord of the Flies society with a self-appointed Expediter announcing the numbers aloud and destroying, with merely a glance, anyone who hesitates, or shows weakness. He or she is encircled by hover-ers, those too fidgety to sit out their turn even though it’s fifty people away. Once, mistakenly, I cut the line, and almost wound up with my clueless Anglo head on a stake.)
And once, after meekly enduring just such a wait, we arrived – somewhere in Hadassah Medical Center – for our pre-amnio genetic counseling. After the counselor yelled at us for having been told to find her in a different office, we had the following delicate exchange:
COUNSELOR: Are you an only child?
ME: Yes, I –
Israeli kids, around whom the universe revolves (that axis, as it turns out, is not in Park Slope) are also known for being wee tyrants, mini-Expediters in the making. The classic kindergarten reproach: “Children! Settle down! This is not the Knesset!” Practically every parent we met was blown away that our near-two-year-old, Bess, said “Please” (though primarily with regard to Bamba, the peanutty Cheeto-y snack that, scandalously, is “the strongest children’s brand name in Israel”). And that Bess went to bed without complaint when WE put HER down, and slept through the night. Yes, we made the rules, and yet no, we are not raising a frier.