Search
Explore

Sleep-training in Israel. Could Ferberizing bring about peace in the Middle East? By Lynn Harris for Babble.com.

The Country That Never Sleeps

Life in Israel gave me a new appreciation for sleep training. by Lynn Harris

April 15, 2009

14

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 –

COUNSELOR: Why?

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.

The Country That Never Sleeps

Life in Israel gave me a new appreciation for sleep training. by Lynn Harris

April 15, 2009

Which brings me to my modest proposal. Israel, my friends, is a nation in need of a bedtime.

Now, I’m not going to far as to say that a peaceful two-state solution can be achieved merely by Ferberizing. (Though Ferber is the closest thing in our household to a grand rebbe.) And we know that Israelis, in large part, come by their prickliness honestly. Could you blame them? A stubbornly dismal political situation; vigilance, now, against vigilante bulldozers: it doesn’t exactly add up to a nice, laid-back Mexican “maana, maana.”

Some scholars, looking farther back, also explain that the original state’s founders and builders saw themselves as extended family. “Saying what was on their minds, touching, revealing strong feelings, disagreeing, interrupting and getting quickly to the point were not seen as rude but as familial,” noted a Jerusalem Post piece about Israeli business culture, paraphrasing the work of Ben-Gurion University research fellow Michael Feige. And let us not forget that in Israel’s collective memory – its very reason for being – lies the experience of defending oneself from persecution. This is, understandably, a nation with its hackles up.

What if the now-adult natives had grown up with some reassuring predictability? To be fair, Israel is also a nation that – even with a six-day work week – knows how to chill. Especially, but not only, in Jerusalem, where everything shuts down on Saturday. (As a cab driver of ours complained: “If I go out, I feel like Will Smith in I Am Legend!”) Buses don’t run on Shabbat, even in secular Tel Aviv. People hang out, go to the beach, visit family; that’s it. A day of rest, for real.

But still! This we know: Sleep deprivation diminishes problem-solving skills, attention span, impulse control. Perhaps even more to the point, some sort of sleep routine, and related limit-setting, is essential to child wellness – to their inner peace, if you will. And just think: what if the now-adult natives had grown up with that sort of reassuring predictability? The sense that if, God forbid, they follow someone else’s rules, they will live to tell? What if their inner children had, in the words of the sleep gurus, learned to soothe themselves?

Perhaps it’s not too late. Not to turn Israel into Lake Wobegon, but just to take a bit of the edge off. Memo to Israel: leave the “never sleeps” stuff to New York. In a country faced with legitimate danger every day, why not at least find a way to make the doctor’s office a safer place, to build calm and trust – and, yes, peace – at the post office? If not now, then for future generations? I think I’ll draft a letter to Tzipi Livni outlining some sort of sleep-routine health campaign. If they can be convinced that Bamba is healthy, then my God, bedtime should be cake.

Article Posted 6 years Ago
share this article
facebook twitter tumblr pinterest
See Comments
what do you think?
share this article
facebook twitter tumblr pinterest
See Comments
what do you think?
what do you think?
close comments
Subscribe to the
Newsletter
Welcome to
Settings
Sign Out
Follow us on
Social