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A Personal Relationship with God

 
 
 
 

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A Personal Relationship with God
Hadassim, Israel, 1969

By Tessa Dratt

I awoke to the sound of the alarm and automatically reached for the thermometer. I lay quietly on the cramped army cot supplied by the kibbutz school and counted the seconds. My daily chart had been showing a steady rise, and as I plotted my morning temperature on my graph, I realized it was now or never....

"Arnon, wake up...my temp's up."

"Huh?"

"Come on, Honey, we've got to do it now!"

"I'm sleeping."

"You can't sleep. Dr. Dink told us today would be the day. Come on, let's get going!"

"I can't."

"Come on, Arnon, PLEASE.... We've got to do it now - I need to keep my legs up for at least half an hour the doctor said."

"Five more minutes..."

"No way. Now! Please, Arnon. Please."

"God, I hate this!"

"Don't talk...."

"Ummm..."

"Almost there?"

"Ummm..."

"Bingo!"

I flipped over on my back, lifted my legs and propped them up against the wall. It was only 5:00 a.m., and already the heat of the day was building. No air moved in the small room, and I could feel the sweat forming on my face and under my arms. Arnon was curled up in a ball next to me, sound asleep again. I let out a slow breath and went through my ritual proposal to God:

"Dear God, give us a baby, and I promise I'll bring it up to be a good Jew. I'll keep a kosher home, I'll go to services, I'll do good deeds - anything you want, God, but just give us this baby. Look, we even came to Israel this year to work with kids - for no money - so give us a break! Please, God, just one little baby, and I'll never ask you for anything again!"

My eyes filled as they had at this time every month for the last two years, two years of testing and fertility pills, thermometers, graphs and sex on a schedule. Small salty streams traveled down my cheeks and over my chin to land finally on the sheet beneath my head.

Enough. I sniffled loudly, then calculated - fifteen minutes down, fifteen more to go, then off to Haifa and Dr. Dink. If we were on the road by 6:00, with luck, and not too much traffic, we should have no trouble finding the Hasharon Hospital in Haifa and keeping our 8:00 appointment with Dr. Jacob F. Dink, Specialist in Fertility, or was it Infertility, I always got it wrong.

For some time now, Arnon and I had been regaled with mystical tales of this good doctor's miraculous abilities. In fact, according to the wisdom of the elder kibbutz members, Dr. Dink had nothing less than a personal relationship with God. If the doctor liked a woman (and she could pay his outrageous fee), he would see to it that she would conceive promptly, with no fuss. But if, for some reason, however capricious, the doctor did not sympathize - a mole on the cheek, an unfortunately shaped nose, or an irritating manner - woe to that unhappy woman yearning for a child, because then the good doctor would not invoke his powers, and God would turn his attention elsewhere. At least, so went the kibbutzniks' stories.

Kibbutzniks, of course, had the inside scoop on just about everything - and everyone. Soon after our arrival, Arnon and I learned that there were no secrets possible here in this communal environment. Nothing and no one was safe from the serious scrutiny and concern of fellow Kibbutz members. The price of a new pair of shoes was discussed with as much fervor and subject to as many diverging opinions as the issue of Shayna Leah's impending mastectomy. You couldn't sneeze in the kibbutz kitchen, without having someone in the orange groves holler "Gezundheit...Labri'ut!" If you tried to leave the premises unnoticed, Dov and Dvora, Zvee and Amitai would materialize out of nowhere to ask where you were going, what you were going to do when you got there, when you would return, and oh, could you pick up a sack of potatoes at the market or a tube of liniment at the pharmacy.

I roused myself, set the kibbutzniks aside, and shook my sleeping husband awake. We dressed quickly and hurried outside. The temperature was rising steadily, and the air was heavy and damp. Even at this early hour, the morning sun was sharply outlined against a staggeringly blue sky. As we squeezed into our battered little red Renault, Mrs. Crackapovich ran out of the adjacent house, hair askew, house dress flapping.

"Naomi, Arnon, take me to Netanya, please, and hurry."

"We can't, Mrs. Crackapovich, we have to go to Haifa and we can't make any stops."

"Oh yes, I almost forgot, Dr. Dink. Then take me only to the main road. I'll just be a minute."

"Sleecha, sleecha. We really have to go, now! Le'hitra'ot."

We gunned the motor and took off before anyone else could waylay us. I turned my thoughts back inside, eager for signs of activity in my womb. While I knew I couldn't possibly feel anything happen at this stage, fertility had become an obsession. I cajoled the egg into coming down the tube, cheered on the schools of sperm swimming about eagerly, and fantasized furiously about bodily fluids mixing, matching and mating.

Out on the Tel Aviv-Haifa Road, Arnon tensed behind the wheel. Tour buses vied with communal taxis for the right of way, while drivers of ancient trucks were intently engaged in the beloved Israeli pastime of harassing the multitudes of smaller cars that swarmed in all directions like rats on the run. Curses and lewd gestures abounded, horns honked, tires screeched. I was sure that even the most aggressive Roman or Parisian would be brought to his knees on this busy Israeli road at rush hour.

By now, at 7:00, the heat was so intense that my shirt was pasted to the back of my seat, my hair was wet on my forehead, and I wondered if the moisture between my legs was sweat or semen. Arnon was rock silent, staring hard at the road ahead, on the lookout, I knew, for madmen on wheels. We hardly spoke. I knew better. I unwrapped a hard-boiled egg, peeled and salted it and handed it to Arnon. I passed him a bottle of tepid "meetz tapouach", a syrupy drank that passed for apple juice. I, myself, could not have considered food. I didn't want to upset the precarious balance of my internal systems by initiating any major activities like digestion or peristalsis.

Arnon chain-smoked all the way to Haifa. Other than taking drags off his cigarettes, the only time he unclenched his teeth was to howl in fury at a passing car.

"How're you doing, Arnon?" I asked his frozen profile.

"Fine." Arnon took a last drag off his cigarette, exhaled the smoke through his nose, then flicked the butt out of the window.

"You really hate this, don't you?" I asked.

"Yeah," Arnon answered. "Yeah, I hate this a whole lot. I feel like some sort of machine. All I do these days is produce and bottle sperm!"

"But...but you do want a kid, don't you? I mean, I'm not alone in this, right, Arnon?"

The little Renault swerved dangerously as Arnon dodged a sherut, one of the communal taxis, by far the worst of all vehicular hazards lose on the Israeli roads.

"Sure, I want a kid. But I want it to just, you know, to just happen. Naturally."

"But it's not happening, Arnon! Six years and nothing is happening."

There were tears in my voice. I caught hold of myself. If there was one thing I knew Arnon couldn't handle, it was tears. "I'm sorry you ended up with such a defective wife."

"Maybe it's me that's defective, Naomi, ever think of that?"

Arnon pulled another cigarette out of the pack on the dashboard and motioned for me to give him a light.

The terrain had changed from flat to hilly, and the road had begun to climb slowly, signaling the approach of Haifa. All around us were white houses and villas, dotted with flowers and shrubs - a blessed sprinkling of color on an otherwise gray-brown palette - and soon we were able to spot the Haifa port set delicately, like a precious stone, in the turquoise sea around it. The hot air was heavy with a sweet floral scent overlaid with the sour stench of curdled milk and the fishy odor of the Sea. This was the smell of Israel, and I was certain that for as long as I lived, I'd be able to summon this smell at will. It was seared into my nostrils by the heat of the Mediterranean sun.

"Arnon, slow down, we're on Hayarkon Street. See, there's the big intersection the nurse described...we'll need to take a left up ahead."

"I know, I know, I've been watching. What time is it, anyway?"

"7:45...We're good. Now all we need to do is find the doctor's building and office. Look for Misrachi 10 - a small white annex, the nurse said, right next to the large main entrance."

"I know, Naomi! You've only given me these directions a thousand times..."

"Sorry, pal..."

At the intersection, Arnon turned to me and gave me a quick squeeze and a kiss. He was all cigarettes and sweat.

"There, Honey, there's the main building! That little house must be the annex. Park right there!"

"Would you just cool it, Naomi...I'm on top of this!"

It was sticky inside the little annex. Antiseptic and perspiration hung in the close air. A large clock glared at us reproachfully from the wall. A heavy-set receptionist ushered us into a small cubicle, hardly large enough to accommodate the examining table and a straight-backed chair. I quickly stripped and donned the threadbare smock draped over the metal stirrups.

Almost immediately, the door burst open, and a tall, spare, formidable man with a drooping mustache and a starkly bald head entered the room. His bearing was so rigid, so Prussian, that I half expected him to click his heels and salute. Smiling was out of the question.

"So, Madame, shall we see how the sperm fare? Place your legs in stirrups please. Thank you, Madame. Be so kind as to open legs. Yes, that is good. Now, take deep breath and hold it. This will only take moment, Madame."

I stopped breathing altogether as the doctor worked to withdraw a sample of Arnon's sperm. As he bent over my lower half, I checked the doctor's bald head for age spots.

"Thank you, Madame. I shall study this sample under the microscope for some minutes. Please to stay and wait my return. And, please to resume breathing, Madame." Something resembling a smile flashed across Dr. Dink's mouth, and he was gone.

"How're you doing, Nome?" Arnon asked and stroked my cheek.

"Fine." I said and instantly started to cry.

True to his promise, Dr. Dink was back in the room before Arnon could even light a cigarette.

"I regret to tell you, Madame, they are all dead."

"Dead? What, dead?"

"The sperm, Madame. We know from tests, Mr. Schiller has low count, but it appears that environment in womb is hostile. The sperm did not survive even three hours. This is not good indication. Even fertility drugs cannot fight hostile womb and weak sperm. Only remaining choice is to inseminate artificially."

"How can you be sure, doctor?"

"Madame, you will not conceive unless we inseminate. We can do this, but we must wait until next ovulation, which presents problem. Your chart shows irregular ovulation cycle. Menstruations are also irregular. Please to continue taking daily temperature. Contact office when chart shows temperature rise and we will schedule procedure. You must then remain several days in hospital to ensure good result. I regret, Madame." And with a nod and a bow, Dr. Dink disappeared.

 

Life in the kibbutz chugged along under the relentless summer swelter, pulling Arnon and me in its wake. We had work to do, kids to teach, oranges to pick, meals to prepare and trucks to drive to market. I banished all thoughts of babies from my conscious mind. Arnon and I had decided to wait half a year until our return to America before inseminating anything or anyone, artificially or otherwise. But night after night, I woke up abruptly, dimly aware of an infant crying out somewhere inside me. I didn't talk to Arnon about these awakenings. I didn't talk much to anyone. In fact, the kibbutzniks noticed my unaccustomed silence. I overheard them gossiping at length and in depth about my anatomy, and bemoaning the loss of enthusiasm that had formerly had made me a favorite.

"Cheer up, Nomele," said Dvora one day as we stood together in the kibbutz kitchen shelling peas. "Cheer up, please. Ten years it took us, Amitai and me. Ten years until I conceived Shoshannah...."

I gave her a weak smile and said nothing. Dvora's two-year-old baby was pink and dimpled and beautiful with wild blond ringlets and round blue eyes. I'd take one of those in a minute, I thought. Why could Dvora do it and I couldn't? What was wrong with me? Even Rifka, the cripple, was pregnant, and she didn't even have a husband. I hardly recognized myself anymore. I felt mean-spirited and envious, the very kind of person I despised.

"Nomele, listen. Are you listening? Listen, Nomele," Dvora continued.

"The minute you will forget about it, the minute you do not worry about it or think about it, that's when you will be pregnant! Trust me, I know...."

I nodded and continued to shell the peas for dinner.

 

The heat of summer burned on. Arnon and I hardly touched. It was too hot to breathe, let alone to touch, in our small quarters, and although I still monitored my temperature daily, the line on the graph remained as flat as my stomach and robbed me of any desire but the desire to sleep.

June and July brought the "chamseen", a wild, punishing wind that blew off the desert, burned the skin and filled the eyes with flying grains of gritty sand. I began to feel poorly. I was always nauseated and suffered from one severe headache after another. I lost my appetite and grew exceedingly thin. The kibbutzniks became alarmed at my condition.

By the end of August, I was so sick, I couldn't hold down anything but tea and soda crackers and could barely drag myself through my daily routine, much less cart crates of oranges or work in the hellish summer heat of the kibbutz kitchen. Mrs. Crackapovich was designated to investigate, and Arnon, who no longer knew what to do with me, gladly turned me over to the kindly, cooing matron.

Mrs. Crackapovich had served on the staff of the clinic in nearby Netanya. She arranged for an appointment with a doctor there. She sliced through the usual red tape and waiting lists like a sharp knife dicing cucumbers. Within 48 hours, I sat stripped and sweating on the examining table of Dr. Yarkoni, a round-faced, spectacled, internist, with the thickest, tightest, blackest curls I'd ever seen on any head.

Dr. Yarkoni prodded and poked, thumped and listened, had blood drawn, and ordered specimens of all kinds. He spoke in soft and reassuring tones when he took my history. His warmth and concern touched me and broke through my armor of listlessness. He even reduced me to tears of laughter with a long and complex tale involving a cow, a kibbutznik and a circumcision. The examination completed, Dr. Yarkoni walked me to the clinic entrance:

"Call me tomorrow, motek, and I will have the results of all your tests. We cannot allow you to simply melt away. It would look bad for Israel to send you home to America in such condition. We can't afford any more bad press!"

 

"NAOMI SCHILLER, TELEPHONE...NAOMI, TELEPHONE...COME TO THE MAIN HOUSE IMMEDIATELY!"

I heard the summons over the loud-speaker system, and dropped the oranges I'd been sorting to run to the only telephone available.

"Shalom?"

"Shalom, shalom, Naomi! It's Dr. Yarkoni. Where are you?"

"I'm in the main house."

"Can you sit down somewhere, motek?"

"Yes, just a minute..."

"Naomi Schiller, my darling girl, I have news for you. You are not sick...you are not sick at all. You are pregnant! About 14 weeks, I would guess."

"Pregnant? Pregnant?" My voice rang loud and shrill inside my head.

"But how, doctor?"

Dr. Yarkoni laughed. "By the usual methods, I presume. Naomi, you are going to be a mama. I must see you again tomorrow with your husband, and we will give you vitamins and a special diet to build you up. You are going to have a baby - MADE IN ISRAEL!"

"But, Dr. Dink...Dr. Dink said...."

"Never mind, Dr. Dink! The good doctor said one thing, but God intended another. Mazel Tov, Naomi! Now go and tell your Arnon."

"But, Doctor..."

"Shah! Go and find your husband. I'll see you tomorrow in my office. Two o'clock. Now go! Shalom, Shalom."

I stood for a moment holding the receiver in my hand. Then the news slowly made its way from my ears downwards to my heart and upwards to my brain. I began to shout, to jump, to cheer and to run out of the main house to the front lawn where Dov and Dvora, Zvee, Amitai, Mrs. Crackapovich and all the others were waiting eagerly. They too had heard the loud-speaker. On the kibbutz, phone calls were no everyday occurrence.

"What's happened, Naomi?"

"Where's Arnon?"

"Here I am, Nome...what's up?"

"Ma karah, Nomi? Ma karah? What's going on, Naomi?"

Slowly, I turned round and round to look into the face of each of the kibbutzniks, one by one. My smile broadened with each turn, laughter gurgled in my mouth and joy tickled my cheeks. Finally, with all the air in my lungs, I shouted:

"I'M NOT SICK...NOT SICK AT ALL! I'M PREGNANT!!! Arnon, we did it! We did it, everyone! A baby! Made in Israel!"

Arnon grabbed me and lifted me up. Slowly and gracefully, the members of the kibbutz formed a circle around us. Everyone joined hands and began to sway and sing: "How goodly are thy tents, Oh Jacob, and thy dwellings, Oh Israel..."

Held up high, enfolded in my husband's arms, I looked up into the cobalt blue of the Israeli sky. "Thank you," I whispered.

The End

~~~~~~~

from the July 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

 

 

 

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