Baby Blessings

by Sarah Bernstein, Associate Director, ICCI

Baby hat and card

Some time ago, a Jewish member of one of ICCI’s Women’s Dialogue groups, who spent several summers working with senior citizens in the US, was approached by some of the seniors with a proposition. A few of the Jewish women who attend the Kislak Adult Center in New Jersey were involved in a project knitting hats for newborn babies. When the seniors heard about our women’s dialogue group they were thrilled and asked us to distribute the hats to new mothers in Jerusalem hospitals so that newborn babies of all faiths could ‘get off to a healthy start.’

The dialogue group accepted the hats with gratitude, and worked hard to put together a greeting card appropriate to the occasion with blessings from the three religions. Much care was taken to ensure that none of the blessings would offend members of another religious group. After translating the card into three languages, the women were ready to go, as part of a wider project aimed at making our Jerusalem hospitals more culturally accessible and sensitive.

The first hospital we approached refused us permission to distribute the hats – claiming that hospital policy banned the distribution of any materials on their wards. Knowing that all sorts of things are given out in Israeli hospitals, we sensed that the problem was the blessings from the three religions in three languages, and that the hospital feared a negative response from a patient or staff member.

The group therefore decided to go to a different hospital and simply try our luck. Five of us met up and drove over to Ein Kerem hospital. How odd that we felt apprehensive as we approached the ward – one might think we were trying to commit a crime, rather than give out gifts and blessings to the new-born babies. Shortly after we arrived we were told by one of the nurses that we had to get permission to distribute the hats, and we were worried that consent would be refused. However, once again our fears and stereotypes were challenged: when we found the administration offices a very nice Orthodox Jewish man expressed admiration and enthusiasm (and to our surprise even read the card aloud in Arabic) and told us to go ahead. We returned to the maternity wards and gave out the beautiful hats with the blessings attached, to a warm reception from everyone we met. People were delighted, expressed sincere gratitude and read the blessings with interest. The vast majority of the women were Orthodox Jews – a reflection of the demography of Jerusalem. We came across only two Arab women, together in the same room (an issue to which we may return after we visit more wards and see if there is a differential rooming policy, as recently raised in a Knesset committee).

The highlight came when we realized that one of the Arab women was the teacher whom we had visited after the Palestinian school bus crash, there with her newborn baby! We remembered her fear for her baby after the terrible accident, and now here she was with her baby safely born, her mother by her side. She remembered us too, and was happy to see us back again under happier circumstances. We all felt deeply moved at the wonderful coincidence that brought us back to her bedside at this fortuitous moment.

Soon we will visit another maternity ward, perhaps in East Jerusalem, to continue spreading a message of the joys of diversity as we share in the blessings of life:

May you raise this baby to study, to marry in love and to perform good deeds. (Jewish prayer book)

And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:5)

Wealth and children embellish life. (Quran –Al Kahef:45)

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