Why Beit Shemesh Might Mean Something to Me After All

The waiting room in Assuta Hospital in Rishon Litzion is small and by no means cozy.  The chairs are set up in a way that maximizes the seating space while inconveniencing the actual sitting process.  The TV is on, blaring from behind the seats, forcing people to turn their heads up and around, mostly in annoyance, as they pretend not to watch the mindless dribble meant as a distraction.

I am nervous and impatient.  My husband is sitting next to me.  It is too public a place for me to tell him how badly I want him to hold my hand.  I don’t know what to expect behind the sliding doors.  I’m not sure how my children are going to handle this next week.  I don’t like doing things that hurt, regardless of how necessary they might be.  I hate that I will need to ask for help and accept  it in whatever form it comes.  The fears are trembling through my body, wanting to be eased by something other than the typical pat on the back and reassuring smile.

There are two women chatting comfortably nearby.  I am jealous of their relaxed attitude and wonder if they can see the churning in me.  As if reading my mind, one of the women looks up at me and smiles.

“Hey, maybe here’s a customer,” she says, and it takes me a moment to realize she means me.

I look at her questioningly as she hefts a large bag up on her lap and rummages about.

“Would you like some books?” she asks.


“I’m a librarian at the Benjamin Library in Beit Shemesh” she begins.

“Oh!” I exclaim.  “We’re from Beit Shemesh too!”

She laughs, although she doesn’t seem too surprised.  I get the feeling she’s talked to a great many random people.

“Well, we have something called the Wandering Library.  We give out books and ask you to pass it on when you’re done.  I give books to people all the time.  I go everywhere with this bag, and I always have a selection of books for all types.  So, what kind of books do you like?”

And then she starts pulling out books and I am going through them and I am not thinking about my fears at all.

I choose two children’s books to bring back for my daughter and a Steinbeck novel for my recuperation.  After a bit of a friendly conversation, the women get called in and I watch them disappear behind the sliding doors.  I am no longer afraid.

My mood lightens up and I spend the moments leading up to the operation in casual conversation with my husband, who I can see now is probably more nervous than I was.  We part with a smile.

The next morning as I leave the lobby supported by my husband, I see the woman from the night before with similar bandages on her face.

“Not that bad – right?” she smiles and I feel a kinship that warms me throughout.

I get home, climb into bed and begin a three day journey of “East of Eden”.  I am deep in the book, away from the excruciating pain and the feeling of helplessness as my family quietly functions around me.  I read of relationships formed, severed and carefully mended as Steinbeck rips open the human capacity for love and hatred and exposes the nature of connections.

I close the book on day four and breathe deep with a new appreciation for air.

In my inbox is an email from a woman asking if I am who she met in the waiting room of Assuta Hospital, and if so, wishing me a sincere refuah sheleima.  I am overcome with the thoughtfulness of her gesture.  I think of how I last thought of my hometown.  I had lost faith in humanity.  I had seen fighting that sickened me and had decided to stick to myself and forget about others.  I am ashamed.  I want to be someone who reaches out and brightens the world just a little.

And then I think of the concept of the book, that we, as humans, can overcome our natural disposition and be who we have the strength to be, through choice.

The last word of the book I was given by a complete stranger rushes back at me with force.


I resolve to be more proactive in kindness and to never give up on the strength of human connections.

One thought on “Why Beit Shemesh Might Mean Something to Me After All

  1. Karen, I had read that before and realized You were the nice lady with the bag of books. Wonderful, thanks for sending again. That is big. v


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