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Coexistence in the Maternity Ward 
Tablet Magazine - Sara Toth Stub 

For the first time, Jewish women are choosing to give birth at an East Jerusalem hospital that caters primarily to Arabs

When Cali BenEzra, an American immigrant to Israel, was expecting her first baby in her new country, she toured the usual Jerusalem hospitals—Hadassah Ein Kerem and Shaare Zedek—where most people from her modern Orthodox community in the West Bank settlement of Efrat give birth. But she found the hospitals large, impersonal, and not encouraging of her plans to try for a vaginal birth after a prior Caesarean section. Then, later, scrolling through a popular Facebook group for new mothers in the Jerusalem area, she saw a number of posts about fellow Jewish women having good birth experiences at the small St. Joseph Hospital in East Jerusalem’s heavily Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

So, at 35 weeks pregnant, she decided to take a tour.

“I went to the tour apprehensive because I didn’t know how the people at the hospital would feel about me,” BenEzra said. “At first I was afraid to tell them that I live in Efrat—I didn’t want them to think I was a crazy settler or something.” The hospital’s Facebook page refers to the 1948 Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the popular Palestinian term for the establishment of the state of Israel. Its wall of benefactors includes the states of Palestine and Qatar. And much of its staff comes from Palestinian towns in the West Bank.

Sister Valentina Sala, head midwife at St. Joseph’s hospital.
But all of these things, which had made BenEzra nervous—especially in this era of stalled peace talks and continued Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis—faded into the background as she took the tour. The staff was welcoming, listened to BenEzra’s wishes for her upcoming birth, and a doctor even gave her a checkup. And no one said anything when she told them she was from Efrat. “I’d never been in such a warm medical environment,” she told me. She decided that day that not only would she have her baby there, but she would do the rest of her prenatal checks there as well.

BenEzra is among a growing number of Jewish Israeli women who are choosing to give birth at St. Joseph, saying it is worth going out of their cultural comfort zones, crossing into the Arab part of the unofficially divided city of Jerusalem to experience the hospital’s personalized care and natural approach to childbirth. While Israel’s Jewish hospitals are known for treating patients from all sectors of society—as well as Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza— Israeli Jews seeking care at Palestinian hospitals were largely unheard of, until now.

“I think it is the first time that the Jews look for an Arab service,” said Sister Valentina Sala, a nun and midwife from Italy who was sent by her Roman Catholic religious order, the Sisters of St. Joseph, who own the hospital, to help it open its maternity ward in 2015. “Our mission as a hospital is to serve any kind of people, but this is a new experience for our staff, serving Jews.”

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