War and new life

by Brian on December 31, 2023

in A Parent in Israel,Just For Fun,Politics,War in Gaza

On the night of October 6, our two-year-old grandson, Ilai, had a sleepover at Saba and Savta’s house. Our plan was to give his parents a night off. We would take our precious little boy to Simchat Torah services the next day and his parents would join us whenever they woke up.

Merav and Gabe with baby Roni

Instead, we spent much of the morning of October 7 running up and down the stairs to our bomb shelter.

Nine weeks later, we were babysitting overnight again, this time because Ilai’s parents were at Hadassah Medical Center as our daughter, Merav, was in labor to deliver Ilai’s baby sister.

As we set out for synagogue on Friday night with Ilai in tow, I had an evil premonition. 

“I bet there will be another siren,” I said to my wife, Jody, “since Ilai is with us again for Shabbat.”

Maybe I should have put out into the universe a more positive intention.

No sooner had we arrived at shul than, true to my paranoid prediction, there was a siren – a cynical way for Hamas to “welcome” the Sabbath Queen. 

We calmly filed into the adjacent safe room and started the service there. We waited for the booms of the Iron Dome, then returned to the main sanctuary. 

Meanwhile at Hadassah, Merav and Gabe had to flee temporarily into the stairwell. Fortunately, her contractions weren’t too tough at that point.

24 hours later, Roni Maayan was born.

Her name – like everything these days – is infused with significance. We had wondered, for example, whether Merav and Gabe would pick a name that related to the war somehow. Indeed, they did, and then went even further.

“Roni’” in Hebrew can be translated as “Ron sheli” or “my song, my joy.”

“We are giving her this name in the hope of having the tools to light up the dark times of the world into which she was born and to bring song, love and peace into it,” Merav wrote in a social media post announcing Roni’s arrival.

Roni is also named after Ron, Merav’s great-grandfather and Jody’s father, who passed away two years ago. 

Her middle name, Maayan, references our cousin Marla Ann Bennett, who was killed in the terror attack at Hebrew University in 2002. 

“I was so close to Marla,” Merav explained. “I knew, one day, if and when I had a daughter, I would name her after Marla in some way. We connected ‘Marla’ and ‘Ann’ to form ‘Maayan.’”

This is not the first time someone in our family has received a name relating to real-world events.

We gave Merav the middle name “Yonit” when she was born in 1993, to mark the Oslo Accords and treaty with Jordan. “Yonit” means “little dove,” a fitting expression of the hope for peace. 

While Oslo didn’t quite work out as those of us who supported the accords expected, Roni’s message of hope is more universal. In years to come, when Hamas is presumably vanquished and a new reality has taken hold in the Middle East, Roni’s “song of joy” will be even more appropriate.

Another change for Roni’s birth: Merav and Gabe chose Hadassah in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood, rather than St. Joseph, which they had used when Ilai was born. (See my article about St. Joseph’s here.)

St. Joseph is an Arab-run hospital located in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. Two years ago, St. Joseph was the “in” spot for Jewish Israelis in the Jerusalem area wishing to give birth in a less invasive, quieter environment than the city’s two main medical centers – Hadassah and Sha’arei Tzedek. 

About 15% of the patients at St. Joseph at the time were Jewish women. The rooms have crucifixes or a depiction of Jesus, but the staff would take those down if it made the birthing couple uncomfortable.

Things started to change at St. Joseph when Sister Valentina Sala, the hospital’s head midwife, who was dispatched from the Vatican to Jerusalem to establish the new ward, was reassigned earlier this year to replicate the St. Joseph model in Europe. Reports from Jewish parents who labored at St. Joseph since then reported the atmosphere was not as congenial as it had been previously.

But it was the war with Hamas that sealed the decision to opt for Hadassah. East Jerusalem didn’t feel comfortable anymore. 

Ironically, the doctor who delivered Roni at Hadassah was an Arabic-speaker. 

Roni and her parents are now home where Ilai is adjusting (read: considering how best to act out) to his new family situation. Roni is quite delicious and I’m sure she and Ilai will eventually become good friends. (Emphasis on the word “eventually.”)

When Ilai was born in 2021, I wrote here that, while it’s a cliché to say I fell in love with the little guy the first minute I met him, sometimes cliches are true. 

“It’s not his witty jokes, his seamless repartee or his physical actions that led to this love affair,” I said at his brit milah. “It’s a visceral, subconscious feeling that seeps over you with an intensity that’s different than even having your own children. Is it his sweet baby smell? Those little baby noises he makes that are so adorable? His perfect, beautiful lips or his incredibly soft skin? I may not be a religious person, but the first thing I thought of when I saw him was, ‘He’s a miracle.’”

The same has been true for Roni.

I wish Roni, her parents, big brother, uncles, aunts, cousins, and of course, her doting grandparents a life free from hardship, full of meaning, and imbued with light. If it takes a village to raise a happy and healthy child in today’s world, we are delighted to be that village.

I first wrote about the convergence between war and new life for The Jerusalem Post.

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