Rachel Gemara, RN (Courtesy) (Courtesy)

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“We’re in this fight together. We’re going to come out of this stronger and more united as a nation than ever before,” said Rachel Gemara, RN.

By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler

When Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem asked its medical staff six weeks ago who would be willing to volunteer to treat coronavirus patients should there be a need to open a special unit, Rachel Gemara, RN, immediately offered her services. Shortly thereafter, the pandemic became serious. Gemara has been on the front lines ever since.

“Others were scared to volunteer their services,” she told United with Israel (UWI). “I knew I was taking a risk but I saw it as a national calling.”

The Toronto native moved to Israel in 2006. Before shifting gears, she worked in the oncology ward. Now, she works 12-hour shifts, three times per week with coronavirus patients.

“Though I know I have stepped into dangerous territory, I feel Shaare Zedek does everything possible to protect us,” she said. “We have enough protective gear and good procedures in place to keep us safe.”

Gemara praised Israel for its handling of the crisis. Though people are still getting infected, rates have slowed and hospitals have not been overwhelmed. “Everyone who needs a bed, gets one,” she said. “We haven’t faced the dilemma like other countries of judging who gets a ventilator because good systems were put into place early on. Israel’s hospitals remain one step ahead and even have prepared units for corona patients that have not yet been used.”

She noted that coronavirus is “an illness unlike anything we have ever seen.”

“Doctors, nurses and patients are all going above and beyond the call of duty during these challenging times, doing things that we rarely see,” Gemara added.

Due to coronavirus restrictions, family members, friends and caretakers cannot be with patients. Though this puts additional strain on medical staff, everyone is pitching in to help. Stories abound of medical staff singing and praying with patients and doctors stepping out of their normal role, doing things to help patients and staff to keep everyone as healthy and strong as possible.

“There was a student nurse about to go off duty but instead chose to hold the hand of a dying patient,” Gemara shared with UWI. “She sang Psalms to give the person comfort and so she wouldn’t feel alone. It was very touching.”

A leading rabbi and educator was hospitalized for coronavirus just before Passover and the unit set up a beautiful table for the patients to have a proper seder. Oxygen tanks were arranged for those who could participate in the traditional meal.

“The sick rabbi excitedly engaged the patients, turning this unfortunate circumstance into a positive [event] for everyone there,” she said.

“Patients helped wheel in the elderly and those who were too sick to come had visitors from the unit. At the end of the seder, everyone formed a circle and danced and sung the traditional song, ‘Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem.’ Many people had tears in their eyes. The brotherhood was so strong.”

Describing the event on her Facebook page, Gemara wrote, “I feel like I’m getting a glimpse of what the first Passover must have been like. Going through something unknown and unnerving, we were there for one another and got through it together, and these patients are doing just that right now.”

As acts of kindness abound, Gemara said, “We’re in this fight together. We’re going to come out of this stronger and more united as a nation than ever before.”

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