(a composite from the Hebrew press, February 18, 2021)
Maher Ibrahim (see picture below) is a Muslim who lives in the bedouin village of Daburiyya at the foot of Mt. Tabor. He works as the head nurse in the Covid-19 ward in Ha’Emek Hospital in Afula in the north of Israel. Recently he found himself in a most unusual situation that led to him to take a Siddur (Jewish prayer book) and read the “Sh’ma Yisrael…:” (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” Deuteronomy 6:4) for a patient – a Chabad chassid, Shlomo Galster, 74 years old.
In the words of Nurse Ibrahim:”There was a religious, Jewish patient whose condition was deteriorating quickly towards death. We contacted the family and they set out on a journey from the area of Netanya to Afula, and were delayed by weather and traffic. All their way we prayed that the family would make it in time – at least to see their father in his final moments. Unfortunately, his death was imminent and would occur before the family would arrive.”
He related on a radio program this morning that his professional experience had taught him that many people, regardless of religious affiliation, ascribe tremendous importance to the final prayer before death:
“I studied for an MA in gerontology at Ben Gurion University (Beer Sheba), and I took a couple of courses in Judaism. One learns how to connect Judaism to the world, to life and death. I’m not familiar with all the (Jewish) prayers, but I know that it is customary to say “Sh’ma Yisrael” before the end of life, so I stood at the head of the bed and said, “Sh’ma Yisrael”. By the time his daughter arrived, it was too late – he had already expired. I could see that she was looking for closure, so I told her what I had done.”
He added: “I told the daughter that I didn’t know if what I did was acceptable or not because I’m Muslim and he’s Jewish. But I said it (the Sh’ma) and if he heard me, then the prayer was the last words he heard…” According to Maher, towards the end of Shiva the daughter called him and said that his actions were the only thing that gave her comfort, and that she looked forward to the end of Corona to give him a hug.
Maher: “The reaction of the daughter warmed my heart. Sometimes we’re the last voice that a patient hears, especially during COVID-19 with the closed wards and inability to arrange meetings with the families. We (the staff) need to be human beings for the patients before we are there for them as medical professionals. This is what needs to be done and we will continue to do.”