Recently I heard of several women in their early 40s who grew weary of the business world and decided to go back to school and study nursing. They felt an urge to make a difference and to do a meaningful work. Hospitals in Israel offer today a shortened nursing course for university graduates in mid-career who are ready to make such a change.
Traditionally nursing, together with teaching and social work, was one of the few career choices open for women. The inspiring book by Jennifer Worth, and BBC British TV series it is based on “Call the Midwife,” portray a vivid and accurate picture of life of a nurse in the East End of London in the 1950s. At that time in Britain only 1% of women went to university and only 2% went to professional training courses like nursing.
A few years earlier across the sea, my mother was such a nurse in Mandatory Palestine . Like Worth’s midwives, she was always passionate about nursing and proud of her vocation. In 1936 two new hospitals were founded in Palestine, one in Jerusalem and one in the area of Tel Aviv, and they also offered nursing training. My mother, who immigrated with her family a year earlier, was one of the first nurses to be trained in Palestine. At that time nurses had to board at the dorms in the hospital and were not allowed to marry in the 3 years of their training. Although my mother had met my father soon after she arrived to Palestine, she only married him 7 years later after graduating from nursing school.
I know that my grandfather insisted that my mother, his only daughter, would pursue further education, but am not sure why, especially as her brothers did not go to university. I would like to think that he believed in education and wanted her to have a profession so she could be financially independent and would not have to rely on a man. But perhaps, like Rachel’s father Laban, he wanted to test my father's love and endurance.
Only when I grew up I started to appreciate my mother's determination and diligence; it was close to impossible to be accepted to nursing school in Palestine at that time. There were only the two schools and being a new immigrant she didn’t know the necessary Hebrew. She applied at least two times, but as her Hebrew was not good enough, her application was rejected. She worked even harder on her language skills and finally was accepted in 1939.
Like in Britain in the 1950s where only 25% of the mothers worked outside the home, growing up in the in Israel at that time, not many of our mothers worked outside the home. My mother worked as a nurse in our community until she retired, and even afterwards she continued to attend professional lectures because she was curious to learn about new professional developments.
Although as a child I complained when we went out and people would stop my mother in the street asking for medical and personal advice, I was proud of her knowledge and empathy. I believe that these two qualities are essential for a nurse, and perhaps they explain my grandfather’s decision: he was sure that my mother had the empathy but helped her acquire the necessary knowledge.
In honor of my mother, nurse Matilda
Photos: my mother in the hospital during nursing training, with a friend on the right side, graduation my mother is in the center.
PS. The British Mandate in Palestine lasted from 1920 until 1948, at that year David Ben Gurion declared its independence and the state of Israel was established..