Shlomo and Mazal Sa’id immigrated to Israel in 1950 from Yemen, and were sent directly to the transit camp in Nahariya. Aryeh was born in 1951.
When Mazal was pregnant with her next son (Rabbi Zechariah), Aryeh was hospitalized in Rambam and then transferred to the Carmel Hospital in Haifa (four months of hospitalization in total). Mazal was able to retrieve her boy. Her granddaughter Odelia tells the story as it was recorded by Smadar Ben Shlomo, Mazal’s daughter-in-law:
When I was about 16 my eldest son Haim was born, whose previous name was Aryeh. He was a healthy baby, happy and smiling, and I was the happiest person alive. Despite the harsh transit camp life, we were happy with what we had in realizing the dream of coming to the Holy Land. In the conditions of the transit camp diseases spread easily, especially among children. The disease eventually knocked on our door as well. One sunny day my six-month-old baby got the children’s illness of the time, an illness which required a long hospitalization period.
Every day I came to the hospital in the morning and stayed at my son’s bedside until he fell asleep. Throughout the day I took care of him and tracked his slow recovery, praying for the creator to cure and save him. At one point I felt as if he was rejecting me and preferred the nurses over me. In my deep distress I told my wise Ashkenazi neighbour, whose advice replaced the advice of the mother I did not have, of this problem. After all, I was orphaned at age three and there was much I did not understand. My astute neighbour suggested I buy a white coat similar to the ones the nurses wore and wear it when I go to visit my baby. Her advice did indeed help me and my sweet son changed his attitude toward me. Seeing me as one of the nurses, he jumped on me and clung to me. It reached a point where he preferred me over all of the other staff members. Four months passed by in this way, and day by day my baby became stronger and got well. He was joyful once again, and his weight pleased the doctors.
In the evening when I came home I shared the news with my husband and he declared that from that day onward the boy shall be called him Haim (‘life’ in Hebrew), as a symbol of life and longevity, because at the time many babies died from disease. About a week later I understood from a conversation between the medical staff that he was going to be released home.
As on every other day, I got to the hospital wearing our favorite white coat. I went into his room and the bed was empty. I asked the nurse: “where is my baby?” The nurse pointed to the doctor's room and ordered me to go there. In my heart I thought they were preparing him to be discharged, as is the procedure in the doctor's room. I went in there glowing with joy—finally, the time had come. When I entered the room, the doctor was sitting behind a table with a stern look on his face. I stood there waiting for him to speak, smile still smeared over my face—what could he possibly tell me? After all, my baby was healthy and I was taking him home.
The doctor asked me to sit down. After I sat down he sighed and his seriousness wiped the smile off my face. With great consequence he opened his mouth and said, “I'm sorry young lady, but tonight your baby's condition worsened and he died. We tried to save him, we did everything we could, but he did not survive the disease, like many other babies.”
I was shocked and burst into heartrending tears, without question or surprise. I was only 16 and did not understand much—I just cried and wailed. The nurses came in one by one to comfort me, as if accustomed to this situation, one with a glass of water and the other with a handkerchief. They started patting my face and wiping my tears, saying, "You are very young and you will have many more children, and there are girls your age who are still in school." My soul was bitter and inconsolable. After I calmed down a bit I declared, "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord" as I learned from my parents’ parents and from my aunt who raised me as a daughter.
I went to the parking lot to look for a taxi home, my soul bitter from the disaster that had befallen me. I continued to cry and approached the taxi, which was standing next to the curb. When I got close I recognized that the driver was Salem Yehudah, my distinguished neighbour who held clout in the transit camp. When he saw me and my face he stuck his head out of the window and asked after the reason for my tears.
I shared the story with him, and as I was recounting it my crying grew louder, and I wrung my hands and wailed in pain; after all, just this week the boy had felt fine and was about to be discharged.
The story did not smell right to brave Salem Yehudah—he was a middle aged man and his profession put him in contact with many people and their stories. He was an old-timer in the Holy Land and knew how to deal with the authorities. He didn’t believe their story, and I realized from his reaction that he was not going to give up. I prayed that he would do something. And indeed, as if reading my mind, he got out of the taxi in fury, locked the door, and asked me to accompany him to the ward and show him the doctor, so that together we could demand from them to show us the baby’s body.
He walked into the ward with a furious face, his height and broad shoulders intimidating passers-by. I staggered after him as my own powers were running out. I saw the doctor pass us by and whispered to Salem Yehudah, “that doctor.”
He approached him and unequivocally demanded, shouting: “where is the baby’s body?! Show us the body. We must bury the baby ourselves.” The doctor was startled, but recovered immediately and patted Salem Yehudah on the shoulder amicably, saying, "Let's go into this room sir," and I naively thought we would be shown the dead baby.
Once in the room my dear neighbour roared, “Show us the body!” The doctor began to stammer: Chevra Kadisha [the Jewish burial society], the hospital’s Rabbi, burial, I did not understand a thing. My savior and protector realized the truth of the matter very quickly. He reached and ripped the telephone cord from the wall in anger, threatening the doctor. If the doctor wouldn’t tell us what happened to the baby, he would strangle him with the cord, and didn’t care if he went to jail for it. As he spoke he strung the cord around the doctor's neck and I stood there rooted to the spot, unable to speak or move.
The door was shut. The doctor himself had closed it with his shameful secret. No one came to his aid and in his distress he saw his end nearing and stammered, "the baby didn’t really die, his condition worsened and so we took him to another hospital in Haifa where they have more advanced devices and medical specialists." Salem Yehudah released his hold of the doctor's neck, saying: "Write us a letter to the hospital to which you transferred the baby and in the letter tell them to return him to us." And the doctor wrote the letter with trembling hands, and my saviour shouted angrily, "Write the name of the hospital!"
And so we walked out of the ward, Salem Yehudah and I, cursing the doctors, the nurses, and the government. I naively asked: “Why the government what has it done?” He stopped for a second and said: “You do not understand, they steal babies and sell them to people who do not have babies.” And I did not care for anything other than my baby son as I ran after him with renewed vigor and power from the force of these news.
He took me in his taxi to the bus station and gave me money for the trip. From there I rode to the hospital on a dirt road—part of which I walked by foot so as to save money for the trip back—equipped with a letter confirming that my baby was alive and well. I tore one of my shoes and tied it back together with a piece of string I found on the road. Night fell and I kept looking for the hospital to which my kidnapped son, the apple of my eye, was taken.
Finally I arrived, scratched and bruised from the journey; it was almost midnight. At the entrance to the hospital stood a huge guard dog and two locked glass doors, dim light shining through them. I tried to bring my hand up to the doorbell without angering the dog but he stood up and started barking. I was scared and in my extreme distress—a result of all I had went through that day and my worry for my baby—I reached for the doorbell, risking a bite from the dog.
A nurse came to the glass door and pointed to the clock on the wall, indicating it was past visiting hours. I waved the letter in my hand but it did not work. She just carried on gesturing towards to the clock. It was only when I started to show signs of distress and she noticed my torn shoes and injured legs that she agreed to let me in. After seeing the letter she took me to Haim’s room, where many more babies lay like little angels. My happiness knew no bounds. My soul returned to my body. There was but a step separating me and kidnapping him from his bed before “the government” would change its mind.
I summoned all the restraint I could in order to not wake him up and anger the nurse who took pity on me. I asked her quietly if I could take him. She looked at me in amazement and said: "How exactly will you get back? There is no accessible transportation at these hours, and besides only a doctor can release him and he will only come in the morning." I stood in place, hoping that the nurse would let me stay until the morning, but as if reading my mind she declared: "You cannot stay here.” I did not dare to protest, and in my heart I thought I would suffer anything for my little baby.
I went out and sat down at a safe distance from the dog. The night was very cold and I kept myself warm with good thoughts about what the morning would bring. The dog started barking again and the nurse came out. When she saw me sitting on the floor and realized why the dog was barking she let me in and offered me a chair and a blanket. She chose to break the rules, if only make sure that the dog would not wake the patients. At dawn I fell asleep, while having a nightmare that my baby was taken away from me by force and was crying.
I woke up startled and indeed another baby's cry was waking up the rest of the babies. I dashed into the room and took my baby in my arms as my tears streamed down uncontrollably.
The nurse came in with a breakfast tray. As she handed me the tray she said that she hoped my baby would eat, as yesterday he had cried a lot and didn’t eat a thing. What could I say? I resorted to the "and Aharon did not speak" method—I preferred to remain silent and get out safely with the baby alive and well. The apple of my eye ate the food until the last bite and I cried with joy. The nurse came back in to pick up the trays. She probably thought I had eaten the contents of the tray but in order to not embarrass me said nothing. She returned with my letter in hand. "The doctor signed, you’re free to go," she said.
I wrapped him in a hospital blanket and promised her I would return the blanket to the hospital close to where I lived. I leaped out like an arrow from a bow, set off on the rough road, with little money for travel, without shoes, and with my treasure in my arms. I travelled part of the way on foot, and the other part of it I plead for rides from drivers that happened to come my way. I returned home to our warm hut which in those moments, with my beloved darling in my arms, seemed like a palace.
Smadar Ben Shlomo,
Mazal’s Daughter-in-Law (Haim’s wife)