A local gal making a difference during COVID
by Lisa Presman
What’s it like to grow up working to change the world? That is the essence of Clara Levy, a member of the Kehillat Netzach Israel Ashkelon Tikun Olam Committee and the Tsavata Ashkelon Rotary Club. For changing the world for Clara also means making a difference. A difference in the lives of other people and a difference in the world. As Clara puts it, " I can't change you, but I can change me and then we can change the world."
Clara was born in Israel in 1957. Her parents came from Tripoli, Libya in 1949 to the new Jewish State, not knowing that they would meet and marry here. They lived in the tents and worked the land in the South. Her parents loved the land and worked hard to bring up their seven children in this new country. Clara was brought up on Moshav Shiqma, just outside of Ashkelon. Her parents had found Herzl's dream but Clara longed for more. She was not enamored with life on a Moshav and from her early days she dreamed a dream of her own.
Clara loves family life and remains close to her brothers and sister. They still gather on the Moshav in her parent's home, the place of so many celebrations and memorials. A place that was open to all and where guests were always around the table. It was never too full "we grew to understand that we have to create everything and build everything ourselves." Clara was destined to take her love of family and community outside of Israel. She loved traveling the world and learning about other cultures. "I saw people that didn't have anything and they were happy. We take too much for granted today. "Her dream of expanding her universe became all consuming.
Clara's adventures also took her into the world of science and she decided to nursing school. "I wanted to learn to make a change and I love excitement. I love the 'mysterious' in science." She was "wowed" that she could really make a change that could affect someone's life. "There is always something new and you can make a difference, you are involved in bringing life to the world in the delivery room, when a person is in a car accident, you can help them survive and you are a part of that." Little did she know that she had actually returned to her roots, embracing others in a community that was nurturing, never boring, and filled with possibilities.
After working at Barzalai Hospital in Ashkelon in the 1980's, she went on schlichut to the U.S. as part of a Jewish Agency program to send Israelis to the diaspora. In her travels she met her future mate, Don Levy, at a Jewish summer camp where she was a nurse. She invited him to join her family for the High Holidays when he came to Israel later that year for Rabbinical Seminar. Although her father was a bit dismayed when she announced they wanted to marry, he trusted his daughter. You see, it was a tradition that the groom would come from a family that could be "checked out". But this was the new world, and Clara had both feet firmly planted in it. Clara became the wife of an U.S. Air Force Chaplain and the mother of two wonderful children, Eyal and Ma'ayan,
Clara knew that there would be a time when she would return to the land and her Israeli family. Don retired and made Aliyah four years ago and Clara returned to hospital nursing at Barzalai. She was needed to help more than any time in the past. The COVID pandemic would cover the world, and Clara would be at the heart of it, in a COVID hospital. Clara works on a stepdown unit that takes internal medicine patients and patients that have recovered from COVID-19.
I asked Clara what it is like being in a hospital today working with COVID patients, "The stress level was much higher in the early days of the pandemic and it is better now. She says, "the staff are learning to work with the issues of COVID and to understand it better. There is still fear but it is better. We have learned so much more about the virus and what to do and how to handle it." Nurses were given special training for all aspects of COVID. "You have to learn how long you can stay with a patient when you wear PPE, you can't breathe, you can't see, you have to throw everything away after each time you are with a patient. You never go into a COVID room unless you have to." It was hard for her to realize that she couldn't be the nurse that she loved being: the one who talks and listens to all her patients. A nurse who makes personal connections with the sick to help them heal.
Clara's deep desire to care for those at the hospital is not in isolation. As a member of the Kehillat Netzach Israel Ashkelon Tikun Olam Committee and the Tsavata Rotary Club, her food deliveries and phone calls warm the hearts, minds and bodies of those that she reaches out to each week.
Nothing has come easy for anyone during the pandemic, and it is a concern of Clara. "You have to get up in the morning, eat and exercise. Take care of yourself and find the positive. We have to help friends and one another." Helping and making a difference in the lives around her, that is the change that Clara Levy sees in the world, especially during a pandemic.