Faygie Strauss was the picture of calm as she sat in the lounge chair in front of her tiny duplex apartment. Her head, covered by a curly blonde wig, was tilted back and her eyes were half closed. Rosh Chodesh had just passed and there was almost no moon, but the tiny glow of the Shabbos candles in the window behind her showed her face to be perfectly relaxed. Her hands were folded over her large belly; she was waiting as if waiting was the only thing she had to do. Her husband, Chaim, stood at the edge of their little lawn, a sharp contrast to Faygie. He paced up and down, keeping his eyes on the street, and constantly readjusting his hat on top of his head.
"How are you doing?" he called to his wife for the umpteenth time.
"I'm fine, Chaim." Her voice was serene, but he did not find it comforting.
Finally he heard the sound of a car motor. As the noise grew closer, Chaim visibly relaxed. Even Faygie sat forward in her chair, only to sit back again, as she saw the approaching vehicle was not the long awaited taxi, but a pickup truck with mag wheels and a blaring radio. Chaim was not to be deterred though. He ran to the street waving his arms.
"Help, help," Chaim called to the driver and his longhaired companion. "My wife's having a baby and we need a ride to the hospital."
The driver and his friend stared at Chaim as if he were a creature from another planet. Indeed, he was dressed differently than they were. Both were shirtless, revealing their tattooed chests covered with heavy chains. The driver had two earrings in his right ear.
"Sorry, man," he said. "I'd really like to help you, but I'm low on gas."
"I'll give you twenty dollars for the gas," Chaim pleaded.
"You'll give me the twenty dollars up front?"
"Sure," Chaim answered desperately.
In four strides Chaim was standing next to his wife.
"Let's go, Faygie."
She gave him a puzzled look.
"They're going to take us to the hospital for twenty dollars."
"I'm not going in that truck!"
"Faygie!" Chaim's voice had a note of panic in it. "You said your pains are every ten minutes."
"Yes, but this is my first baby. There's no reason to panic yet."
"So, do we have to wait until it's time to panic and then panic with no ride or anything?"
"The taxi's got to come sooner or later."
"And what if it's later?"
"Hey man," the driver called. "Are you coming or not?"
"Tell him we're not."
"Chaim, I can't even climb into that truck. Those wheels have it so high off the ground."
Faygie's eyes had her stubborn look. Feeling decidedly sheepish Chaim made his way back to the truck.
"Uh, I guess," Chaim paused to clear his throat, "my wife doesn't, um, feel like she, uh, needs to go right away. Uh, thanks anyway."
"Sure thing, man." The driver was off with a screech leaving black tire marks on the street.
"You see," Faygie called to her husband. "If they had taken us to the hospital we probably would have ended up in the emergency room.
"Yeah," Chaim shrugged.
"Chaim," Faygie said softly. "If worse comes to worst, I can ask Mrs. Ward to take us in."
"I guess so." Chaim's voice lacked enthusiasm. He had never been comfortable being friendly with non-Jews, but Faygie treated their next-door neighbor as if she was a long lost aunt. Perhaps his wife was right and all her pieces of strudel were about to pay off.
"What do you think is taking the taxi so long?" Chaim asked.
"I don't know. They said it would be about twenty minutes but it seems more like forty."
Faygie smiled, recalling how she had dialed the phone with her little finger and held the receiver with her right hand. It sure had felt strange to use the phone on Shabbos, but no stranger than the thought of getting into a car on Shabbos. She supposed it was just one of the many new experiences she had ahead of her.
"Chaim," she spoke softly, about to share some of her feelings, when her husband's head jerked up.
"Do you hear it?"
She sat still, listened, and, indeed, heard a car motor. Chaim breathed a sigh of relief, and she had to admit she was glad to see the yellow cab pull up.
"Hey,” the driver called from his open window.”Are you the people who called for a taxi?"
"We certainly are," Chaim headed towards the taxi. "What took you so long?"
"They told me West Orange instead of East. I've been driving around like…"
"We're glad you're finally here," Chaim interrupted. "We're on our way to the hospital. Could you help my wife with her bag?"
"I guess so." As the driver opened the door he gave Chaim a funny look.
Faygie noticed and knew that Chaim had also. She realized that he was embarrassed by the slouch of his shoulders.
"My husband has a bad back." She smiled at the man as he took her suitcase and silently asked HaShem to forgive her white lie.
It had been about a month ago that Chaim had brought up the subject of her going into labor on Shabbos. Faygie had thought it was silly. There was one chance in seven that it would happen, but Chaim was adamant.
"You can do whatever you need to do," Chaim had told her. "Ride in a car, elevator, sign forms, whatever it takes to get you to the delivery room safely."
"What about you?" Faygie had asked.
"If you want me with you I can go, too."
"Of course I want you with me!" It was strange how Faygie had been the nervous one then.
"I want to be there, too," Chaim had smiled reassuringly. "Like I said, we can do whatever we need for pekuach nefesh. But if we can do any of the malachas before hand or have a non-Jew do them for us it would be better."
"Well, there's the car. I can drive you to the hospital but once you're there I no longer can use the car. I would have to leave the motor running and hope no one steals it. Or I could hint to a non-Jew to park and turn it off for me."
Faygie knew hinting to a non-Jew was not for Chaim. "Is there another way to get to the hospital?"
"We could ask Mrs. Ward to take us, but it probably makes the most sense to call a taxi."
"How will we pay?"
"I'll put twenty dollars in the brim of my old hat. That should cover the fare and a tip. When we get to the hospital I can take off my hat and the driver can take the money without me touching it."
"Okay," Faygie had agreed to that plan. At her next doctor's appointment she had spoken to the doctor about signing admission forms before she came in, just in case she came in on Shabbos. At first her doctor thought she was joking, but after she convinced him that she was serious he became helpful and had forms sent over from the hospital.
So it had turned out that Chaim had been right and all their planning had been a good idea.
"Are you all right?" Chaim kept asking every other block.
Faygie continued to nod her head yes, but her labor was getting stronger.
As they pulled up to the covered hospital entrance, Chaim took off his hat and held it out to the driver. He gave Chaim another funny look but this time Chaim didn't care. Faygie took her bag. Chaim had told her that she could take with her anything she needed for giving birth or for peace of mind. Earlier in the evening Faygie had decided that having food for Chaim would definitely give her peace of mind. It was bad enough he was not going to be able to daven with a minyan. She didn't want him missing his suedas, too. She set her bag filled with kugel, chicken, wine, potato chips, challah, a few personal items, and the medical forms next to the automatic door.
"We'll just wait for someone to come by and open the door for themselves and we'll duck in behind them," Chaim whispered to Faygie.
She nodded her head and out of the corner of her eye she saw a man helping an elderly woman walk towards the entrance.
"Here's our chance," Faygie whispered back.
They thought the woman's slow movements would give them ample time to slip in but they were wrong.
"Don't be so pushy," the old woman barked at Chaim.
Apparently whatever her problem was it did not affect her voice. She gave Chaim a slight push and was through the door before Chaim or Faygie could catch their breath.
"Faygie," Chaim whispered. "People are staring at us."
Chaim saw that one of the receptionists had stood up and was making her way towards them. He pointed her out to Faygie.
"What should we say to her?"
"I don't know."
To their relief they saw her take a package of cigarettes and a lighter out of her pocket. Obviously she was not coming to interrogate them. As she opened the automatic door, Faygie sneaked through but Chaim was not so lucky. The receptionist turned around to stare at him.
"Aren't you going to go in?"
"Uh, ah, well, YES."
"Don't you know how the door works? You step on the rubber mat and it opens."
"I have a pacemaker and if I open the door it might affect the pacemaker."
"Oh," the woman nodded. “I thought maybe you were one of those Amish who don't know anything about modern inventions." She stepped on the mat and lit her cigarette giving Chaim ample time to enter the hospital.
"What were you two talking about?" Faygie asked.
Chaim repeated the conversation ignoring the incredulous look on Faygie's face.
"And I felt guilty for saying you had a bad back."
"If I would have told her about Shabbos she would have thought I was nuts."
"She probably thinks that anyway."
"No," Chaim shook his head. "She thinks I'm Amish."
Faygie was still shaking her head in disbelief as they stood at the admissions desk.
"Okay, Mrs. Strauss, we'll have them wheel you up to the fourth floor."
In a moment an orderly was by her side and she was being wheeled to the elevators.
"I'll meet you up there," Chaim called and set off for the stairs.
"What's the matter?" the orderly asked. "He don't like elevators?"
Faygie smiled at the orderly's friendly face and shrugged her shoulders. She had a feeling that she was going to be in for a lot of explanations for the rest of Shabbos. Their city was not exactly a bustling center for Orthodox Jews. In fact, she and Chaim were there to do kiruv work. She assumed that none of the staff had any idea what shomer Shabbos was.
Once up on the fourth floor, the pains, which Faygie had been successfully ignoring almost all evening, became sharper. After a short wait an intern walked in and Chaim nonchalantly walked out to the hall.
"Well, you're coming along fine," the intern spoke perkily. "Doctor Warren will be here soon. In the meantime, if you need anything, just push this button." He showed her the control panel next to her bed. "This is for the nurses' station, this one is for the lights, and this one is for the TV; off, on, and volume."
The intern demonstrated turning on the TV and was out of the room before Faygie realized what had happened. Chaim returned to blaring TV showing an old Japanese war movie.
"What's going on?!"
Faygie explained briefly. "What do we do now?" she asked irritably.
"Pray for a power failure."
"That will really help a lot," Faygie groaned. "Listen, Chaim, Dr. Warren understands about Shabbos, sort of. When he comes in we'll just hint we don't want to watch TV."
"Okay," Chaim spoke resolutely. "Don't worry. I'll handle it."
Faygie's pains were already five minutes apart when Dr. Warren walked in.
"Hi, Faygie," he was just as perky as the intern was. "I see the two of you are enjoying the TV. Couldn't you find anything better to watch?"
"Actually, Dr. Warren," Chaim cleared his throat. "We really weren't interested in the TV. The intern turned it on."
"So, why don't you just turn-- Oh, I forgot. You don't touch TV on your Sabbath, right?"
"Right." Both Chaim and Faygie sighed with relief as the doctor took hold of the control panel. But instead of pushing the off button he pressed the channel selector.
"Just tell me when you want me to stop."
Chaim and Faygie exchanged bewildered glances and didn't know what to say. Dr. Warren ran the gambit of channels and then looked at them.
"Isn't there anything you want to see?"
"I guess not," Chaim answered meekly.
"Fine," the doctor flicked off the switch.
"You see, Dr. Warren," Now that the television was silenced Chaim felt compelled to explain themselves. "It's not just that we don't touch any electrical appliances but we also don't ask others to touch them for us."
"Isn't that interesting."
"Also, sir, there are certain ways we spend our Sabbath, praying, learning, conversing. We can do anything we need for matters of health but watching television just doesn't fit into the spirit of the day."
Dr. Warren nodded his head thoughtfully. "This really is interesting. Well, let's get this show on the road."
As the doctor washed his hands, Chaim slipped into the hall. He was still standing near the nurses' station when Dr. Warren handed Faygie's chart to the nurse.
"You really have to respect those kids in there," Chaim overheard him say. "They believe in their religion and they follow it. You don't see too much of that nowadays."
Faygie smiled when Chaim told her what had been said but she was not interested in conversation. She was not interested in anything except getting through her contractions. Finally, a few minutes after two in the morning, just after Faygie had decided she wanted to give up and go home, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
"What are you going to name this little guy?" the nurse asked as Faygie held her son for the first time.
"Oh," Faygie answered full of euphoria, "We won't give him his name until after the circumcision ceremony next week."
"Well, pick out a nice name, honey. He deserves it."
Chaim went with the nurse to help her settle his son in the nursery while another nurse wheeled Faygie to her room.
"Here we are," the nurse announced cheerily as she turned on the lights of the double room.
"Won't you wake the other woman?" Faygie gasped. The fluorescent light made the room glow.
"There's no one else. It's a slow night so you'll be by yourself."
"That's so nice."
"Try and get some sleep," the nurse instructed as she helped Faygie into the bed.
"I will," Faygie smiled. "Hey, wait a minute," Faygie sat up as she called after the nurse. "Do you think my husband could sleep in the other bed?"
"Yes, my husband. You see," Faygie always spoke fast when she was excited. "We're Orthodox Jews and we don't drive or ride in cars on our Sabbath- that's Friday night and Saturday- except, of course, if we have to go to the hospital because that's a matter of live and death, but to go home from the hospital is not and it's too far for my husband to walk and he was planning to sleep in a chair in one of the waiting rooms or something but if he could sleep here it would be wonderful."
The nurse had listened patiently, trying to understand. "I'll have to ask the head nurse."
"Thank you so much!"
The nurse returned the same time as Chaim, with the good news that he could stay in the room. They thanked her profusely and somewhat embarrassed she made her way out of the room, closing the light as she left.
"How's the baby?" Faygie asked.
"He's wonderful. How's the new mother?"
"Tired, but happy, really happy."
There were a few moments of peaceful silence and then Faygie spoke.
"You know, Chaim," she mumbled. "If all's well, we're going to have a Shabbos bris."
"A Shabbos bris!" Chaim sat up. "Oh, no, Faygie. What are we going to do?!"
"Don't worry," Faygie smiled calmly. "A bris on Shabbos is nothing compared to giving birth. Everything will be fine."
And it was, more or less.
Rosh Chodesh: new month
pekuach nefesh: life-threatening
malachas: work that is prohibited on the Sabbath
minyan: ten men needed for communal prayers
shomer Shabbos: to observe the Sabbath according to the laws of the Torah
Baruch HaShem: praise G-d
bris/brit: eighth day circumcision ceremony