I'm looking for a babysitter. No, this isn't a want ad - it's a real dilemma. I posted a notice in my neighborhood in Jerusalem, and the next morning the first candidate phoned. She sounded nice, a student at Hebrew University who has two children. She saw my notice at a cafe on Mount Scopus and would be glad to meet me.
"Great!" I said. "What's your name?"
"Suha," she replied.
Terrific. A vortex of emotions and thoughts, fears and pangs of conscience.
I tried to imagine an Arab caregiver for my son. No problem. She sounded delightful.
She's not some 17-year-old
who is disgusted by changing a diaper and will be annoyed if he cries. She lives
nearby (So what if her neighborhood is called Issawiya and not French Hill?)
and is ready and willing to look after him for an hour a day. But what if....
What if she duplicates the key and gives it to her cousin who will steal the
car/ computer/ wallet/ gun? Or what if she really is an honest and nice person
and innocently tells a relative in Taibeh (or for the sake of argument, in Ramallah)
that she's looking after a cute baby? Will that person kidnap him? Or extort
money from us? Or worse? And what if none of
this, but I always have the feeling that maybe, maybe yes?
From time to time we encounter a news report showing horror scenes (filmed with
hidden cameras) of caregivers abusing babies or old people. Parents assume there
is no one in the world to be trusted to look after the baby. So why the additional
fears? I started imagining the worst.
This is a moral dilemma in the most basic way. A woman, an inhabitant of my
city, wants to earn an honest living. An intelligent woman of about my age who
has two children and is a neighbor. Why am I not hiring her? Really, why? What
am I afraid of?
I scrutinized myself and my thoughts. I looked terrible. I was sorry about the
situation I was in, about the fears that bind me and distort my decisions. I
remembered that when we were little, we had an Arab cleaning woman. She wasn't
at all nice but not because of her ethnicity. It's just that there are people
who are not nice. Why weren't we afraid to employ
her? Why weren't we afraid of having an Arab woman in our home every week? Were
we naive? Were we less cowardly? Maybe in the pre-intifada era it was easier
to employ Arabs. Have I become a racist? And the most difficult question: Am
I prepared to live with that definition?
I phoned Suha. She asked when we would meet. I told her the truth. That I am
"Of what?" she asked.
"I am afraid to employ an Arab woman," I said.
"There's nothing to be afraid of. Do you want us to meet so you can see
there is nothing to be afraid of?" she said. She was so nice, so noble.
But I couldn't do it. Fear got the better of me. I let it take control of me.
"I've thought about it," I said to her, "and I have no problem
with us being friends. You sound like a really great person, but I am afraid
for my son," I stuttered. And she, all sweetness, wished me that I find
someone with whom I'll feel comfortable.