Several years ago, I worked as an executive administrator in a facility that provided therapies and respite for children with special needs and their families. Because my areas of expertise are in development and public relations, interaction with both therapists and their charges remained primarily on a “need to know’’ basis.
Early in my tenure, I escorted a tour group through the building and, as was typical preference, we spent extra time in the toddler nursery. It was a beautifully colored, well-appointed play space; top-of-the-line. Several visitors knelt on the colored mats to play with the babies, most of whom had Down syndrome. Large video screens played the best of educational children’s television and on the CD players were toddler tunes in Hebrew and English. I made a note-to-self to alert the upstairs office that it was too damn NOISY downstairs! As a mother of six children myself, I’ve always placed great stock in the value of quiet time and the need for children to have an opportunity to think and consider the unfolding events of their lives.
After presenting my concern, I was invited to meet with the therapy staff who shared with me some of the prevalent characteristics of Down syndrome toddlers including easygoing countenances. Most of the children, it was explained, were later-born siblings in large families that frequently boasted seven or more children. And in a bustling household, a quiet, undemanding baby can seem like a dream-come-true for an often-harried mom.
“Noise and activities are powerful teaching tools, Andrea,” explained the Director of Occupational Therapy. “They stimulate learning. At home they appear content and mommy isn’t always running over to pick them up or keep them entertained. It is our job to trigger brain and social development. Don’t let the noise get to you; every moment is a learning opportunity.”
Enlightened and chastised now, I’ve been thinking a lot about both the quiet and noise of Jerusalem as juxtaposed to the quiet and noise of Johannesburg, where three of my daughters live. I just returned from a month there.
Israelis are loud, both in good spirits and bad and often seem to be fighting. The streets of Jerusalem blare with the sounds of shouting shuk vendors, schoolchildren, street musicians and car horns that wage competitive noise battles with military helicopters, ambulance sirens and alarms of varying urgency. If noise is an educational tool than Jerusalemites must be unrivaled geniuses.
There is an eerie daytime silence in the streets of my daughters’ Johannesburg neighborhoods. Parents speak quietly, using reason and personal example to guide their well-behaved children on their respective paths toward adulthood. Neighbors are separated from neighbors with foot-thick walls and electric fences: barriers that also divide potential playmates who are, instead, ceremoniously brought together for supervised play-dates or swimming lessons. The silence of the night is occasionally punctuated with the tripping of a house alarm or barking watchdogs.
When I visit, however, I don’t really notice the breaks in the calm. Johannesburg noise is child’s play when compared to the cacophony called “Jerusalem.”
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at email@example.com.