How Should We Die Jewishly and With Dignity?
By Jane Eisner for The Jewish Daily Forward
I was saying kaddish for my mother when Ariel Sharon was felled by a stroke in January 2006. To me, Sharon was a complicated, divisive figure, whose attitude towards Palestinians left me so disgusted that I once walked out on a speech he gave. I remained skeptical of his political conversion and concerned about the consequences of unilateral disengagement.
But he was the Israeli prime minister. I am a Jew. I should pray for him, right?
So when I went to minyan every day to recite the mourner’s prayer, I silently included his name in the prayer for healing. As the days stretched into months, I wondered why I continued this ritual. Since I doubt the medical efficacy of intercessional prayer, I didn’t expect Sharon to suddenly awaken from his vegetative state because I was whispering his name thousands of miles away. I looked to that prayer for spiritual sustenance, to help ease the way even for someone whose path is irreversible.
But there was no path for him. He was gone, despite the insistent efforts of his sons to keep him alive at all costs.
This, too, is Ariel Sharon’s legacy. His death on January 11 has prompted all manner of commentary on his military, political, diplomatic and strategic accomplishments and failures — how he lived. But coming as it did eight full years after his stroke, I hope it also prompts discussion about how he died.
I don’t mean a strict cost-benefit analysis. Haaretz reported that Israel spent nearly half a million dollars a year on his care, mostly in a long-term care unit at Sheba Medical Center, where he had a private room, a private nurse, and round-the-clock security.
That expenditure might have been worth it had there been a prospect of recovery. But while Sharon was breathing on his own, he was artificially being kept alive in other ways, with nary a change in condition year after year.