The Wait­ing Room

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

The Wait­ing Room by Leah Kamin­sky | Jew­ish Book Coun­cil

With The Wait­ing Room, Leah Kamin­sky chron­i­cles the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion expe­ri­ence with great insight and hon­esty. Dr. Dina Ronen has been con­stant­ly liv­ing — and fight­ing — with the ghosts of her past. A child of Holo­caust sur­vivors, she is now a galut­nik, a dias­po­ra Jew, trans­plant­ed from her safe Mel­bourne neigh­bor­hood to mul­ti­cul­tur­al Haifa. She has a strong, inde­pen­dent Sabra hus­band and a young son and is eight months pregnant.

When there’s threat of a bomb­ing in Haifa, Dina is made to con­front her con­fu­sion and ter­ror about liv­ing in 2001 Israel. Fear is her every­day com­pan­ion; the safe­ty and future of her son and unborn child are always upper­most in her mind. Dina imag­ines her son dying over and over again. She strug­gles for a nor­mal life, but finds the ten­sion eat­ing away at her mar­riage and fam­i­ly. Dina, like her moth­er before her, always has her just-in-case” bag packed.

Dina’s par­ents’ trau­mas haunt her. She grew up among sur­vivors, whose sto­ries were not often dis­cussed or allud­ed to, but hid­den secrets emerged, and the sad­ness was always there. Dina remem­bers her mother’s mem­o­ries were glued to her skin.” Dina’s deceased mother’s ghost appears to her through­out her day con­vers­ing, cajol­ing, nag­ging, advis­ing, and plead­ing with her while also recre­at­ing the hor­rid and vivid scenes of Auschwitz plat­form selec­tion, women’s bar­racks, children’s mur­ders, and relent­less survivor’s guilt. The ter­ror of her par­ents’ lives is now echo­ing in her Israeli life. When Dina hopes for peace for her son’s life, her moth­er tells her that things nev­er change, Our future will be exact­ly the same as our past.”

Dina’s med­ical prac­tice is locat­ed in an old­er neigh­bor­hood and her wait­ing room is filled with an array of patients, their back sto­ries an amal­gam of Israeli life. Evgeni, a for­mer Russ­ian ship engi­neer and now a street clean­er, shows up per­sis­tent­ly with imag­i­nary dis­eases to beg Dina for sick cer­tifi­cates. The loud, intim­i­dat­ing, and con­trol­ling Mrs. Susskind is always accom­pa­nied by her patient Fil­ipino nurse. Tahir­ih, a trou­bled Bahaí woman, was smug­gled out of Iran after her first hus­band was exe­cut­ed. Dina’s office man­ag­er, Yael, is a gar­ru­lous, fun-lov­ing young woman who tries to keep the prac­tice run­ning smooth­ly. The wait­ing room is the source of much inter­ac­tion, humor, hope, and fear. It’s a place where lives are on a jour­ney and the patients are ask­ing what is to fol­low. Dina, over­loaded and find­ing peo­ple dif­fi­cult and com­pas­sion hard to locate, tries to maneu­ver through her family’s needs, her patient’s ill­ness­es, and her own strug­gles each day.

The scenes, sounds, harsh­ness, beau­ty, and fer­vor of Israeli life are real­is­ti­cal­ly por­trayed. The impos­si­ble morn­ing com­mute, the vibe of the cof­fee shop, the fre­net­ic shuk, the break­ing news of ter­ror attacks, and the hor­ror of being part of a bomb­ing feel authen­tic. The pre­car­i­ous­ness of this life mir­rors Dina’s inner confusion.

Kaminsky’s mas­ter­ful use of lan­guage is evi­dent through­out her first nov­el. She engross­es the read­er as she weaves humor, irony, and sym­bol­ism into Dina’s com­plex world. Kamin­sky cre­ates a haunt­ing Holo­caust his­to­ry and relates it to present-day exis­tence in Israel in this poignant and per­son­al story.

Vis­it­ing Scribe: Leah Kaminsky

Tak­ing to the Dead: The Eter­nal Jew­ish Mother

The Tears in Things

On Wait­ing

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions