The Hadassah Head Nurse with a Golden Apron

Thursday, Nov 7 2019

Nurse Jana Hen’s patient is 82 years old and blind. “A good morning to you,” says Hen, putting a smile in her words. The patient recognizes Hen’s voice.

“I know it’s going to be a great morning if you’re taking care of me,” he says.

Hen is the head nurse in the Department of Ophthalmology at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. One of her innovations has been to assign a dedicated nurse to each patient so no one hospitalized in her unit is lost in the shuffle, particularly a problem for the vision impaired.

“We need to build trust to make healing successful,” she says. “If patients have confidence in you, they are far more likely to comply with instructions, taking their eye drops, for instance, after they go home.”

Recently, Hen, herself, has become something of a celebrity. A popular television contestant on MasterChef Israel, she won the coveted gold apron, which enables highly talented contestants to skip many of the preliminary rounds and head directly to the final stages. Born in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia where there was little prepared food, Hen always loved cooking. The art of molding dough into dumplings was a national pastime. 

Georgian food differs from Russian cuisine because it was influenced by flavors from Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Turkey, as well as Persia.

When the gates of the Soviet Union began to open in the 1970s, Hen’s parents immigrated to Israel. They settled in Beersheba and Hen attended a religious school. By high school, she and her parents were jousting. They thought she should marry a young man from Georgia, even though she was still in high school.

“The kitchen was an oasis of calm and happiness,” says Hen. “There I found the right blend of my cherished old-fashioned Georgian cuisine and the tastes of Israel.”

Hen learned tips from her mom and aunt, who valued her creative touches in the spices she added to roasted eggplant with walnut paste, Georgian cheese bread, and khinkali (Georgian dumplings). “I just experimented,” she reminisces. “I’d take a bit of flour, butter, and eggs and see what would happen. My mom wouldn’t comment on my failures. However, my late grandfather would say, ‘Maybe someone really hungry would eat that.’ ”

It was Hen’s mother who suggested that she become a nurse. So Hen stayed in high school an extra year to take a practical nursing course. 

Although she argued with her parents’ desire for her to marry young, Hen agreed to be married to a Georgian boy, who also lived in Beersheba.

“I remember my graduation ceremony,” says Hen. “All the girls dressed in pretty outfits with pompoms, while I wore a maternity dress.”

Even when her two children were young and she was working long shifts as a nurse, Hen found time to cook and, increasingly, to bake. She experimented with international cooking and fell in love with French pastry, using the skills she’d developed as a girl to become a dexterous chef. When MasterChef Israel reached out to Hadassah’s hospitals to see if any nurses would be interested in competing, Hen was the obvious choice. She made it to the final stages of the competition.

For Hen, cooking is also mood therapy. “When I’m down,” she says, “I bake something sweet and, before I know it, I’m cheerful again.”

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