Bringing Joy to Those in Need: A Conversation with Israeli Medical Clown Hamutal Ende
Imagine that you’re a stranger who walks into a hospital room and sees a 14-year-old boy eating through a feeding tube. Many would stop in their tracks, saddened by what they saw. But, when Hamutal Ende was faced with this situation in her medical clown character, she stepped into the boy’s room and exclaimed, “That’s yucky! Don’t you want to eat pizza or pasta instead?” The boy’s mother began to laugh and the atmosphere in the room completely changed. “When you’re a clown, everything feels possible,” said Hamutal. “A clown’s bread and butter is connection, so clowns can connect with anyone at any time.”
A medical clown, actress, drama teacher, wife, and mother, Hamutal, whose clown name is Suzy, has worked as a medical clown throughout Israel and in Haiti. We spoke to Hamutal about the therapeutic power of medical clowning and how people can bring laughter to those in times of need.
How did you decide to become a medical clown?
After I completed my studies in acting, I visited my friend who was working as a medical clown in an Israeli hospital. A young girl was waiting for a test and she was curled up in her mother’s lap, looking very frightened. My friend approached her and started playing games with her. The girl lit up, as though she were in a wonderland — instead of in the hospital. It was then that I fell in love with medical clowning and saw that it could help me bring peace to my soul and other people’s souls.
How does medical clowning help people who are experiencing trauma?
When people experience trauma, they often shut down. They don’t speak about their experiences, which causes the trauma to grow in their bodies, making them feel more and more alone. In medical clowning, we connect to people and show them that they’re not alone. We get their bodies moving, and we reach out by singing, playing, and talking to them. We help people speak about their trauma because once it’s out in the open, they feel less alone.
Why do you think Israel is a leader in medical clowning?
Israelis are known for having chutzpah and not caring about hierarchy. So, Israeli medical clowns have no problem joking around with doctors in Israeli hospitals. We’ll go up to doctors and ask, “Do you want to do surgery together?” and they’ll laugh along with the patients. Also, the Dream Doctors Project, which I am part of, provides Israeli medical clowns with lots of professional courses that give us fantastic training.
Can you share an especially meaningful medical clowning experience?
While working in the oncology department in Rambam Hospital in Haifa, I came across a girl with long hair who was waiting to be seen by a doctor. I knew that she was a new patient, and I wasn’t sure what to say. But, I sat next to her and she showed me a video from her bat mitzvah, in which she entered the party hall in a giant pearl. “Wow, you’re a real princess!” I said. From then on, I called her “the princess” and every time I saw her, we played princess games and spoke to each other as though we were both royalty. When her situation worsened, I sat beside her and told her stories about princesses, and when she became unconscious, I held her hand and told her, “I must leave the princess now.” In reality, the girl was about to die, but in our imaginary world, she was a princess saying goodbye.
What are some ways that we can bring laughter and a sense of calm to people in times of crisis?
I think that we’re often afraid of reaching out to people in need. We’re worried about intruding and barging in on their private experiences. But in times of crisis, they may crave human connection the most. Don’t be afraid to look people in the eye. Connect to people without judgment. Speak to people regardless of their age, religion, and background.Try to feel motivated by love and happiness. Help people see things from a new perspective. It can make a world of difference for everyone.