Title: FOOD FOR SHABBOS
Byline: Debbie Shapiro
"Every time I recall that difficult period of my life, I can't help but start to cry," recalls Mrs. Schwartz (a pseudonym), a volunteer at Bikur Cholim Chasdei Yoel. "It was the first Pesach after my husband passed away, and I couldn't bear the thought of making Yom Tov on my own. I arranged to spend the holiday at a hotel, but then my one and only son caught pneumonia and we ended up in the hospital. I sat next to his bed, the tears streaming down my face, wondering how I would manage to get everything I needed for the Seder. I felt so alone and miserable. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder; a smiling middle-aged woman stood there, her face radiating compassion. She handed me a thermos, a cooler and a big black bag that contained everything I could possibly need for the entire Yom Tov – from tablecloths and cut toilet paper to a Seder plate and three full seudos. After offering a few words of chizuk and wishing my son a refuah sheleimah she continued on her mission of mercy. That simple act of chessed that came during such a dark period of my life gave me the courage to carry on. "
Today, in every Israeli hospital, organizations such as Chasdei Yoel of Bnei Brak and Ezrat Cholim of Rechovot are there to bring a taste of Shabbos – both literally and figuratively –to the patients, visitors, doctors and nurses spending Shabbos in the hospital. In addition to distributing glatt kosher Shabbos meals, these organizations supply "Shabbos rooms" in many hospitals, where everyone is warmly invited to a beautiful Shabbos seudah, replete with divrei Torah, zemiros, and good company.
But it wasn't always this way. Some thirty years ago, just minutes after lighting the Shabbos candles, my neighbor's two-year-old son fell off his push-cart and gashed his head. My neighbor grabbed him, waved down a passing taxi and rushed to
. By the time the doctors finished suturing the wound and were ready to discharge her son, it was too late to return home. To this day, I remember my neighbor's description of that difficult Shabbos, without Kiddush, without challos, without anything hot to eat. Of course there were people who offered to share whatever they had, but she felt uncomfortable taking more than the bare minimum. She even had to ask kindhearted strangers for diapers and cut toilet paper! Hadassah Hospital
Everyone who heard her tale of woe commented that "someone" should really organize "something", so that people arriving there in the middle of Shabbos would not find themselves in a similar situation.
"SOMEONE" DOES "SOMETHING"
In the early seventies, a group of retired Jews living in Bnei Brak – all Holocaust survivors –began visiting patients in the hospitals every Friday afternoon. To satisfy the many requests for wine and challos that they received, they started bringing bottles of wine and small challos to hand out to anyone who requested them. It wasn't anything official, it was just ordinary Yidden who wanted to help their fellow Jews. After a couple of years, one of the younger men began preparing a large pot of vegetable soup in his house on Friday morning. He purchased several dozen thermoses so that he and his friends could distribute thermoses of hot soup together with the challos and wine.
Today, most of the original volunteers are no longer alive, but many of their children grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, are actively involved in preparing and distributing over a thousand Shabbos meals to five different hospitals in various areas of Eretz Yisrael.
A THOUSAND SHABBOS GUESTS
"Preparations start on Wednesday," explains Rivka Greene, one of the several dozen women who volunteer for Chasdei Yoel Bnei Brak. "That's when we order the vegetables and begin preparing the salads. Every week, approximately
300 lbs of potatoes, 200 lbs of carrots and 350 lbs of onions as well as crates of apples, cucumbers, peppers, squash, and eggplant and bags of fresh garlic and fruit is delivered to our industrial size kitchen, located in the basement of an apartment building. After the vegetable order is put away in the refrigerator room, anywhere between fifteen to twenty volunteers begin peeling and chopping as they prepare the dozen or so salads that we include in the Shabbos kits.
Although many of our volunteers are grandmothers, and even great grandmothers – one woman is in her eighties –younger woman and even high school girls also come to help out. The achdus is amazing – Litvish, Satmar, Sefardi, Gerrer – we all work together to help Klal Yisrael.
Five o'clock Thursday morning a group of dedicated volunteers start preparing the gefilte fish for Shabbos. By midmorning, our ranks have swelled to over fifteen. There is so much to do: we prepare three and a half enormous trays of apple kugel; huge pots of Yerushalmi kugel, which we cut into individual portions and then wrap each portion in wax paper and aluminum foil so that it can be heated on Shabbos; giant turkey balls, which we cut into individual portions; baked chicken; baked Sefardi style fish; and of course our Hungarian style vegetable soup, containing over
200 lbs of vegetables!
In the late afternoon our first challah shipment – 1800 small individual challos – arrives. High school students package them two to a bag for lechem mishnah, making sure to attach a sticker wishing our patients a refuah sheleimah and a gut Shabbos.
Mrs. S., today the mother of a large family recalls, "When my husband and I learned that it was our turn to spend Shabbos at the hotel, we were both nervous and excited. After all, we were still in our early twenties, and certainly inexperienced in hosting such a wide variety of Yidden.
When we arrived, Rabbi Yeret was already there to greet us and make us feel at home. With his warm, gregarious smile I could feel my nervousness fade away. He explained what should be served when, and showed us where all the food was kept. I was amazed; such a variety, there was something there for everyone.
Afterwards, as we made up the beds in the guests' rooms, Rabbi Yeret left to make his rounds in the wards, distributing Shabbos kits containing three full meals as well as everything anyone could possibly need for Shabbos.
That Shabbos my husband and I hosted several dozen guests at our Shabbos table. At first we were shy, but then we got into the spirit of it. The singing, the divrei Torah, the words of inspiration, it was all amazing, but what really impressed me was the achdus. Knitted kippot, cardboard yarmulkes, streimels, black hats, we were all in it together, a tiny island of kedushah in the cold, sterile hospital.
Late that night a guest showed up who had not yet heard Kiddush. He told us that Friday afternoon he had rushed his wife to the emergency room. Now that she was admitted to the ward, he was planning on walking several miles across town to spend the night at a friend's home. He was so emotional when he walked in and saw the food on the blech and the table already set for the morning meal. And he was even more amazed when he saw the delicious Shabbos seudah we served him.
SIXTY YEARS WITHOUT A SUCCAH
For many non-religious Jews, the Shabbos Hotel is their first encounter with Yiddishkeit. One Sukkos the hosting couple noticed an elderly man with a deep tan, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, his head bare, standing just outside the sukkah. They invited him in, but he pointed to his kippah-less head and it was obvious that he felt uncomfortable entering without a head covering. One of the men at the table took off his hat and handed the non-religious Jew his own yarmulke. The man entered the sukkah and looked around him in amazement. With tears in his eyes he said, "I have been a member of my kibbutz for over sixty years, and I have traveled everywhere and seen everything, but this is they very first time that I have ever set foot in a sukkah!"
The other guests were amazed that a Jew in Eretz Yisrael would have to come to the hospital to encounter a sukkah. But, as Mrs. S., the young woman who had been blessed after that one Shabbos at the Shabbos Hotel, explained so poignantly, "There's something special about being together in such a place. The artificial barriers separating us disappear, and we see how we are all really brothers."
To contact Chasdei Yoel, In
: 972-3-616-0869 Israel
call: 845-774-7508 or 718-435-7026 America
Rabbi Yeret can be contacted at 972-50-410-0101 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org