Arriving at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Emergency Room in the middle of the night with my young daughter wasn’t a pleasant experience.
But imagine my surprise, when shortly after settling her in a bed in a small cubicle, a bearded face peeped round the curtain, smiled and said “I wish your daughter a Refua Sheleima, Would you like tuna or hard boiled egg sandwiches. I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got at the moment”.
At first I thought I wasn’t hearing correctly and the worry about my daughter had affected my mind. But then I remembered that this was Jerusalem and we Jews know that whenever there’s a problem, eating almost always makes it better -food nourishes both the body and the soul- especially food delivered with such good wishes and such a smile.
The non-stop volunteer food delivery is just one of the common sights in many Israeli hospitals.
Anyone who has ever spent a Shabbat in hospital knows first-hand just how much chesed (kindness) goes on to ensure that everyone has a real Shabbat atmosphere, whatever the medical experience. Candles are distributed to the patients and visitors are told exactly how and where they can get their Shabbat meals, where the shul is and where there is a Kiddush after the services.
My son-in-law was given a small apartment when he and his sister spent Shabbat in a hospital near Tel Aviv in order to to be near their father who was undergoing surgery.
We are told that “Olam chesed yibone” the world is built on chesed and wherever you turn, wherever you go you are surrounded by organizations and volunteers who regularly day after day, month after month embody the mitzvah and idea that each person’s deeds make a difference and can help put the world to rights
But I have to admit that I thought that this overflow of chesed was limited to Israel, for the obvious reason that the number of Jews needing and giving help was so much greater.
But I was very wrong.
This year, during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, my sisters and I found ourselves in London at the Royal Free Hospital in London taking care of our mother .
The important thing was to be there for her, but as none of us live in London we wondered whether there would be any possibility of finding a shul nearby / maybe having a Yom Tov meal at some point.
To our delight and amazement the first thing we were told about was the Shabbat room in the basement of the hospital. On the lower ground floor,together with all the other religious facilities ( a church / a mosque) there is a Shabbat room which is accessed by pressing the key-pad code ( the current Jewish year ) For those who don’t know what the year is, there is a note above the key-pad telling you the Hebrew letters and you just have to work out the numbers!
Inside the room there is a fridge with cold drinks, fish, cakes, salads, packets of sliced meat, grape juice, disposable tableware and when I went down on Friday, what seemed like all weekend Jewish newspapers from all over the world were laid out on the table.
But that wasn’t all. There is also a Shabbat apartment a few minutes walk from the hospital where several people can sleep and Shabbat meals can be ordered in advance and will be delivered and left on the hot plate.
You always hope you won’t need to make use of any of these wonderful organisations but it’s very comforting to know that they exist.
As my daughter said, when I expressed my surprise at all the facilities in London.
“Mum, Why are you so surprised? Where there are Jews,there’s always chesed”