In bikurcholim, stories


Article by Jill Hertzman.
Illustration by Florence Hertzman.

In 1999, Rabbi Yael Splansky started the Bikur Cholim Committee and invited me to join. We attended three evenings of study and lectures on the subject and the committee began to work, visiting and calling congregants who were ill. Rabbi Splansky knew I had some ‘personal experience’. My son Jacob, z”l, coped with illness, in hospital and at home, for much of his short life. We became all too familiar with many doctors’ offices, as well as wards and clinics at the Hospital for Sick Children.

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Through those years our attachment to Holy Blossom grew. I clearly recall Rabbi Jim Prosnit coming to visit us at Sick Kids in 1981 (Jacob was about 7 months old) on Rosh Hashanah. He had come from services, and I thought, on this busy day, here he was, not only to see us, but to bring with him hope and prayers for a good year. In June of 1987, we celebrated Jacob’s naming – the b’rit milah had to be delayed and done in surgery for medical reasons. We came for Kabbalat Shabbat where Rabbi David Azen conducted a little ceremony. He did mention how much time Jacob had spent in hospital. Jacob interrupted by saying, “I’ve been through a lot”.

In August of 1993, Jacob had a bone marrow transplant (his brother Benjamin was the donor). Rabbi Sharon Sobel took me for a walk outside the hospital. It was a hot day and she was wearing heels and when I hesitated, saying it would be too uncomfortable for her, she said it was absolutely fine. When the High Holidays arrived, even with the reverse isolation restrictions, Rabbi Sharon (Jacob called her “my rabbi”) returned with her big shofar as promised and ‘scrubbed in’. Jacob was waiting to greet her, hospital pyjamas on the bottom, but blazer, shirt and tie on top.

Jacob attended Religious School when he was well, and loved it. We were also part of the founding cohort for Shabbat Family Service and hence, a fondness for Judy and David Gershon and Rabbi John Moscowitz developed.

His last months in Sick Kids toward the end of 1995, were very difficult. Rabbi Marmur waited patiently for me outside the ICU… Rabbi Plaut drove down one Friday afternoon (he reminded us that he no longer made visits) and while Jacob dozed off and on, we lit candles and Rabbi Plaut said the blessings… Bambi Katz, then principal of the Religious School, arrived on a snowy evening with an arm load of cards and posters that the students had made to cheer him. We put lots of them up on the wall.

Presently, I am on the executive committee of our large group of Bikur Cholim volunteers, who visit, telephone, drive, make soup, and send meals and plants. In short, wonderful support is given to those who are unwell or frail, shut in or lonely, and to those families who are in crisis. Our past chairs, Pam Albert and Valerie Fish led and taught through their example, kindness, and wisdom. Our new chair, Liz Tarshis, has firmly taken the reins.

I do this because I am able to, it is not hard to do, and I understand, as our tradition teaches, that it is an “obligation without measure, whose reward, too, is without measure, in this world and in the World to Come”. I do it to honour Jacob’s memory.

 

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