Igud Harabanim Backed By 950 Rabbis Sign Letter Demanding NYU Hospital Restore Access To Hospital Volunteers

NYU Hospital Photo: Shimon Gifter

Manhattan    A story we broke on May 6th about NYU barring Bikur Cholim Volunteers from servicing orthodox Jewish patients took a new turn this evening. http://bit.ly/2jJIS1P

The Rabbinical Alliance of America — Igud HaRabbonim, a professional Rabbinical Organization with a membership of over 950 Orthodox Rabbis — notes with concern the recent decision by NYU Langone Health and NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn to prevent outside volunteers from entering patient rooms.  For thousands of years, Jews have organized groups to visit sick individuals and offer them material and spiritual sustenance.

These services are part of a long religious tradition that brings joy and comfort to the sick, no small matter in the healing process. Jewish patients expect these religious visits and are disappointed when they do not receive them. In the New York area, legendary Jewish volunteer organizations have worked tirelessly for decades in hospitals — including NYU’s hospitals — enhancing the patients’ experiences while medical professionals work tirelessly to heal them.

GifterInGotham received dozens of emails and phone calls detailing the importance of Bikur Cholim.

One patient wrote, “I was at NYU for a month, Nisht heint gedached lo aleinu when I had the stroke and the kosher food that wasn’t Bikur Cholim was absolutely disgusting and limited to three or four choices.

They probably got complaints from other patients why do they get the slop and the Jews get fresh wholesome food.  Non-Jewish patients wanted to get the food from Bikur Cholim that I got for Shabbos”!

 Another email from a patient writes, “Between October 2014 and October 2017 I was in the hospital 7 times – 3 times in NYU Langone and 4 times in the Hospital for Special Surgery.
 The kosher food served at NYU Langone was from ——- Caterers on —–  in Brooklyn.  The selection was limited, and I found the quality and taste poor.  For personal reasons, the Satmar Bikur Cholim was not contacted.
When I came to HSS I was served the same food from ______ Caterers.  The Jewish chaplain told me that they knew the kosher food was not very good and were looking into alternatives.  During my 4th, 5th and 6th stay in the hospital which was at HSS,  I again “suffered” with the _______Caterer food.
My last hospital stay was in HSS in October of 2017, and much to my pleasure and surprise the kosher food I was given came from the Lou G. Siegel Commissary and was under the OU.  The food was excellent.  However,  since Lou G. Siegel does not deliver on Yom Tov, and I was in the hospital over the first days of Succos,  on the first day of Succos I was served _____Caterers food. When my family learned of this Erev Yom Tov they contacted the Satmar Bikur Cholim and food from them was delivered.  Also, the Bikur Cholim room in nearby Weil Cornell was well stocked with food from either Satmar or New Square”.
The practice of Bikur Cholim is to give non-Jewish patients the same good food. Bikur Cholim does not discriminate.  Non-Jewish patients have told GifterIngotham they were treated with respect. One non-Jewish patient said he told a Bikur Cholim volunteer that he was not Jewish, thinking one has to be Jewish to get a food package and was so happy to get delicious food.
GifterInGotham found the majority of online comments were in total support of Bikur Cholim. A few people who were posting negative statements on Bikur Cholim just happen to be friends of NYU staff, friends of liaisons who work for the hospital and NOT the Jewish community as they claim.   It’s important for anyone giving comments one way or another to be upfront and not lie to the Jewish community.

The RAA/Igud HaRabbonim recognizes the hospital’s valid concerns and strongly urges NYU to find accommodations for this religious practice that meets their security requirements without sacrificing patients’ spiritual needs. “NYU has a long and proud history of providing excellent care for patients’ medical and spiritual needs,” said Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, Executive Vice President of the RAA/Igud HaRabbonim. He continued, “We hope they will work with the Jewish community to find a solution that allows this age-old tradition of kindness and brings joy to those who need it the most. It is not only patients whose needs must be met. Visiting family members are often exhausted, emotionally overwhelmed and unable to find necessary food, clothing and religious items. Volunteers with the sensitivity of a shared tradition can help these family members in their time of need. For the sake of the sick and their worried loved ones, we ask NYU to work with us in finding a solution.”

NYU gave a statement:   “NYU Langone Health and NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn have robust and well stocked Bikur Cholim rooms, and we are in the process of building another one at our Orthopedic Hospital. In addition, these hospitals have a 24/7 clinical liaison program, a pastoral care program, and wide availability of kosher food through the kitchen and cafeteria.  We always have and will continue to address the cultural and religious needs of the communities we serve. For the safety and privacy of our patients, we have limited outside volunteers, vendors, delivery people and other non-visitors and staff from going directly onto patient floors, and into patient rooms.  If any family cannot visit the Bikur Cholim room, our volunteers deliver food directly to them consistent with their medical condition.  Most of the community and outside organizations understand and agree with this policy, but a few volunteers want unsupervised access to patient floors and rooms and have tried to distort the truth. We will continue to serve the community with respect, privacy, and most importantly the highest quality medical care.”

Bikur Cholim disputes the NYU statement and told GifterInGotham, “We do not just walk into rooms unannounced. NYU knows exactly who we are and how we operate and we do not pose a security risk. Most hospitals give badges with ID and have special in-house training for volunteers. Why doesn’t NYU give us a chance to continue helping patients in need”?

Bikur Cholims lawyer Mr. Seskin speculated to the New York Daily News that hospital management was upset volunteers were counseling Jewish patients to seek costly treatment based on religious beliefs. Jewish law generally recommends all medical steps must be taken — like intubating a patient — to prolong life.

“The interests of the community are not aligned with the interests of the hospitals,” Seskin said.

“We don’t want any problems,” he added. “No one is looking for a battle. We just want to take care of the community.”


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