Jefferson Hospital Opens Shabbat Pantry

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From left: Steve Gordon, Sabrina Harris and Jack Ludmir at the Shabbat pantry (Photos courtesy of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital)

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital on March 4 cut the ribbon on a new Shabbat pantry.

The pantry will allow Jewish patients and their families to use the facilities during Shabbat to store and prepare kosher foods, while also having a dedicated space for prayer and rest.

The nonprofit organization Bikkur Cholim from Lower Merion will stock the pantry, which is in the Foerder Pavilion Building at 122 S. 11th St. in Philadelphia.

Bikkur Cholim members inside the Shabbat pantry

The pantry includes new kitchen appliances, furniture, a sign in Hebrew and donated artwork from Bikkur Cholim.

Hospital President Rich Webster said the ribbon cutting was the culmination of a process that began two to three years ago when former physician resident Steven Gordon approached him and asked for a meeting. Gordon explained how he was providing support for Jewish patients — many of them Orthodox Jews from Lakewood, N.J. — that included food and places for family to rest and relax. Gordon asked if the hospital administration could offer support.

“Through those discussions, I came to appreciate the challenge these patients and, frankly, their families had,” Webster said.

A plan was developed to create the pantry, and Webster said it was satisfying to be able to execute the plan, commit funding and get the work done.

The hospital invested about $75,000 to renovate the pantry space, which originally was a conference room. Aside from electrical and plumbing work, other costs included furniture, refrigerators, microwave ovens and furniture.

Now that the pantry is operational, Webster said the hospital is committed to making the staff aware of its existence and culturally competent in terms of understanding the uses for it.

Rabbi Hirshi Sputz of Chabad of Fairmount, who led the blessing of the pantry, has volunteered at Jefferson the past four years, visiting Jewish patients, many of whom are Orthodox, but also include others who keep kosher.

“It’s a great thing,” he said. “Until now, it’s been a challenge at Jefferson. [The new pantry] is an area that makes the stay much more comfortable for family members, both in body and soul.”

The pantry made a difference on its first full day, according to Malkie Schwartz, who runs Bikkur Cholim with Susie Wohlgelernter. Schwartz received a phone call from a woman whose mother was having brain surgery; the woman inquired about kosher facilities.

“She called me back, crying,” Schwartz said. “She couldn’t believe it.”

Orthodox patients don’t make up a significant percentage of Jefferson’s patients, but courting them is good from a business perspective, considering the competition hospitals face locally, Webster said.

“It’s almost a niche market to us to some extent,” he said.

“Lakewood sends a lot of their patients here,” Schwartz said. “We get people from Israel. We get people from all over.”

A kosher pantry opened up Dec. 6 at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). Bikkur Cholim stocks that pantry as well.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has had a pantry for many years, Sputz said.

The Einstein Healthcare Network also is working on a pantry, Schwartz said.

And Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood may have the most comprehensive facilities for Orthodox patients and their families in the area, according to a 2015 Jewish Exponent article.

That year, the hospital opened a Shabbat Suite geared to help observant Jews abide by Shabbat regulations while visiting family and friends there. The suite includes two sleeping rooms with private bathrooms for those unable to drive in observance of the Shabbat. Also offered are a kosher pantry and kitchen.

Webster said a similar facility is under future consideration at Jefferson.

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