The Rabbi's Challa
By Edith Brown
A volunteer came to visit me from Bikur Cholim Society at the hospital a couple days after my surgery. It was a Friday afternoon and so she brought electric candles for Shabbat. When she realized I would not have challa or grape juice for Shabbat she called the local Chabad Rabbi. Rabbi Berel Wolvovsky must have dropped everything and raced over to the hospital as he was there in minutes. The Rabbi told me his first child, Dovid was born at this hospital. I felt honored to hear these words from the Rabbi. I felt I was being given a special blessing.
The Rabbi brought an adorable round small challa. I don’t get out too much due to my health and I had never seen one this size. Not just a challa roll, but a complete challa and all for me. He also brought my very own small bottle of grape juice. I was set for Shabbat.
Shortly after the Rabbi left I was transferred to a nursing home for rehabilitation. It would be there I was to recuperate and gain back my strength.
The nursing home was in a very upscale neighborhood. Coming from a poor background I enjoyed seeing how the wealthy live. On my way there I enjoyed the scenic view of folks playing tennis and golf. The landscaping was gorgeous.
When I entered the nursing home I saw a beautiful posh lobby. They had the type of furniture one expects to sit on, but never be comfortable, but of course it was a lobby. I couldn’t really focus on the décor too much as I was overcome by a most unpleasant, unwelcoming scent. A very uneasy feeling came over me. Surely in such an upscale nursing home they must be changing the patients?
I remembered when I cared for my Mother and friends would visit. They never said upon entering, “How are you?” but always, “Your Mother doesn’t smell.” I would look at them puzzled? Maybe because Mom was bedridden they thought she would smell, but not my Mom. In fact there was an aroma of peaches that would fill the room. Only the best for Mom – peach body lotion.
I was taken to my room. By accident the aide wheeling me hit my bed so hard that I saw stars. Pain shot through my neck and spine. I had just had my neck cut open so the neurosurgeon could take out the two herniated disc pressing on my spinal cord. It was just a regular room, nothing fancy to speak of. All I could think about was getting into bed and asking for pain medicine.
It was getting close to Shabbat and I wanted to unpack my challah and grape juice. The nurses left me sitting up on the edge of my bed alone in this strange room. I took out the challah and grape juice that Rabbi Wolvovsky had brought me and I welcomed in the Sabbath. A wonderful feeling of comfort immediately came over me. If only the Rabbi could have known the pleasure he gave me. You see we haven’t always seen eye to eye, but just the same I know he is a good soul and I think well of him. The challah was the best I had ever tasted. It melted in my mouth. The challah was not just a challah, but rather a symbol of my heritage. I saved some of the challah and grape juice so I could enjoy a little each night.
I watched as patients were often spoken to harshly, myself included. The lady next to me was oriental and did not speak much English. I was teaching her how to use her call button when an aide told me not to help her. Then the aide told me the woman didn’t understand any English, but as I tried to explain something to her – I found out she in fact did. When the woman asked politely for juice the aide was surprised, but told her, “You can wait for dinner.” Dinner was two hours away. I shared my grape juice and challah with her. My new friend and I were careful to only eat a little each night. It became our nightly ritual. If only the Rabbi knew how important the Shabbat food had become.
Finally after being there for only nine days the situation became intolerable.
Medication I desperately needed for a pounding migraine was not in the nurse’s medication cart as it should have been. I began asking at 8:00 PM for this medication that had been approved by the nursing home doctor and supposedly ordered two days prior. The nurses changed shifts and my new nurse told me she was too busy to help me, so I begged another nurse to call their pharmacy. She finally called at 9:30 PM and the pharmacist promised the medication would arrive by midnight. I drifted off to sleep, but by 4:00 AM the next morning the pain woke me. Medication had been delivered, just not mine.
At this point I told the charge nurse I was leaving. The nurse said, “You can’t leave without signing the discharge form. I refused. I was so frustrated and in so much pain that I could only think about arriving home and taking my medicine to get some relief. I called a taxi once, twice and by the second time I was exasperated. Both times the charge nurse refused to let me out of the facility or the cab driver in to assist me. It was official I was being held prisoner.
I kept thinking about Rabbi Wolvovsky racing to the hospital to bring me a challah and grape juice so close before Shabbat in rush hour traffic no less. And even taking the time to visit for a few minutes because if anyone knows me than surely they know they can’t just come and go, a chat would most definitely have to happen. I thought if the Rabbi could find the faith that he would arrive back home before Shabbat than I could find the strength to stand up to these workers. And so I did.
I told the charge nurse if you don’t let me out I’m going to call the police. Her reply, “Go ahead and call the police.” And then to make matters worse as I looked at her in dismay she did a little dance with her hands on her hips grinning ear to ear saying, “Ha ha you can’t get out.”
I went back to my room and called the police. When the two officers arrived one was silent while the other did all the talking. The officer insisted I must sign the form because I had received services. He even used a ridiculous analogy. He stated if I committed a crime I would not be allowed to leave the jail until I signed the proper form.
I won’t say I wasn’t feeling the tiniest bit intimidated. Here I was a woman, alone, sitting in my hospital gown and there they were standing only several feet from me in their police uniforms, guns and all.
I chose to stand my ground. I kept repeating I am an American Citizen and it is my constitutional right not to sign their form. Furthermore as police officers it is your job to uphold the law. Anyway I explained to the officer he was correct if indeed I had committed a crime I would need to sign their form, but I had not committed a crime and this was not a jail.
The officer was not happy I would not agree with him, so he said to his partner, “Let’s leave; we have criminals to catch and were not getting anywhere here.” But no sooner did they leave my room only to return in minutes to tell me I was free to go.
I know I could have easily signed the discharge papers and made it much easier on myself, but somehow I kept thinking about Rabbi Wolvovsky and the delicious challah and grape juice he brought. The challah and grape juice though eaten every evening and shared with a friend miraculously lasted eight nights just as the oil that burned for Chanukah. Through the Rabbi’s Mitzvah I was able to find courage and strength.
from the December 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine