A few weeks ago, I had the unfortunate necessity to spend Shabbos with my daughter in a hospital. And while I am aware that a tremendous amount of political news broke over the past few weeks, I would like to take a break from politics to discuss my experience as an Orthodox Jew spending Shabbos in Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, Long Island. Thank G-d, my daughter is fine, and she received excellent care while in the hospital. Most of what was done was precautionary, and by now the incident is behind us. Also, I would like to make the disclaimer that I am not reviewing the hospital and its staff for their medical prowess; this is just going to be analyzing Winthrop as it relates to being shomer Shabbos in a hospital.
I have had experience spending times in hospitals over Shabbos before. Both of my children were born in two different hospitals on Thursdays, and we ended up spending Shabbos in the hospital in both situations. And let me tell you, the Shabbos experience in Winthrop trounced the other hospitals. This is due to many amenities available at Winthrop that don’t exist elsewhere. Most of these are intentional, while some are happy surprises. I just want to get one thing out of the way off the bat. The staff was very knowledgeable and understanding with all of our Sabbath-related needs. However, this does not get as much praise as it would have 10-15 years ago, as we now live in an incredible time when this kind of knowledge and understanding is available at most institutions. The areas I want to focus on this week are the pluses that Winthrop has that may not be available elsewhere.
Let’s start with the intentional amenities available to Shabbos observers. The most glaring convenience is the Sabbath House, which is a house that Winthrop offers to patients’ families staying over Shabbos. The house has a full kitchen, three bedrooms (plus a study that can be converted into a bedroom). I happened to be the only one staying in the house that week, but the staff at Winthrop makes it a point to ask the gender of the occupant so they can determine the best way to have people stay overnight. The house itself is located just outside the hospital’s campus (you don’t even have to cross a street to get there), and even has a driveway available so those who use the house don’t have to search for parking or park in a lot over Shabbos. To my knowledge, no other hospital I have stayed in has this amenity. And yes, there is an eruv, one that also extends to our next convenience…Congregation Beth Shalom Chabad.
This synagogue is a 10-15-minute walk from the hospital and is headed by Rabbi Anchelle and Bluma Perl. Rabbi Perl has a storied history of community service and politics that deserves its own article, but for purposes of this discussion, he is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom Chabad and the chaplain to Winthrop. Rabbi Perl was quick to answer our questions, help us get acclimated to the Sabbath House and explain anything we needed to know. There are services all Shabbos at the shul, including a Shacharis-Minchah minyan. Shacharis generally begins late enough so that after Musaf and a nice kiddush, you can daven Minchah, and not need to worry about coming back. Obviously, the times will vary depending on the time of the year, and you will likely not be making z’man kriyas Shema during Shacharis. Just make sure you say Shema on your own. In the minyan itself, Rabbi Perl does his best to welcome hospital visitors, and my daughter even received her own mi shebeirach. I had a personally meaningful experience at Beth Shalom Chabad as my grandparents were members there in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There is even a memorial plaque for my great-grandfather in the shul.
There are two more intentional conveniences provided to us at Winthrop. The first is a dedicated Shabbos elevator that operates from sundown to sundown every week as well as on Jewish holidays. The second amenity was something that we didn’t even ask for but was sent to us by the staff. While the individual rooms do not have refrigerators, there is a communal fridge for each floor. However, knowing that us Jews like to come with enough food to feed the population of Liechtenstein, Winthrop provided us with our own refrigerator that was kept in our room until we were discharged. It was a nice addition that we didn’t even know we needed until we received it. For this, I would like to specifically thank Jean Zebroski, who coordinates the Sabbath House, but who I also believe sent us the fridge.
There are two other unintentional “amenities” that aren’t totally obvious, but I have had problems with in other hospitals. The first is a staircase. I know that I mentioned the Shabbos elevator earlier, but there are those who don’t like to use them. Winthrop also has a staircase with re-entry on all floors. From experience, I can tell you that many hospitals do not have this option. In many hospitals, the stairwells are only used in case of emergencies. Winthrop has them open all the time. The second unintentional convenience is the doors. Aside from the entrances to each individual ward, there are no automatic doors or ones that require buttons. This includes the entrance to the hospital. This was much better than my experience in previous hospitals, where I had to wait for someone to leave or enter the hospital in order to use a door. As far as the individual wards themselves, you can tell the security staff that you are going to be entering, and they will call ahead for you. If you would rather not rely on that, people go in and out of the wards all the time. The wait there was never longer than three minutes.
I know there is one amenity I have not addressed yet that is likely going through your mind. As of now there is no Bikur Cholim room in Winthrop, but according to Rabbi Perl a room has been allocated as the future site of the Bikur Cholim room, and it should be ready in the coming months. It is my hope that nobody reading this article should need a hospital, and especially should not need to stay there over Shabbos, but should you find yourself in that unfortunate situation, I have not had an experience better than the one in Winthrop Hospital.
Izzo Zwiren works in healthcare administration, constantly concerning himself with the state of healthcare politics. The topic of healthcare has led Izzo to become passionate about a variety of political issues affecting our country today. Aside from politics, Izzo is a fan of trivia, stand-up comedy, and the New York Giants. Izzo lives on Long Island with his wife and two adorable, hilarious daughters.