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Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths

A Friday Story
By Professor Shlomo Mor-Yosef
Director General, Hadassah Medical Organization
Untitled Document

Dear Friends,

There is a special sense of solemnity that accompanies the approach of Yom Kippur in Israel, a heightened sensation that pervades the streets and the supermarkets as people approach this most significant of Jewish holidays. While not joyous in the conventional sense of the word, the advent of Yom Kippur has an emotional impact on everyone – from the most observant to the strictly secular. Even as people go about the most mundane tasks, there seems to be a feeling of contemplation in the air. The Torah decrees that Yom Kippur is Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths. This year, as Yom Kippur is observed on Shabbat, it is indeed the Sabbath of all Sabbaths.

This Friday afternoon, as I prepare to welcome Shabbat and anticipate the recitation of Kol Nidre, I will think about the people I saw just a few hours ago – Hadassah’s patients and staff whose circumstances prevent them from being with their families. As I do every Shabbat, but especially this one, I will know that those who remain at our Medical Center will be enveloped with the sense of Shabbat we feel in our homes – and the spirituality of this most meaningful of days.

A woman who was hospitalized on Yom Kippur last year told me that observing Yom Kippur at Hadassah-Ein Kerem was unique, imbued with a kind of introspection different from that she usually experiences in the synagogue. The atmosphere in the air and the serenity of the city could still be felt within the walls of our hospitals – across the landscape from Mt. Scopus to Ein Kerem – but the sense of community and sharing with strangers, she said, set that particular Yom Kippur apart.

The designation of Yom Kippur as the Sabbath of Sabbaths is a statement about the importance of Shabbat itself – the unique place it occupies in our week and in our lives. Shabbat is central to Jewish life, regardless of how or where we as individuals observe it. At both our hospitals, we make every effort to release patients before Shabbat. For those who cannot go home for Shabbat, we bring Shabbat to them – and to the staff that cares for them – and we have lots of help. Many volunteers from several organizations visit bedridden patients to bring in Shabbat, lighting candles and reciting Kiddush with them, returning Saturday evening to mark the end of Shabbat with Havdalah.

Every Friday evening, patients and staff gather in a “Shabbat dining room” at Ein Kerem or on Mt. Scopus to  enjoy a festive meal, complete with zmirot, joyous Shabbat songs, and a drasha, a scholarly interpretation of a religious text or the portion of the week. Both our synagogues are open. To please our varied community, one conducts services according to the Sephardi tradition; the other, the Ashkenazi.

For Hadassah, the special effort we make for Shabbat is a reflection of how we handle many other aspects of Jewish observance throughout our hospitals, every day of the year. Many of our non-Jewish staff work on Shabbat, knowing that they will receive the same consideration for their religious holidays and festivals. Our Jewish and non-Jewish personnel understand their responsibility to our patients. At the same time, they know that unless necessary for the patients’ well being, they should reserve unnecessary tasks for weekdays.

Rabbi Yaacov Rakovsky

Observance of traditional norms is inherent in everything we do. Hadassah is, after all, a Jewish Medical Center in a Jewish country – in Jerusalem, the geographic and spiritual focal point of our prayers. Moshe Wolfenson, who served as the Administrative Director of the Hadassah Medical Organization for many years, explained that “kashrut is central – that our observance of  kashrut creates the foundation for all that follows.”  There are many categories of kashrut, depending on the authority that certifies the food. For the people who find our standard insufficient, we purchase pre-packaged meals from a source they approve. The separation of milk and meat occurs on the wards as well as in our dining rooms. We have a special high temperature dishwashing cycle that ensures our dishes and cutlery remain kosher. These efforts – and many more – are supervised by Rabbi Yaacov Rakovsky, our venerable HMO rabbi, along with a full time mashgiach, a kashrut supervisor.

In 2008, when Mr. Wolfenson became the Project Director for the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, he applied his knowledge of how religious issues are handled in the Medical Center to the construction of the new building. For example, unless it is necessary to save a life, anything involving the use of electricity is problematic on Shabbat.

Because the issues are complex and encompass every aspect of our work, Dr. Yair Birnbaum, HMO Associate Director General, turned to the Zomet Institute for help, as we have in the past. This Israeli high-tech non-profit organization specializes in equipment and electronic appliances designed to comply with Jewish law – and we incorporated their new technology into our new hospital building. The Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower will have Shabbat elevators as we have today throughout our campuses, as well as special plugs, thermometers and phones, automatic doors and electronic bells – all created to satisfy the most stringent of religious requirements.

Our sensitivity to matters that affect the very observant is more than technical; it is sacred. It is part of how we regard ourselves as Jews – it is an expression of our Jewish hospital.

We have always been proud of the diversity of our staff and our patient population – that everyone is treated equally regardless of race, religion, ethnic origin or political beliefs. That ethic is deeply rooted in both our philosophy and our practice. As Jews, we understand discrimination – our history and our experiences are part of our psyche. Many centuries ago, the great Rabbi Hillel said “'What is hateful to you, do not do unto others.” At Hadassah, we take his words seriously – and we try to practice them with caring and compassion.

On any given day, you can see secular and religious Jews, Christians and Moslems among our patients and our staff. As we extend our hands to others, striving to build bridges of peace with our neighbors, so too we extend ourselves to our fellow Jews – regardless of their level of observance. Their emotional wellbeing is as important to us as their physical ailments – and we believe both should be equally addressed.

This week as I welcome Shabbat and prepare myself for Yom Kippur, I will continue my cheshbon nefesh, the stock-taking of my soul that takes place during these High Holy Days. As I examine the past and consider the future, both for myself and for our Medical Center, I will take pride in our commitment to providing our patients and staff a Hadassah Shabbat full of the festivities that make this day so special. And on this Sabbath of Sabbaths, this Yom Kippur, my thoughts will turn to you, my friends – and all those throughout the world who have dedicated themselves to the Hadassah Medical Organization – with my heartfelt wish for a G'mar Chatima Tovah, that you be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef
Director General

SPECIAL NOTE: I am sure you realize that none of these pictures were taken on Shabbat.

The photo of Rabbi Rakovsky by Oriyah Tadmor was provided by the publication Mishpacha.

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