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A Bar Mizvah in the Hospital

Wednesday, 15 June, 2011 - 11:42 pm

This week I would like to share with you a very emotional story.

In my position as a Rabbi, I can very often fulfill the Mitzvah of visiting the sick. Sometimes I visit people from our community whom I know. In that case, I never consider this visit to be work, on the contrary, I always come as a friend, which definitely also has a positive effect on the visit.

However, there are also visits of another kind.

I sometimes get calls from the hospital or from a Jewish family who is visiting in the area, not for a ski holiday but for a medical treatment.

In most of these cases, the people are here on their own and don’t know a soul around. Many of them don’t speak the local language and don’t connect to the mentality. Their stay is sometimes long and the pressure from the treatment does not make it easier for the patient or for his family.

It is amazing to see the smile on the face of the patient and his family the minute I walk into their room. I didn’t even say anything, I didn’t offer anything yet, but I already feel that just the fact that I came, encourages them.

Sometimes there could be a completely different reaction as well.

The following story which happened to me was something totally out of the ordinary.

One Friday morning I was on the way to visit a woman who was sick in the hospital in Bern. She had been a friend of ours for several years.

I was also going to see another patient. A day earlier I had received a phone call from a family in Israel, telling me about their mother who was hospitalized at a hospital in Bern for a treatment. They asked me if I would please go for a short visit and say hello. Of course, I told them I would happily do so.

I was on my way, equipped with two freshly baked Challot, homemade by Rivky, which I would give to the patient and /or to the family.

I started my visit with the first patient, our friend. Her condition was not simple at all and the whole family was sitting around her. I sat there for about half an hour, for which most of it I barely spoke, but mostly listened, maybe gave some encouragement.

From there I made my way to the adjacent building, where I visited the woman from Israel. In her room the atmosphere was more positive and happy. She had already completed the treatment for which she had come to Switzerland and she was, thank G-d, in good condition.

Just before I was about to leave, she tells me: “Rabbi, just a minute”. I turned back and she tells me that in the room next to hers, there is a Jewish patient in very serious condition. Would I maybe go in to visit?

For a minute I contemplated what to do…

Firstly, it was a short Friday, and I had to make it back home before Shabbat. Secondly, I didn’t even know who this man is, and I wasn’t invited to visit him.

On the other hand, maybe this would be a perfect opportunity to do the pure mitzvah of visiting the sick.

I shared my thoughts with the nice lady from Israel and she tells me: “Listen, Rabbi, I spoke to him a few times in the last week and I got to know him a bit. I have no doubt that he will be very happy if you stop by.”

I decided to give it a try. There is nothing to lose, if I would feel that it is not my place to be there, I would leave right away…

A woman of about fifty opens the door to my knocks. I can say that there was a complete shock on her face when she saw me.


I introduce myself.

She is still in shock and starts talking to me in French. I kindly ask her to switch to English, and she very excitedly tells me: it is so nice of you to come, my husband will be so happy to see you. The doctors have given him only a few weeks to live…

I make my way in to the room. There is a big bed in the middle with a recliner chair next to it. A sad looking man is sitting in the recliner, giving me a cold look, which immediately turns into a slight smile and tells me: Rabbi, thanks for coming.

She offers me to sit down, and I really don’t know what to say. I don’t even know their names. So I start a polite conversation but the atmosphere is very cold.

After a few minutes I turn to leave, but the woman stops me and asks me to stay.

Once again a cold atmosphere. I don’t know what to do or say.

I try starting another conversation… where are you from? Etc.

And then, I don’t know why , but I decided to ask: Mr. X, where was your Bar mitzvah?

The woman started crying. “My husband never had a Bar Mitzvah.” You could see a great sorrow on his face.

Suddenly I have an idea. I asked the sick man if he would like to put on Tefillin? They both look at me with astonished looks and ask, what is Tefillin?

I take out my Iphone and show them a picture of Tefillin.

Now it was the man’s turn to cry… and he tells me: Oy, I always wanted to do this mitzvah. In all my life I never met a Rabbi who offered me to do this.

I’m in shock. There are very few people whom I have met, who never put on Tefillin, at least at their Bar Mitzvah.

I ask them to wait, as I run to my car to bring the pair of Tefillin, which I always have in the car.

Back in the room, I help the man to put on the Tefillin. When we said the “Shema Yisrael” together, he was really weeping and I couldn’t hold myself back and cried with him.

I said goodbye to them and left. Until today the voice of the woman echoes in my ears: “Thank you for doing a Bar mitzvah for my husband”.

A few short weeks later, I received a message that he had passed away.

This month is the Yahrtzeit (day of passing) of a Jew, whom I never knew, but I merited to do his Bar mitzvah.

Rivky and the children join me in wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Chaim



Comments on: A Bar Mizvah in the Hospital

Sarit wrote...

Chaim, what a nice story! Even if it's very sad at the end. Thank you for sharing! Shabbat Shalom!

Dani wrote...

Wow Chaim that is such an amazing story. I am deeply touched. You are a very special and kind man. Good shabbos . Dani

Isaac wrote...

as always - great and amazing story. Isaac Toronto, Canada

Doris Etsiony wrote...

I can well understand your feelings while making these Mitzvoth by visiting sick people. As I was working 16 years at the Inselspital in Bern, and as a member of the Jewish community of Bern, I did such visits during 13 years. We had an arrangement with the patients office and they let me know about every Jewish entrance into the Hospital. No matter if it was a member of the Bern community or just elsewhere. So I was the so called "Bikur Cholim" especially during a long period of not having a Rabbi in Bern. I met a lot of people, from other communities in Switzerland who came to be treated from specialists in Bern, from the USA, England and also from Israel. I could help them a lot and some I also invited to my home before they went back to Israel and the contact was lasting for a long time after they have been back. I visited them a few times here in Israel as well each time I visited the country. I remember there was a 9-year old English girl who had a ski accident and was in the children's hospital. During her stay her father had "Jahrzeit" after one of his parents and asked me, as he should have been back home by this time already, if I had a " נר נשמה "
I was able to bring him one and he was very grateful to me. Well I could tell you much more touching stories, but I can tell you in short, that I loved my "job" as an only member of Bikur Cholim of the community of Bern. Later when the Rabbi came I introduced him to the work as well as other people - men and women - who helped me doing my job sometimes, especially also Jakob Bass.

During my active time I - and an active man in the patients department and responsible for food at the Inselspital - at the time with the help of the Rabbi of Zürich started to initiate Kosher food possibilities at the Inselspital. They created a special menu card and offered it to every patient who was interested to eat kosher food. It still should work today. I was very proud at the time for this and here and then there really was a need for it.

So in any case, I wish you "no work" but if there is, continue to feel good as it is really a great Mitzvah by doing it, especially when people come to Bern with no relatives around them. Kol tuv! Rak le smachot! Nur oif Simches!

Shabbat Shalom