For people stuck in the hospital, battling illness or injury, the days of the week can merge in a bleak blur. When the Rev. Richard White, the chaplain at the University Medical Center at Princeton, was offered a chance to help his Jewish patients celebrate Shabbat, he welcomed the idea enthusiastically.
“Without his encouragement, I don’t think we’d have been able to do this,” said Linda Grenis, the woman behind the new program that brings “Shabbat in a Bag” to those patients. She said, “We at Greenwood House wanted a way to let the Jewish patients know that there is a Jewish community out there who cares about them. The Talmud says all Jews are responsible for each other, and this has been a wonderful way to put that into practice.”
Grenis, director of community outreach for the Greenwood House complex of senior facilities in Ewing, launched the program in April. It took a while to iron out the practical details, she said, but now, every Thursday, she — sometimes assisted by her son William — has been delivering around 20 green shopping bags to be handed out the next day. Each one contains two loaves of hallah, a bottle of grape juice, and a card with the blessings in English, Hebrew, and a transliteration — and a wish from the community for “a full and complete recovery.”
Thus far, Greenwood House — working with the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks and Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County — has carried the cost, but, Grenis said, financial donations would be welcome, as would volunteers to help pack the bags.
The contents are kosher. Greenwood, which offers long-term care, sub-acute rehabilitative care, and an assisted-living facility, is run on Jewish principles — though it accepts patients of all backgrounds. As Grenis pointed out, that means it has ready access to kosher food vendors for the bag supplies.
For the first five weeks, the deliveries were made to the medical center in Princeton. As of Thursday, May 24, they will be going to the center’s new hospital building in Plainsboro (see related story, page 3).
The number of bags depends on how many Jewish patients White has found in any given week. That can be a delicate issue, as people are not obliged to state their religion when admitted, but White finds grateful recipients who do make that notification.
Grenis said, “The patients’ privacy is respected and so the bags are delivered by hospital volunteers from the chaplaincy department. However, good news travels back to us about how touched the patients are and how much the volunteers love delivering a meaningful gift to the patients to lift their spirits.
“Recently, a male patient cried upon receiving the bag, saying it reminded him so much of his mom.”
She said, “Greenwood House, the federation, and JFCS are delighted to offer this program on behalf of the entire Jewish community. The Jewish patient is the recipient of warm wishes from the community and an opportunity to celebrate Shabbat while in the hospital. Our community is enriched by uniting as one to perform this mitzva.”