Tzipi’s Bikur Cholim Room at Morristown Medical Center was officially dedicated on Aug. 22. The room is stocked with kosher foods and treats, from jellybeans and chocolate to tuna fish and fresh apples, hummus and yogurt. But the room is more than just a place to find a nosh. With its fresh flowers, tablecloth, and religious books, it’s also a place where someone can find respite.
“People can come relax and find community, rather than feel isolated through sickness,” said Pearl Lebovic, the Jewish chaplain at the hospital who spearheaded the effort to create the space. “They come here and find solace away from their troubles.”
Tzipi’s Bikur Cholim Room, sponsored by the Joint Chaplaincy Commission of Greater MetroWest and Neshei Chabad of Morristown, is named in memory of Tziporah Hirsch, Lebovic’s aunt, a Holocaust survivor who died in 1998 at the age of 82. “Aunt Tzipi exuded hospitality to anyone way beyond what the average person would have expected,” said Lebovic.
On the wall is a tambourine, a nod to the biblical figure Miriam who, after leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea with the Israelites, led the women in song and dance with timbrels. A depiction of the messianic third holy Temple, resting on a cloud, is painted on the face of the tambourine. Lebovic said it represents a utopian future, in which “there would be no sickness because there would be no negative stuff to bring sickness.”
Bikur cholim (literally, “visiting the sick”) rooms are common at hospitals throughout New York and New Jersey, and in other regions where there are large Jewish populations. In August, Hackensack University Medical Center dedicated new suites with Shabbat amenities for patient families. Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick dedicated a bikur cholim room last September.
As Lebovic put it, “Certain segments of the Jewish population are accustomed to having a bikur cholim room. They often ask me where it is before even putting down their luggage.” For the last 16 years she has worked there, she has had to tell them there isn’t one. “It took a while to convince the hospital, and it took a while to come up with the money,” she acknowledged, but she is thrilled with the result. Since its “quiet” opening in July, the 9-by-7-foot space has been used by about 12 people.
“It sends a message that we believe spiritual care has a part in healing,” said Elaine Andrecovich, Morristown Medical Center’s public relations manager. In 2016, the hospital, affiliated with Atlantic Health, had 42,000 admitted patients. The hospital admits about 3,000 Jewish patients each year, according to Andrecovich.
While Lebovic and her husband, Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic, who together lead Congregation Ahavath Zion in Maplewood, have so far supplied all the food, they hope the community will take over. In the meantime, they’ve left a guest book for people to sign. One visitor wrote, “Thank you for establishing this room and making our stay as comfortable as my own home.”