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Jewish patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles who are nearing death often find strength and spiritual healing in holding the Torah, praying with it or simply having it present. A small "traveling" scroll, kept in the ark of the medical center's chapel, can now be taken to patients' rooms.
One elderly Russian immigrant requested water to wash his hands before reaching to touch the holy parchment. He recited a blessing, touched the Torah that had been brought to his bed, and wept. But in the silence of that moment, he appeared transformed, becoming livelier, happier and more hopeful. This man, who was gravely ill, found his spirits restored in a way that no medication could duplicate.
The Torah that soothed the ailing patient's soul had been brought to his room by hospital chaplain Rabbi Levi Meier and chaplaincy volunteer Sandy Gordon. The way the scroll touched the patient's heart gave Gordon an idea. In honor of her parents, Milton and Florence Slotkin, she wanted to give the hospital a lightweight Torah that could be carried and placed in patients' rooms, and even on their beds, more easily.
"I thought Sandy had come up with an ingenious new form of pastoral care. I began to contact a number of scribes who could undertake this holy work for us," said Meier. After several months, he located a father and son - rabbis in Jerusalem - who had already commissioned just such a Torah from a scribe in Ashdod. The sofer had almost completed work on the scroll, and would be able to finish within a couple of months. The new Torah arrived at Cedars-Sinai last January, hand-delivered by the father-and-son rabbis. The scroll, covered in dark blue velvet with golden embroidery and carrying an inscription honoring the Slotkins, was placed in the Ark of the chapel next to the full-size Torah.
Although Cedars-Sinai's "traveling Torah" is small, the writing is very clear. It quickly took on a major role in the chaplaincy program, said Meier. The day after it arrived, the chaplains took it with them to visit a patient who was feeling discouraged and depressed.
"I haven't seen one of these in such a long time," she said, carefully taking the Torah and cradling it in her arms. "I've felt so separated - from my family, from my people. Now, all of a sudden, I feel connected again." Patients who are nearing their final hours find strength and spiritual healing in holding the Torah, praying with it, or simply having it present.
Shortly after an elderly patient's death, a grandson noticed the Torah. "In these past few months, my grandfather lost a lot of his faculties and memories, but one thing he never lost was his connection to the Torah," he said.
"One afternoon, I was called to the bedside of a woman who was... dying. Both she and her husband were Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe. Her husband stood with their sons, and each took a turn holding the Torah," Meier said. "One son gently put the Torah on the bed, next to his mother. He placed her hand on the velvet cover so she could feel its smooth, soft texture. 'She was a seamstress,' he explained, 'so she will appreciate this.'" A moment later he turned to me and said, 'We will never forget this moment.'"
Cedars-Sinai says its Torah sustains patients in life as well: A young patient recuperating from surgery felt pain in his hand from the intravenous line. He asked if he could hold the Torah, which he placed over the painful hand. "It doesn't hurt me now," he said after a few minutes. "Can you leave the Torah with me a little longer? As long as it's here, I don't feel any pain."
"I continue to be astounded by the ways in which the new scroll is received by patients and families, and I believe that every Jewish hospital could benefit from having a Torah that can be held by patients," said the rabbi, noting that Cedars-Sinai is one of 33 Jewish hospitals in the US. "Even for patients who have been estranged from their faith, the Torah brings a special closeness to God."
TOMATOES FOR YOUR ARTERIES
Tomatoes are good not just for salads, but also for preventing disease. Lycopene in cooked tomatoes has already been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and other tumors. Now a Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researcher, Prof. Esther Paran, who is also head of the hypertension unit at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, has found that antioxidants in large amounts of tomatoes, especially when they are cooked with olive oil and cheese, can reduce high blood pressure.
Since it's difficult to eat large amounts of tomatoes, she tested capsules with the active ingredient on hypertension patients and found that they brought down systolic blood pressure (the first figure in a reading) by an average of 10 points and diastolic blood pressure by four points. Her research was published recently in the American Heart Journal.
"When my patients have difficulty keeping their blood pressure normal, I usually give them another medication. But recently I decided to add tomato concentrate to the list of drugs, and it works!" Paran says in the latest issue of BGU's Alef Bet Gimmel newsletter.
The article is accompanied by Paran's own recipe for homemade tomato sauce that includes green onion, garlic, olive oil, peeled and diced ripe fresh tomatoes, canned cooked tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt, white pepper and basil.