The hospital with a mother’s heart

Schneider is gearing up to provide children and their parents with a round-the-clock holiday experience

Schneider Children's Medical Center 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Schneider Children's Medical Center 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you’ve ever taken a child to the hospital, you know the stress of it too well. You’ve given control over your child to strangers, and you’re frightened. Doctors and nurses may rush away with no time to answer questions, or have to rush your child away. But at Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel in Petah Tikva, you feel not only that your child is in good hands, but that those hands are tender.
With Rosh Hashana approaching, the hospital’s administration is busy bringing the holiday to the youngsters hospitalized there, and to their parents.
Yehudit Leibovitz, director of operations and responsible for food distribution, explains: “We know how hard it is for people to live here 24 hours a day. We want to give the children and parents whatever they need for the holiday, as much like home as possible in the circumstances. We provide candles for parents to light at a designated place, and there’s a special holiday service in the synagogue, with shofar-blowing and a hazan [cantor]. Notices with the times for the services are posted in every ward. We want parents feel that although they’re obliged to stay here, they have conditions to celebrate and pray.”
A festive atmosphere pervades the wards so the children don’t feel that they’re missing out on the holiday. The common rooms and stations bear children’s artwork and decorations around the Rosh Hashana theme. A medical clown in colorful rags and a big red nose visits the wards and entertains the kids.
With the all-important holiday meals, each child gets those of the Rosh Hashana simanim (symbolic foods) that his or her diet permits. Satisfying a child’s emotional needs connected to food may be hard, but the staff goes extraordinary lengths to make the kids happy. Leibovitz recalls the child who refused to eat any food but his mother’s. The case called for creative thinking, as no cooked food from the outside is allowed into the hospital.
“We took the mother into the kitchen, and under our supervision, she cooked his meals every day,” she says. “I’ve worked here 20 years, and I’ve never heard of a child having to go without something he craves. Even if we have to send someone out to the supermarket to buy what a child wants, someone goes and buys it.
Especially in the oncology unit.
“And we take care that the staff on shift gets a festive meat meal, with wine for kiddush.”
Hospital routine can only vary so much to accommodate holidays, but there are many volunteers who work year-round to ease the kids through their hospitalization. The hospital’s 450 volunteers work under the non-profit Yeladim Shelanu foundation, which is housed on the hospital grounds. Each volunteer is committed to four hours’ weekly work.
Some give so much time to the hospital that their lives become entwined with those of the children and families, even after the young patients are released, or in the sad event that one does not survive.
Rabbi Aharon Yitzchak Lapidot, 68, is one of Schneider’s most devoted volunteers. Retired after 30 years’ service as an IDF rabbi, Lapidot’s experience supporting injured soldiers and bereaved families has benefited Schneider’s young patients, and their families, for the past 10 years.
Lapidot’s cheerful, calm voice and fatherly manner radiate optimism. “In a crisis, even the most secular people need spiritual support,” he says. “I’m here for everyone. Arab families have also asked me for blessings, and I gladly bless them. I thank God daily for placing me here.”
Distraught parents often turn to Lapidot for physical and emotional support, and he takes it on himself to help in any capacity. “I’ll accompany them to the imaging room or wherever they must take their children,” he says. “I bring them water and fruit, talk to them reassuringly, answer questions that the doctors may not have time to answer. When there’s a major crisis, I can’t just leave. Sometimes I sit with a family all night.”
“We received a newborn from Cyprus who needed immediate heart surgery. His father and grandfather brought him, and they’d left Cyprus so fast they had only the clothes they stood up in.”
As soon as the baby was operated on and recovering, Lapidot took them to the mall across the street and helped them buy clothes and toiletries. They thanked him emotionally, then asked how much they should pay for his time. “I was so surprised, I just laughed. They couldn’t believe I don’t take money.”
When a child has surgery, he’s allowed one parent to accompany him into the operating room and stay until the anesthesia takes effect. “My wife, who also volunteers here, joins me then. She helps the mother – or if it’s the father, I help – to put on the sterile robe and hat. We explain what to expect in the operating room. Keeping parents informed and calm is important.
“So you see, I have to balance between people’s physical and spiritual needs. I never say, ‘Everything is going to work out if you just pray.’ I work from a standpoint of faith, but it’s also my duty to emphasize that parents have to follow doctors’ orders. Then again, I have to understand who the person is and discern what he or she needs to hear, and how to say it. Sometimes I’ll ask a social worker or psychologist to intervene, or on occasion, my wife.
“Why my wife? Because as a religious Jew, I don’t touch women. But when I see a mother collapsing with grief and worry, a woman whose whole life just turned upside down because something bad happened to her child, I know she needs a friendly shoulder to cry on. At those times, I call up my wife.
She gives the mother that comforting hug and helps her see she’s not alone with this terrible thing, that everyone around is working to save her child.”
The hospital has a rabbi who’s available by phone, and his number is posted in every ward. But most of his time is taken up with the hospital kashrut. Lapidot visits before Shabbat and holidays and helps the parents organize meals, candle-lighting, and a place to sleep.
Lapidot gives insights he’s garnered as a long-time Schneider volunteer.
“Sometimes people ask me what they can do so that God will answer their prayers. But God isn’t an ATM, where you deposit money and can expect to get money back from it. A person must make spiritual efforts. Like, when you light candles on Friday evening, light five minutes ahead of time and spend those five minutes praying for your child.
“When something happens to one’s child, things that seemed so important before suddenly don’t matter at all. And things that we didn’t care about before suddenly occupy a huge space in our minds. Here at Schneider, you see often parents sitting and doing heshbon nefesh [soul searching]. Each one of us needs to do the same, and Rosh Hashana is the best time.”