As the light outside waned, the call came round: “Chanukah Sameach, we’re lighting the candles now. Anyone who can, please come out to the nurses’ station.”
I pulled myself up to a sitting position and after adjusting my bags, bottles and IV pole, made my way very slowly to the corridor.
I was in the surgical ward so many patients were in no position to rush off anywhere but nurses and visitors were soon helping patients to make their way slowly and carefully to the nurses’ desk where crowds were gathering . A patient was asked if he’d like to ‘do the honors’ and make the brachot over the chanukiah. As he was about to start, various cries could be heard, “ Wait a second, someone’s still on her way, just wait another minute for her,” as another barely mobile lady made her way slowly to the desk and everyone happily waited for her.
Chanukah is a time to be with your family lighting the menorah, playing dreidel, making dozens of latkes to serve to children and grandchildren and trying hard to avoid eating too many myself- not to mention steering clear of sufganiyot (doughnuts).
So when I was told that my surgery had been scheduled for two days before Chanukah and that I’d be in the hospital during most if not all of the eight days, I was not happy.
It’s bad enough to have cancer and to know you’re facing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy without having to miss being with your family at a real family time.
Instead of being in the kitchen frying latkes, I knew I would be lying post-surgery in hospital deprived of the simcha of Chanukah, candle lighting and sufganiyot.
But I never realized that being in Shaarei Zedek hospital would not be like being in just any other hospital.
Before the first candle had even been lit, the volunteers were doing the rounds in the wards distributing doughnuts from various bakeries. “ Don’t just take one! Take for your grandkids too.”
And soon after HaNeiros Halalu had been quickly sung, enabling the patients who could barely stand to return to their beds, the music started as groups of yeshiva boys playing various instruments made their way round the hospital singing “ Maoz Tsur” “Chanukiah sheli” and any other songs that were requested by the patients.
I had insisted that all my family including my children with many children of their own, should stay home and light as early as they can, as was their custom and enjoy Chanukah with their children. I could wait to see them later on if they had time.
My husband had his own bunch of questions regarding when and where to light as he had until then sometimes spent the night in the hospital immediately after my surgery— but as I no longer needed help 24/7, he went back home to sleep.
As I was arranging myself back in bed, two cute and very welcome heads popped through the curtain after shouting out “Knock knock can we come in?” (Have you ever tried knocking on a curtain?) Two of my grandchildren learn in Hevron Yeshiva in Givat Mordechai just a short distance from the hospital and wanted to be my first Chanukah visitors.
Good, I thought. Now I can start giving out some of my sufganiot. But I hadn’t counted on the irresistible pull of the smell of fresh baking. Angel’s bakeries who have a snack bar in the new shopping area of Shaarei Zedek had set out a ‘trap’ in the form of a stand of fresh doughnuts in the entrance to the hospital, and what a success it was. Before I could retrieve my tasty but simple, basic doughnuts the boys had emptied out a box of gooey chocolate/cream and icing covered ones onto my table.
“Which ones do you want Bubby? You get first choice.”
My eyes longed for a bite or two of each one but the sad dietary list which lay next to me said NO NO NO.
I’d be lying if I said it was difficult for them to eat them all without my help! I have to admit even I didn’t think that teenage boys who admit that their yeshiva serves plenty of delicious food, could eat their way non-stop through five sufganiyot each.
My daughters started to arrive shortly afterwards and the boys left. Soon afterwards, four sweet American Beis Yaacov girls arrived and asked if they could sing for me.
I happily agreed, not wanting to deprive them of their mitzvah. After producing more sufganiot and cute messages and toffees from their bag, they took their leave.
I figured that that would be probably be it regarding the chesed visits for the night but I was wrong.
Later on as most visitors were gradually disappearing and mine were still arriving ( my family have always lived in a different time warp to the rest of the world), I heard a girl’s voice squeak excitedly. “There’s someone awake here!” I couldn’t deny it.
“Please, can we play for you? We so much want to play for someone tonight before we go home.”
How could I refuse? (I checked first with my neighbor.)
These weren’t your average organized chesed group. For a start, they were two ladies, older than most of the hospital entertainers, probably in their early thirties and it seemed evident that they hadn’t arranged their visit with anyone in the hospital itself or they wouldn’t have arrived at such a late hour on the off chance that someone would be awake enough to listen to them.
Debra* had a guitar and Sonia* we later discovered was a professional classical flutist from Australia. They obviously wanted to tell their story as well as to play for us. It appeared they had met on a bus that evening and Debra who lives in Jerusalem had persuaded Sonia to come with her to play in the hospital. Their meeting was so serendipitous as Sonia was just in the initial stages of conversion to Judaism and was longing to play the Jewish tunes she had learnt. Her quiet calm playing was a real balm and when she asked me if she could play some classical non-Jewish music as well, I happily agreed. At the end of her recital, the clapping outside my room indicated just how many of the hospital staff had been attracted by her talent.
As they left another voice appeared. “Has anyone in here not benched the Chanukah lights yet? We’ll be happy to light them here for you.”
And I thought I’d be missing out on the Chanukah experience by being in the hospital!
Mi KeAmcha Yisrael.
Submitted by Ann Goldberg