Health + Behavior

'Shabbat in a Box' delivers

Program helps Jewish patients at UCLA keep the faith

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Fridays are a magical time for Rabbi Pearl Barlev, the Jewish chaplain at UCLA Medical Center.
 
"I feel like the Shabbat fairy!" she says.
 
Each Friday, Barlev and a group of volunteers deliver a special gift to Jewish patients — a clear plastic box filled with traditional items to help patients observe the holy day of Shabbat.
 
Shabbat is the weekly Sabbath, or day of rest, in the Jewish religion. It begins at sundown on Friday and ends Saturday evening. Shabbat is ushered in by the lighting of candles and blessings over bread and wine (or grape juice).
 
"Shabbat in a Box" contains everything the patient needs — two battery operated candles, loaves of freshly baked challah bread, grape juice, a wine glass and a list of the traditional blessings in both English and Hebrew. In a time of profound stress and fear in a patient's life, the gift allows them to keep one of the most-observed Jewish traditions.
 
"When I enter the patient's room and say 'This is a gift from the hospital,' the patient typically responds, 'A gift for me?'" Barlev says. "I watch that idea wash over them, and it really brings tears to people's eyes when they're not expecting it."
 
Barlev has observed that patients find different meanings in Shabbat — whether it's a nice tradition to share with family, a day to rest or the whole notion of making the ritual a "place in time" and giving it the holiness that a person brings to it.
 
"Some Jews are very happy to receive the box because of their strict observance of Shabbat," Barlev says. "On the other hand, some will place the box unopened on their windowsill as kind of a precious icon of their Jewishness."
 
Barlev and the volunteers make about 20 deliveries each Friday. They assemble the boxes on Thursday. Then, early Friday morning, Barlev stops by Jem Caterers at Sinai Temple on Wilshire Boulevard and picks up about five dozen loaves of fresh challah donated by Jem's owner Maury Cohen. The boxes, which are paid for by a combination of donations and funds from the hospital's department of spiritual care, cost about $5 each.
 
During a recent delivery, Barlev went into the room of a patient who was in her late 80s. The room was dark, and the elderly woman was lying in a near-fetal position in bed. Barlev thought she was sleeping but realized the woman was just staring at the wall. The rabbi leaned over and told her, "Hi, I brought you a Shabbat box," and the patient's eyes opened wide.
 
"In a short while, we really connected, and she was sitting up in bed. We lit the candles and said the blessings together. Then, she was singing a traditional Shabbat welcome song, and it was so beautiful," Barlev recalled. "It was indeed a holy moment."
 
To volunteer with Jewish patients at UCLA Medical Center or to donate to the "Shabbat in a Box" program, contact Rabbi Barlev at (310) 794-0542.
 
UCLA Medical Center's Spiritual Care Department offers a diverse pastoral program, including multifaith spiritual care for patients, families and staff, as well as clinical pastoral education training programs.
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