April 12, 2024
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Miriam Lubling, Pioneer of Bikur Cholim in America, is Niftar

Brooklyn—Mrs. Miriam Lubling, co-founder and president of the Rivkah Laufer Bikur Cholim, and a legendary patient advocate in New York area hospitals, died this week at NYU Langone Medical Center after a five-week long battle with pneumonia. After a levaya in Borough Park, she was taken to Israel for burial.

Mrs. Lubling, the mother of three and the grandmother and great-grandmother of many, was 96 years old. Mrs. Lubling also served as the Director of Medical and Holocaust Services at the Boro Park Jewish Community Council, was involved with OHEL, was an associate trustee at NYU Langone Medical Center whose Shabbos Room bears her name and was the recipient of the 2002 Brooke Russell Astor Unsung Hero Award.

Mrs. Lubling touched the lives of many people in Bergen County when their family members—or they themselves—were patients in New York area hospitals. What she created in New York helped local bikur groups establish similar models in Hackensack, Teaneck and Englewood. There was nothing the tiny dynamo of a woman would not attempt to do on behalf of patients and their families, and she set a standard that went beyond anything mere mortals could dream of achieving.

Mrs. Lubling and Rivkah Laufer, for whom the bikur cholim organization was named, are remembered by many women of a certain age in Bergen County and Riverdale who grew up in Crown Heights and Borough Park, because the two role models would come to their schools and encourage them to visit pediatric patients at the Brooklyn Hospital of Chronic Diseases in East Flatbush (now Downstate) or Maimonides Hospital as it was then known. On Shabbos afternoons, the hospital would fill with young girls dressed in their Shabbos best, fulfilling the mitzvah of bikur cholim. It was a never-to-be-forgotten lesson in compassion and the value of performing a simple mitzvah. (The editor of JLBC was one of those students.) To this day, New York hospitals are filled with young students who walk the halls on Shabbos stopping to wish patients and their families a good Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Mrs. Lubling was born Miriam Albert in Konskie, Poland. She attended Sarah Schenirer’s Beis Yaakov in Krakow, and a translation of a postcard written by the headmistress asks a young Miriam to take charge after a teacher in the local Beis Yaakov had taken ill. “First, make sure that the children say Tehillim every day for the speedy recovery of Feiga bas Chaye Yitta. Second, please arrange to have the older girls teach the younger ones … May we, with Hashem’s help, be able share only besoros tovos, good tidings.”

The young Miriam and her sister fled Poland for Mandate Palestine before the Nazi invasion. She married in Israel but when her husband, Yaakov, hit his head in the shower and was seriously injured. Mrs. Lubling brought him to America at the advice of the Chazon Ish. Her own experiences with the medical community made her realize that there was a need for someone to speak up for those in need, her mission in life was defined, and she remained focused on her goal to help others from then on.

Decades later, despite her advanced age, she approached that mission with determination and drive. Until just a few years ago she could be seen navigating hospital corridors in high heels—and even into her final days, she was always impeccably dressed.

Oftentimes it seemed as if doctors preferred to give in to Mrs. Lubling instead of arguing with her, knowing the battle was already lost. Douglas Jablon, senior vice president of patient relations at Maimonides Medical Center, where Mrs. Lubling could be found at all hours of the day or night said, “She taught me things that I don’t think I could have learned from the greatest Ph.D.s. She was the biggest gaon. She taught me how to treat people. She would walk into families that no one wanted to deal with and never turned anyone away.”

“She would deal with the biggest doctors and administrators, some of whom were world renowned,” said Jablon. “They all loved her because she gave a thousand percent. She was a real rebbetzin and a bracha from her went a very long way.” Jablon also made an interesting observation: “I made sheva brachos for my child and several rebbes walked in and no one stood up for them, but when Mrs. Lubling walked in, everyone stood up.”

“The word No was not in her vocabulary,” observed N.Y. State Senator Simcha Felder, who nominated Mrs. Lubling for the Astor award in 2002. He recalled that at the awards ceremony at the New York Public Library, Mrs. Lubling approached Mrs. Brooke Astor, who was clearly unwell. “She went over and started talking to her. It was pretty difficult to understand her but you didn’t have to understand Mrs. Lubling to know that you better do what she wanted. She kept talking to Mrs. Astor and saying ‘I’ll come to your house and visit you.’ Mrs. Astor’s aides kept trying to keep her away but she kept insisting, ‘No, no, just give me your address. I will visit.’ That was just who she was and it was beautiful that an organization like the Astors’ understood what a special person she was.”

Felder described a typical Lubling tactic. One of his co-workers needed an immediate appointment with a specialist, so Felder called Mrs. Lubling for help. “She called back a few minutes later and said we had an appointment for 12 noon the next day. My co-worker shows up at 12 and waits. It is 12, then 12:15 and about 45 minutes later she went to the receptionist, who tells her that there was no 12 o’clock appointment. Then she asked my co-worker, ‘Who told you you have an appointment?’ When she heard it was Mrs. Lubling, she said ‘I told her we had no appointments but she told me not to worry and just hung up.’ Of course, the doctor saw my co-worker. And that was Mrs. Lubling. The word No just didn’t exist.”

Mrs. Lubling’s daughter Peshi Drillick observed that her mother’s strength came from never worrying about being embarrassed. “She doesn’t care what the doctor thinks about her so long as she gets what she wants done. Most people get intimidated. You don’t want to sound pushy. You don’t want to sound nudgy. Her attitude is, ‘You don’t like me? Who cares?’”

Rizy Horowitz of Nachas Health recalled that even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized the indomitable force that was Miriam Lubling.”I was at a reception for Hillary Clinton at Maimonides and she said to the audience ‘If Mrs. Lubling calls, who can say no?’”

Chaskell Bennett, an Agudath Israel board member, said that while there are many bikur cholim organizations, Mrs. Lubling’s was an original. “It wasn’t just that she helped yidden in trouble. She created the concept that you can make a difference even if you aren’t a doctor. This was with no cell phones, no email, no texting, no Twitter. She accomplished everything she had to by the sheer force of her personality. …The needs of the patient were first, second, third and fourth. She had no time or interest in formality or political correctness. When others didn’t feel comfortable making waves, she created a tsunami. …She made doctors, nurses and oftentimes indifferent hospital administrators understand that their entire mission was to help heal this patient, now.”

“I called her my rabbi,” said Rabbi Yisroel Rosman, the Jewish patient care advocate at NYU, who described her as a person of deep ruchnius. He also saw the other side of her. “I was once with a doctor who is a big name with a waiting list that was six months long. Mrs. Lubling walked into the office with her walker and suddenly the doctor says, ‘I need to go.’ I tried to ask what happened, but he ran and hid in a closet. In walks Mrs. Lubling and she says to me ‘Where is he?’ This important doctor was so afraid of her, he hid in the closet!”

There was also the time when Mrs. Lubling was working for a child who needed an appointment with a pediatric neurosurgeon. When told the doctor had just left for the airport to go vacation, she raced to the airport, found him and told him, “You can go on vacation next week, but this kid will never go on vacation if you leave now.” Of course, he canceled his vacation.

“Mrs. Lubling didn’t just look for ways to make things happen, she found them,” explained Esther Henny Jaroslawicz of Bikur Cholim of Boro Park. “The world will never be the same without her inimitable presence. Her myriad acts of chesed and tzedaka serve as her legacy. Surely, she will be a meilitzas yosher for her family and Klal Yisroel.”

(with permission from Vos Iz Neias, edited for brevity)

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