Saturday, July 02, 2022

(Courtesy of SMGH) “Purim is behind us for this year—the Jews were saved, Mordechai is a hero and Haman is dead,” said George Matyjewicz, PhD, community liaison at St. Mary’s General Hospital, in Passaic. “Or is he? Maybe Haman is back in a different form: COVID. We all want to get back to normal and carry on with our manic Pesach cleaning and then celebrate our Pesach Seder with family this year, not like the past two years. Can we? Or will we bring on another variant of COVID? We can practice the safety requirements we have been taught, but let’s face it, it is impossible to eat with a mask on!”

Maybe we are being tested these past couple of years to see how we react; maybe it is an opportunity for us to feel what many people experience on a regular basis—being alone on Pesach or any Yom Tov. Social isolation is the norm for many people, and they may be too shy or embarrassed to let anybody know that they are always alone. Yes, most of us do reach out to others whom we may meet in shul or at an event. But that shy person may be part of the woodwork—you don’t even know he/she exists.

The twin themes of Pesach are slavery and freedom—we were slaves in Egypt and now we are free. Maybe some of us are not free. Or perhaps we have two plagues this year: COVID and social isolation? COVID has inflicted all of us with the restrictions imposed to protect us. Part of those restrictions is social isolation. However, for some, social isolation had nothing to do with COVID: They are alone always.

“I always say that the Passaic-Clifton frum community is the friendliest place in the world,” said Matyjewicz. “Everybody helps others when and where they can. That is, if we know that somebody needs help.I have been the central communications1 point for the entire community, and I am always surprised when I find somebody who is alone or isolated. When I do, I try to bring that person into the kehilla. And it is a beautiful thing to see that person blossom knowing they are part of our community.”

And we could also suffer with illness this year as in the past two years, maybe from COVID or something else that has not been diagnosed. What if it is serious enough for a hospital stay during Pesach? “If, chas v’shalom that does happen, get admitted to St. Mary’s General,” said Matyjewicz. “Our staff has been educated in the nuances of Orthodox Judaism and have been practicing faithfully the past three years. Right now our dietary team is preparing for Pesach. Ours is not as intense as it is for our homes; however we still have to honor our frum patients and understand their needs—both physical and dietary needs.”

“At classroom education seminars2 that we have had, we learned about the dietary needs during Pesach,” said Elaine C. Ashe, MS, RDN, director of dietary services. “Our kosher food is ordered for patients either at our kosher food supplier or at The Main Ingredient in Passaic. Our kitchen staff knows that Jewish patients cannot eat any leavened products and will not be served bread, cakes or the like. We do have non-Jewish patients, so our kitchen will accommodate them. However, all of our kosher food is double-wrapped and not opened by anybody but the patient. More importantly is that we do not take any chances: If in doubt we contact George or Rabbi Levy or a member of our Advisory Board.3

Every morning the executives and directors at St. Mary’s General Hospital have a conference/TEAMS meeting to discuss the status of each department. One topic of discussion for Matyjewicz is Pesach and what will be needed.

“I will be writing a summary for dealing with frum patients during Pesach for those departments that need it,” said Matyjewicz. “Obviously, patients are not coming to the hospital for elective procedures during Pesach, so we will need refresher information for the E.R. and floors where we may have patients.

“If chas v’shalom we do have a patient during the first days, how will the family be able to conduct the Seder? Will it be necessary to set up Zoom meetings before the first night and conduct the Seder for all to see? If anybody wants to do that with one of our patients, we will be honored to set up a tablet with Zoom for the patient.4 An added twist—now instead of Zissen Pesach (“sweet Passover” in Yiddish) we will have a Zissen Zoom Pesach. Obviously, if we are to do a Zoom Seder, we will need to work closely with Bikur Cholim and the family to have what is needed on the seder plate. And, we will have to substitute grape juice for the wine.”

“The question asked on the first night: ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ This year, if you are a patient at St. Mary’s General Hospital we are doing our best to make your stay different, yet the same as other years,” said Matyjewicz. “Our staff understands the importance of Pesach and will do everything possible to accommodate our frum patients. On behalf of all of us at St. Mary’s General Hospital we wish you a Chag Kasher v’Sameach, Zissen Pesach, Gut Yontiff, Moadim l’Simcha and Happy Kosher Passover!”

St. Mary’s General Hospital works with Bikur Cholim of Passaic-Clifton, Jewish Family Services, Hatzolah, Chevra Kadisha and others to accommodate the frum community. The hospital also has a frum advisory board to help with policies involving the Jewish community. Bikur Cholim sets up and maintains the Shabbat room where it can accommodate guests. Hatzolah brings patients to the emergency room where they are respected, especially on Shabbat or Yom Tovim. And, if a patient should expire, staff know not to touch the body and immediately call Chevra Kadisha.

St. Mary’s General Hospital—nationally recognized, locally preferred—among the top hospitals in America for health, quality, and patient safety. A center of excellence for maternal-child, the hospital has over 550 physicians and 1,200 employees, with every staff member committed to providing respectful, personalized, high-quality care—to satisfy patients’ needs and exceed their expectations.

St. Mary’s General is a proud member of Prime Healthcare, which has had more Patient Safety Excellence Award recipients for five consecutive years (2016-2020) than any other health system in the country including a “Top 15 Healthcare System” by Truven Health Analytics. To learn more about St. Mary’s General Hospital visit https://www.smh-nj.com/ or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StMarysGeneral.

For more information, please contact George Matyjewicz, PhD, community liaison at [email protected]

1 Founded Our Kehila, which serves 3,000+ members, approx. 95% of the Passaic-Clifton families.

2 “Understanding Judaism: The Professional’s Guide In A Hospital Environment” written and copyrighted by Matyjewicz and designed to educate staff in dealing with the Orthodox Jewish communities. 


4 NOTE:  This is not an halachic opinion whether a Zoom seder is kosher or not.  Please check with your L.O.R. and we will accommodate as needed.

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