TEANECK – A life-sized statue of Jesus stands in the lobby of Holy Name Hospital here, a Catholic hospital that boasts a chapel, crosses decorating the walls — and now, a Jewish library.
"We’re a Catholic hospital, but we’re [smack] in the middle of a huge Jewish community," said Jonathan Hirsch, director of guest services at Holy Name. Thus many patients are Jewish.
"The nurses are sensitized to Shabbos observers," said Debbie Ross, the hospital’s director of clinical information systems. An extensive kosher menu is available, as well as Friday night candle-lighting.
Rivka Lewin, a township resident and a bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) volunteer, had noticed Jewish patients spending their days watching television. She thought that if the patients had something worthwhile to read, they might better occupy their time. Also, Lewin said in a recent interview, "patients need spiritual support." She brought her idea of a library of Jewish books to the hospital’s public relations department.
According to Hirsch, since Jews are such a huge part of the community, when Lewin offered to create a Jewish library in the hospital, "we jumped on the opportunity. And she offered to do all of the work, so it was easy for us."
Lewin sought out sponsors for the library, eventually raising enough money to buy five bookcases, one for each floor of the hospital. Lewin also approached Jewish publishers, asking for discounts, and many complied. As she raised more money, Lewin started buying books. So far nearly three bookcases have been filled.
Patients can borrow the books for as long as they are in the hospital, and then return them on the honor system. Family members are also welcome to read the books, since they spend a lot of time waiting with their loved ones.
Julie Zahavy, this reporter’s cousin, who was in the hospital for about a month, read two of the library’s books. "It was great," she said. "I felt bad that I couldn’t take them home with me," For Zahavy, an immigrant from Argentina, these were the first English books that she had ever read to the end. The books, which were about Jewish immigrants, "made me feel at home," she said.
Lewin said that she would place only books by Orthodox publishers in the library. According to Lewin, if the publisher is not Orthodox, someone in the book might violate Shabbat or kashrut, which would not send the message that Lewin wishes to send to the patients.
"HaShem [God] is the only one who heals," she said. "The doctor is healing through haShem. The way that a person gets healing is to petition haShem and to follow doctors’ orders."
Lewin hopes that the books will help people get closer to God. "I want the patients to live long lives," she said. "So I want to enable them to learn how to do mitzvot."
The library includes a whole variety of books with Jewish themes, including Tehillim, the Hagaddah, and the Kuzari, works of the Rambam, Rav Nachman, and various chasidim, and children’s books on mitzvot. Some books are organized thematically by floor. For example, on the labor and delivery floor there are books about childbirth and fertility.
The books are labeled "Property of Friends of Lubavitch in Teaneck."
"I wanted the books to belong to a good Jewish organization nearby," Lewin said. "And the phone number is there if a patient wants spiritual help." Around 20 volunteers have helped label and organize the books.
Lewin plans to continue to raise money and buy more books until all five bookcases are filled and she wants to expand the library to include Jewish videos.
The hospital also has a small secular library, a cart of books that volunteers bring around from room to room. But the Jewish library is already bigger.
"The hospital is very open to the Jewish community," Hirsch said. "And the library makes it much more comfortable for Jewish patients and their family."
Lewin agrees. "The hospital wants to satisfy its Jewish patients, which is very good," she said.
Sister Nora Molyneux, an administrator at Holy Name, enjoys the fact that a Jewish library is in this Catholic hospital. "I think it’s marvelous," she said. "After all, we [Catholics] read both the Old and New Testament every day, and we share the same Judeo-Christian heritage."