UMMC Creates Kosher Pantry for Families of Orthodox Jewish Patients

For immediate release: January 04, 2009


Karen E. Warmkessel

[email protected] | 410-328-8919

In a collaboration with Jewish community group, families of patients may benefit most from new resource

The University of Maryland Medical Center is creating a kosher pantry to better serve the families of Orthodox Jewish patients who want to follow their religious traditions while remaining close to their loved ones in the hospital.

The new pantry will have a refrigerator, sink, microwave and kitchen cabinets. The Baltimore chapter of Bikur Cholim (Society for Visiting the Sick) will stock the pantry with kosher food and other items that families need. There will even be a pull-out bed that will allow a family member to stay in the hospital on the Sabbath, which starts at sundown on Friday and ends at nightfall on Saturday. The food is donated, and family members will be able to access the locked pantry by using a keypad with instructions in Hebrew.

“What's really unique about this new facility is that it is located in a conference room which can be used for meetings during the day, but then will be available to our families when they need it the most ”“ in the evenings and on weekends,” says Rabbi Ruth Smith, a board-certified chaplain and member of the medical center's spiritual care services staff.

“It's very innovative to have such a mixed-use room, especially in a hospital where space is at a premium,” Rabbi Smith adds. “Sharing even a small space because of a religious need is difficult for many hospitals to imagine, but the University of Maryland Medical Center recognizes the real value of this new resource.”

Tova Spiro, the Bikur Cholim representative to the medical center, says, “The medical center staff has been wonderful to work with. They met with us to understand what we needed and came back with several proposals that they thought might work. It was really impressive how committed they were to finding a way to create a special place that allows people to follow their time-honored traditions.”

Orthodox Jewish families use a strict dietary code, known as kashrut. While there are different gradations of “kosher,” many Orthodox Jews eat only food that has been labeled with a symbol to tell them that it is kosher. On the Sabbath, they are prohibited from doing any work, which would include cooking food.

The medical center provides kosher food for patients who request it, and kosher food is available in the cafeteria during the day. Orthodox Jewish patients also can arrange for small refrigerators donated by Bikur Cholim to be placed in their rooms. Bikur Cholim stocks the refrigerators with food. That service will still be available once the kosher pantry opens. All of these resources are available to all Jewish patients and families who keep kosher.

The kosher pantry will be dedicated on Nov. 4, 2009. Local Orthodox rabbis and other members of the Jewish community have been invited to participate in the occasion.

The medical center staff expects that the greatest need for the pantry may come from families with sick children and relatives of patients who come long distances on short notice to receive organ transplants.

“I'm very pleased that this new kosher pantry will be available to Orthodox Jewish parents whose children are being treated at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children. We're not only committed to taking excellent care of our patients, but also providing comfort and support to their families,” says Steven Czinn M.D., physician-in-chief of the University of Maryland Hospital for Children and professor and chairman of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“Now family members won't have to go too far to get something to eat, especially on the Sabbath, and will have a private place to relax, eat and sleep for a few hours without having to leave the hospital,” Dr. Czinn says.


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