Recently, a friend of mine took me on a tour of the Mrs. Miriam Lubling Hospitality-Bikur Cholim Room at the NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan. The room itself is located in Rusk, part of a hallway lined with tinsel, cheerful snowmen and happy Kwanzaa signs. I'm a fan of multiculturalism when it means that there's a plethora of colorful things involved.
Bikkur Cholim literally means visiting the sick. This room is set up so that Orthodox relatives of someone who is in the hospital do not have to fend for themselves in an effort to find food or a place to sit, lie down or eat a meal. There's a large table covered with a heavy-duty plastic tablecloth, a sofa, chairs, Jewish magazines and other forms of reading material. The fridge is fully stocked with all manner of items directly provided by the Satmar Bikkur Cholim (read an article about a day in the lives of these women here). There are cheese danishes, containers of pasta with meat sauces, various apple sauces, drinks, cakes and cookies...and that was on a day when they were entirely snowed out and thus not able to get to the hospital to restock the shelves. Ordinarily, my friend informed me, the shelves are bursting with all sorts of food products. Everything is provided completely for free.
In addition, this is a space where Orthodox patients can keep their food; all they have to do is label it with their name and room number and no one will touch it. The fridge is filled with those sorts of packages.
There are cabinets boasting kiddush and havdalah sets, a Sefer Torah locked up in a cupboard that is taken out during Shabbos, utensils, sinks and both dairy and meat microwaves- in short, everything a visitor or a patient might need during their stay at NYU. The amazing part is that at least three different organizations are involved in various aspects of Bikkur Cholim here at NYU. First, there's Satmar, who provides all the food free of charge in portion-sized tupperware containers. Then, there's a certain Rabbi Ridnick (Rudnick? Someone in Boro Park who knows, please correct me) who is a rabbi of a congregation in Boro Park who specifically provides delicious food for Shabbos. And then there are special people who provide apartments two blocks away (and imagine how expensive apartments are in the middle of Midtown Manhattan!) for men and women to stay at. There's a Ladies Apartment and a Men's Apartment so that family members have a place to sleep the night and especially over Shabbos and still be able to spend time with their loved ones.
A rabbi who knows my friend said something that to me resonated powerfully. I don't remember if he was quoting someone or if this was his original thought; he stated that, "All hashkafos make peace at the door of a hospital." And it's true. No matter the background- whether it's Satmar or a Modern Orthodox organization- everyone is able to work together when it comes to stocking Bikkur Cholim rooms or helping out people going through a difficult time. I think that's one of the most beautiful things about us as a people and I just wish we could get to a place where the kindness we express to one another during times of tragedy could become a norm during times of peace as well.