Calvary Hospital recently hosted a joyous celebration to dedicate a new mantle cover for a sacred Torah scroll. The 135-ye3ar-old Torah scroll, dating from 1880, was rescued after the Holocaust and is originally from the town of Taus-Domazlice, in what is now known as the Czech Republic. Since 1988, the Torah has been on permanent loan to Calvary Hospital from the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) in London. Of the more than 1,400 Torah scrolls on permanent loan around the world, Calvary’s scroll, No. 515, is one of only 20 in the greater New York area and one of just a handful that have been given to non-Jewish recipients.
In 2016, Calvary completed a historic initiative to restore the Torah scroll, which was so damaged it could not be used for ritual purposes. The remarkable journey of Torah Scroll No. 515 actually began in the mid-1980s, when the Memorial Scrolls Trust of London granted a request from Calvary to obtain a Torah scroll for the hospital. More than 200 donors, of many faiths, contributed more than $111,000 to repair the Torah, enabling Calvary hospital to use the Torah during religious services. At a poignant ceremony on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, on November 10, 2016, Calvary Hospital dedicated the Torah scroll.
At the dedication, Jeffrey Ohrenstein, executive chairman/trustee of the MST, noted that “Calvary could have easily commissioned a brand new sefer Torah. Instead they chose to take the time, effort and considerably more expense to breathe new life into this historic scroll. Now, all Calvary patients, families and staff will be able to benefit from this effort.”
Fast forward to 2018, and it was time to adorn the sefer Torah in a beautiful, embroidered mantle cover. In a moving ceremony, complete with kosher food, wine and entertainment amid a festive atmosphere of distinguished guests, the new mantle cover was placed on the historic Torah scroll, marking the completion of the restoration project.
At the event, Rabbi Jeffrey J. Sirkman, senior rabbi of Larchmont Temple in Larchmont, New York, shared his own “Calvary Care” experience, from when his beloved wife, Susan, was a patient at Calvary. Calvary cared for Susan in their home and at the hospital’s 200-bed Bronx campus. Sharing beautiful and poignant thoughts with the audience, Rabbi Sirkin spoke about the last leg of Susan’s life journey taking place in the “heimish” Calvary facility, which enabled her to leave this world with her beauty and dignity in place. Just like the care given to the Torah scroll, Susan’s care was compassionate and kind. Just like love is eternal, the Torah scroll is eternal and connects us all. As we read the Torah, again and again, relationships are renewed, both with the Torah and as we remember our departed loved ones. Rabbi Sirkman noted that this particular Torah scroll represents “undying hope.”
Dr. Michael Brescia, executive medical director of Calvary, charmed the audience with his own story of his 50-plus years at Calvary. He came to the hospital as a young doctor interested in doing research, planning to eventually move on, but never left, as he realized the important work that was being performed at Calvary, day after day, with love, compassion and kindness. Brescia spoke about the hospital’s outreach to the Jewish community, its Shabbos Suite and the specific attention devoted to the particular needs of Jewish patients and their families.
Referring to the restoration of the Torah scroll and the mantle dedication, Brescia explained, “Everything in Christianity rests on the shoulders of Judaism, and the Torah scroll is as sacred to Catholics as it is to Jews.”
Calvary staff is knowledgeable about, and sensitive to, the needs of the greater Jewish community, with many amenities available at its facilities. Three rabbis at Calvary care for hundreds of Jewish inpatients and home hospice patients each year. Jewish inpatients and their families can expect a daily visit from a rabbi, food from an expanded kosher hospitality room upon request, dedicated Shabbat lounge, Kabbalat Shabbat service and celebrations of all major holidays.
Rabbi Harold Stern, Rabbi Shmuel Zuckerman and Rabbi Rachmiel Rothberger provide pastoral counseling and care for Jewish patients and families. Rabbi Zuckerman, currently the lead Jewish chaplain, has been at Calvary since 2013. In addition to regular semicha, Zuckerman completed five units of clinical pastoral education (CPE) at Calvary under the supervision of Rev. C. Alejandro. He is board certified by the Association of Professional Chaplains. Zuckerman told The Jewish Link that he “loves working with the patients, families and staff. It is a sacred opportunity to help people.” He explained that by learning Torah every single day, “without exception,” he is “prepared to process what I see and hear,” and manage the challenges he encounters.
The Bronx campus of Calvary Hospital is located at 1740 Eastchester Road in the Bronx. For additional information about Calvary and its services, please visit www.calvaryhospital.org or call 718-518-2114. Additional Calvary facilities are located in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.
By Yvette Finkelstein