Everyone people of all ages should engage in the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, visiting the sick, according to Frank Buchweitz, national director of community service for the Orthodox Union. "Everyone should be involved," he told this newspaper. "It’s part of belonging to a community."
On May 3, the OU will offer a communal symposium, "Understanding the Meaning and Ramifications of Bikkur Cholim," co-sponsored with the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County. The program, to be held after Shabbat at Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, will focus on both the halakhic teachings surrounding the mitzvah and practical advice for volunteers.
"You have to be there for other people," said Buchweitz, adding that "we get what we give. It’s a win-win situation in which the one who gives, and the one who receives, both benefit."
Among the issues to be tackled at the symposium are how to do the mitzvah well and who should do it in a particular instance. For example, said Buchweitz, "If someone is hospitalized, do you want 50 people to visit, or two or three representing the entire community?"
Speakers will also touch on the different ways the mitzvah can be performed, from visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices to providing transportation for those who are ill, cooking and delivering meals to shut-ins, and donating blood.
Offering a halakhic overview of bikkur cholim, Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, religious leader of Etz Chaim in Teaneck, will review sources for the obligation and "explore what the Talmud means when it says that visiting the sick takes away a portion of the illness." In addition, he will examine issues such as "the ideal times and settings for a visit, when the halakha might indicate not visiting, whether related acts such as phone calls and e-mails fulfill this obligation," as well as other issues that might arise.
"Bikkur cholim has no boundaries," said Rabbi Simon Feld, chaplain of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, who will offer both practical advice and vignettes from his ‘5 years at the nursing home. "It can take place anytime, anywhere."
He called the idea of equating the mitzvah with visiting a person sick in bed "a limited approach" and pointed out that the obligation is not simply to reach out to people with health concerns whether physical, mental, or emotional but to extend support to others as well, whether they are people who have lost their home to a fire or those who have been laid off from their jobs.
"The most important thing is to develop relationships with people," he said.
Feld pointed out that while most synagogues have some kind of bikkur cholim committee, some shuls offer volunteer training, while others do not. Hospitals and nursing homes generally have volunteer coordinators, he said.
"Most people want visits," he said, pointing out that he tries to visit each of the 180 residents of the home on some kind of regular basis whether going to their rooms or sitting down with them at mealtimes. "One aspect of bikkur cholim is the ability to develop social skills with people. People who are naturally outgoing will do well; introverted people may not do as well, but it’s not impossible" to develop relationships with the people they visit, he said.
"Visitors should start young," he said. "Seniors love kids more than anything else. One child can do what 100 rabbis can’t. He can bring back [the senior’s] youth."
Feld noted that "you never know the benefit of bikkur cholim," whether for the patient or his or her family. He recalled one patient in the nursing home who greeted him with the words, "I can’t stand rabbis." "I’m not crazy about them myself," replied Feld, breaking the ice and creating a relationship that lasted for nine months.
"He was given only 7′ hours to live when he was brought into hospice," said Feld, recalling that six months after the patient was admitted, he was "enjoying schnapps and herring" in the home’s sukkah. "His family will never forget this."
For more information about the symposium, call (‘1’) 613-8”5 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org