By Deb Silverthorn
Dallas’ Jewish community is extending its attention to the mitzvah of bikur cholim, visiting the sick, with the founding of Bikur Cholim of Dallas. From literally meeting those infirmed in the hospital, to delivering Shabbos meals, providing housing, transportation and more, Bikur Cholim of Dallas is living up to its motto: one voice, one community.
“We want to bring our community together to provide services, from soup to nuts – from meals and housing, transportation and visitation and more,” said Joe Ravitsky, president of the board of directors of the recently formed organization which is awaiting approval of its 501(c)(3) application. “Whatever someone wants to do to help, whatever ideas someone has to reach others, we want to include. This is an opportunity for us to [practice] chesed together and to deliver as many services as possible.”
Ravitsky joins board members Dr. Ezra Burstein, Nini Craven, Gabi Heimowitz, Surah Heimowitz, Ian Lurie, Dina Ravitsky, Baruch Shawel, Chani Tkatch, Carole Wolanow and Maidy Zakutinsky and the agency’s Halachic Advisory Committee: Rabbi Aryeh Feigenbaum, Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky, Rabbi Aryeh Rodin and Rabbi Howard Wolk; they are dedicated to serving the needs of the Dallas Jewish community and those visiting the area to receive medical treatment.
“We are providing a platform for people, of many ages, to help others on a regular, or on-occasion, basis. We need drivers and visitors, people who can maybe make a regular call to someone and others who want to deliver meals. Really, the possibilities are endless,” said Ravitsky. “Our goal is to create a community-wide resource that crosses communal lines to assist patients and their families.”
Bikur Cholim of Dallas is bringing together numerous members of the community who have long provided support, encouraging others to join them by donating their time, housing for medical patients, talents or financial resources.
Free medical equipment available
Carole and Joram Wolanow started the Sarah Shannahoff Memorial Medical Equipment Gemach, 13 years ago, in memory of Carole’s mother. Housed in a self-serve shed alongside their North Dallas home, the Wolanows host a medical equipment gemach (loan site of no-cost) with home health care equipment including wheelchairs, walkers, and non-electric medical equipment. For those who have items to share, they can be delivered to the gemach and all items are available to be borrowed, as necessary, and at no cost.
“Hundreds of people have borrowed from us and it’s been very fulfilling,” said Carole Wolanow. “People are welcome to keep whatever they need, for as long as they need it. I’m thrilled now to partner with the Bikur Cholim of Dallas so that we can help even more.”
A place to stay for Israelis in need
Rabbi Sharon Cohen and his wife Avishag were recruited to join the DATA team, from Mexico, nearly 18 years ago. For many years, Rabbi Cohen, a native of Bnei Brak, helped lead the Agaf Israeli program, also teaching throughout DATA’s kollel. For the last four-plus years the couple have helped Israelis access medical care in the DFW area, and for many that means traveling with family members. The couple purchased a condo, at Harvest Hill, which currently is booked through September. To support their chesed, he teaches Talmud and she runs a gan, babysitting group.
“Maybe 10 years ago we began to get referrals to help — it started with one family, then another and in the last four years we are almost back-to-back with now more than 100 patients and families who come from Israel for life-saving procedures,” said Cohen, who supports patients with cranio-facial surgeries, uterine transplants and other specialties where DFW doctors are considered premier. “We give and do all we can.”
“We appreciate whatever help the community can provide, it’s a lot to help these people,” said Cohen. “The people we help, they are truly families in need.”
He and his wife arrange meals, transportation, sometimes translate at medical appointments and more. Cohen, and Bikur Cholim of Dallas, are now in discussions about how best the organization can support the services he provides.
Coordinating these services, Ravitsky says is something that just needed to be.
“We’re here to serve any Jew in the community, from any shul and any area. Sometimes people don’t want to share their own personal medical issues in their own ‘house,’ [or] shul, and we just want to make available whatever anyone might need,” he said. “Our services will grow, G-d willing, and we are honored to reach whomever we can with the mitzvahs and to welcome anyone who wishes to join us.”
Last month, community members gathered at Congregation Shaare Tefilla to create 100 care packages for patients in the hospital over Shabbat; they can be sponsored for $36 per box. Organized by Gabi and Sarah Heimowitz, the boxes contained grape juice, challah, sweets, electric candles and supplies for Havdallah and were packaged with cards written by area children.
“Right away I was able to deliver 10 boxes to patients and they were thrilled and so appreciative. Many of them are elderly and without family here to see them or bring anything in,” said Rabbi Abraham Tanev, the UT Southwestern Medical Center chaplain for the Jewish community; he accepted the packages, then distributed them at the hospital. “For Pesach, the patients were so touched and grateful to have a taste of the holiday, even under their circumstances.”
As pandemic safety allows, volunteers will work to support patients and their family members, with visits to hospitals, other health facilities or in the home.
Bikur Cholim of Dallas is planning to stock kosher hospitality rooms in area hospitals with a pantry of kosher snacks, Jewish books and a minyan if possible, arranging transportation for patients to medical appointments. In addition to the Shabbos boxes, they paid for home-health care for a family over Shabbat.
Its founders hope that institutions, schools, synagogues and other local organizations will consider the agency a chesed project to support year-round, on an annual mitzvah day, or through initiating like-minded offerings to help those with medical concerns.
“A bikur cholim is part and parcel of any Jewish community from the beginning of time,” said Ravitsky of Dallas’ other organizations and individuals devoted to the mitzvah. “There are so many people who need help, and so many ways in which we can give of ourselves.”
For more information for support, to volunteer or donate to the organization, visit bikurcholimofdallas.org.