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North Shore opens room for Orthodox Jewish patients

When Orthodox Jewish families used to visit sick relatives overnight at North Shore University Hospital, they had no choice but to sleep in the hospital’s halls if they visited during the sabbath.

Thanks to a donation by an Orthodox Jewish cancer patient, the hospital opened up a special room last week where followers of the branch of Judaism can gather overnight, pray and prepare kosher meals.

Called a “bikur cholim” room, which means “visiting the sick” in Hebrew, the space will be especially useful during the sabbath when Orthodox Jews are forbidden to drive. Instead of sleeping in the hallway, Orthodox Jews can rest in the bikur cholim room.

The room is fitted with two kosher sinks — one for dairy and one for meat — separate kosher utensils and plates for dairy and meat, two microwaves, a leather couch and Jewish books.

Miriam Alexander, an Orthodox Jewish cancer patient at St. Vincent’s Hospital, came up with the concept so her family could be more comfortable when she received treatment.

“There wasn’t a place for them to stay, a place for them to be,” the Israeli native and Monsey, N.Y., resident said. “I needed a place so I decided it would be a good idea for my family.”

The room at North Shore is the ninth created by Alexander and the nonprofit she formed, the Yehuda Memorial Fund, in honor of her late father.

There are seven other bikur cholim rooms in the city and another in Florida.

Rabbi Jacob Spitzer of Revival Home Health Care, which is sponsoring North Shore’s bikur cholim room, said his organization will help maintain the room, making sure its refrigerator is always stocked with kosher food.

“Wherever there is a sizable Jewish community, there is a bikur cholim room,” Spitzer said, noting that the space at North Shore will likely be mostly used by Jews from the Five Towns, Brooklyn and Forest Hills.

“We make sure the families have a room where they can have something to eat and meditate,” he said. “It’s a great convenience.”

Saralee Kaplan, a graphic designer and Alexander’s neighbor, helped design the room.

Kaplan credited Alexander with being able to help others while she undergoes cancer treatment.

“She’s refused to acknowledge her disease,” Kaplan said. “It doesn’t define her. She’s propelled by just sheer motivation and the will to change things and she just goes out for her dreams.”

Kaplan said she hoped patients’ loved ones come to appreciate the room.

“Coming to a room like this gives them some oasis that they not worry about the practical details of staying overnight,” she said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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