Stanford patients get a shot of shofar, dose of etrog

The high glass ceilings of the Stanford University Medical Center atrium echoed with the blast of the shofar. Make that more than a dozen shofars — all sounded by students from Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, a K-8 institution in Palo Alto.

The 15 children gathered last week to participate in an annual Rosh Hashanah event sponsored by the Jewish Chaplaincy of Stanford Medicine.

Gideon Hausner third-grader Jonah Frenkel at the Stanford event photo/the jewish chaplaincy-jon levinson

Now in its 15th year, the event brings the Jewish New Year to Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital), Stanford Children’s Hospital and the Stanford School of Medicine.

“The idea is to reveal the healing themes of the shofar,” said Bruce Feldstein, founder and director of the chaplaincy. “Events like this allow people to affirm their connections.”

And it wasn’t only for patients. Scores of medical center administrative staffers and doctors, as well as chaplains and hospital volunteers — an estimated 100 people altogether — were there for the Sept. 17 event.

After a round of welcoming remarks, three students demonstrated the familiar High Holy Day blasts — tekiah, teruah and shvarim — before all 15 kids blew their horns. Tekiah belonged to third-grader Jonah Frenkel of Palo Alto.

“Jonah was so honored when [Feldstein] asked him to be the one to demonstrate tekiah,” said Andi Frenkel, Jonah’s mother. “He practiced blowing the shofar for three weeks. Our neighbors now know what the shofar sounds like.”

In talking to J., Feldstein put something of a medical and health spin on the shofar blasts. For example, he described teruah’s staccato as a shattering not unlike what is felt at a time of serious illness, and he called the long, solid blast of tekiah g’dolah as a return to wholeness.

Established in 2000 by Feldstein, a former M.D. who changed careers after a back injury, the Jewish Chaplaincy at Stanford (www.stanfordhospital.org/jewishchaplaincy) provides spiritual comfort and guidance not just for patients and their families, but also for staff. It’s a community-funded program of Stanford Medicine.

Feldstein and volunteers make bedside visits to patients, and also visit patients undergoing treatments at outpatient clinics and in emergency rooms. The chaplaincy also provides education for health care professionals at the hospital and for staff and students at Stanford’s medical school.

A sukkah erected by the Jewish Chaplaincy at Stanford photo/the jewish chaplaincy

Chaplaincy program coordinator Linda Allen said a typical day includes up to 20 bedside visits. On Shabbat, Feldstein or volunteers bring patients candles and grape juice; on Hanukkah, they give patients menorahs, candles and treats.

At the event last week, Feldstein said many of the attendees were not Jewish.

One was a boy from Texas undergoing a special medical treatment who was “accompanied by a pastor,” Feldstein said. “It was so moving to the pastor. He had a deeper appreciation of the life Jesus came from, a deeper respect for Jewish tradition.”

Allen noticed several wheelchair-bound patients with tears in their eyes as the songs were sung and the children sounded their shofars.

“It is so poignant when we get to the last reflection, the last blowing of the shofar,” she said. “A lot of the Jewish people who work [at Stanford] don’t have a lot of opportunities to get to services. So this short program may be the only chance they have to observe the holiday.”

The High Holy Day event was one of several similar programs the chaplaincy organizes for Jewish holidays.

Up next is Sukkot, with a sukkah being erected on the plaza behind the Cancer Center. It will be open to the public from Sunday, Sept. 27 through Oct. 4, with Jewish Chaplaincy volunteers on hand (with lulav and etrog) daily between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Also, volunteers will bring a lulav and etrog to the bedside of Jewish patients that cannot get to the sukkah.

Feldstein said the Gideon Hausner schoolchildren — many inside a hospital for the first time — were thrilled to participate. He gave each of them a certificate of appreciation for performing the mitzvah of b’chor cholim, or visiting the sick.

“Then they made a beeline for the honey and apples,” he said.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.