Sunday, September 12, 2010


We received this submission from a New York reader and feel that it is an appropriate read for the Aseret Yemei Teshuva.

Hi AJN Watch.
I am a fan of your blog who lives in New York.

Knowing of the wonderful work of the Satmar Bikkur Chilim here, I thought you may be interested in publishing these 3 items (written by non-Satmars) which I found to be quite touching.

Wishing you and all your readers a Gemar Chasima Tova

                                          Michal Shapiro, Kew Garden Hills, NY

Malky Lowinger  [Am Echad Resources]

The first Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum זצ''ל

It's 8:00 A.M. at the Satmar Bikur Cholim kitchen on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, and the place is already a beehive of activity. Svetlana and "the Rebbetzin" are stirring huge pots of chicken soup. Esther and Leah are chopping fresh vegetables. The answering machine light blinks urgently.

Mrs. Teitelbaum, petite and middle-aged, is clearly in charge. She sits down at her desk and listens to her messages. The Brody family called at midnight. Their daughter is being discharged from NYU; cancel her food package. Joseph from Long Island will be hospitalized for a week and he needs diabetic-safe food. If it's not too much trouble, says Mrs. Heller, could the salad for her father be prepared without tomatoes today?

Here at Satmar Bikur Cholim, established by the Satmar Rebbetzin in 1957 to provide assistance to the sick and the needy, and funded by private donations, nothing is too much trouble. The group happily and proudly offers a variety of services, though the ladies of Satmar are best known for their food packages, and especially their chicken soup.

The Bikur Cholim kitchen is located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the epicenter of the Satmar Chassidic sect. A tightly-knit, thriving community with highly disciplined religious standards, the Satmar are best known to most Jews for their unyielding stance against Zionism. Though they forcefully reject the Neturei Karta's public coddling of Palestinian terrorists, they nevertheless consider the establishment of a Jewish State before the Messiah's arrival as wrong and as a dangerous affront to the other nations of the world. Yet on this particular morning, political philosophy is the furthest thing from anyone's mind.

Ruchie, Layalah, and Frumie are assembling the food packages. The Bikur Cholim kitchen, a model of cleanliness and efficiency, is their pride and joy. One can actually imagine eating off the floors here. The activity is non-stop. Fruit and vegetable salads are lovingly placed into plastic containers, fresh rolls and cake packed into bags. And the soup, the famously delicious chicken soup, is carefully ladled into thermos containers, to maintain its heat, flavor and, presumably, curative properties until it reaches its intended recipients.

Each day, the volunteers assemble a hundred and fifty customized hot and wholesome meals, which are then distributed to Jewish patients, regardless of level of observance or affiliation, at fifteen metropolitan area hospitals. The recipients, many of whom have never eaten a kosher meal before in their lives (and many more of whom insist that the Satmar Bikur Cholim packages are helping to bring about their speedy recovery) are brought to the Satmar ladies' attention through family, friends or the hospital chaplain.

No computer sits on Mrs. Teitelbaum's desk, and no high-tech machinery graces the kitchen. Yet the place is a model of order and efficiency. Mrs. Teitelbaum laughs at the suggestion of storing the daily information in a database. She points to her head. "The best computer in the world," she says, with an old-world wisdom that has quite apparently served her well thus far.

At ten o'clock, a new team of volunteers bursts in the door. The women doing the cooking and packing are dressed in housecoats and turbans; the new group is smartly turned out in designer suits and stylish wigs. They're all ready to spend the day in the big city.

"I volunteer my time once a week," says Rivka, in a chocolate-colored tweed suit, "but some of the women volunteer two or three full days every week year in, year out." The food is carefully packed into shopping bags and last minute instructions are delivered. Twenty five women then pile onto the Bikur Cholim bus, eager to be on their way to performing a very special mitzvah.

As the bus makes its way onto the Williamsburg Bridge, the Bikur Cholim women settle down to their routines. Reizie takes a cellphone from her pocketbook. "This is when I call in my fish and grocery order," she explains. Matti takes out a siddur and begins her morning prayers. Chaya and Estie begin an animated conversation. "Did you hear that Suri made a shidduch last night?"

These women are Bikur Cholim veterans; they've been making the rounds at the city's hospitals for years. The names of New York's most prestigious medical centers easily roll of their tongues. Matti's been visiting Beth Israel and "Joint Diseases" for thirteen years. "That's my route twice a week," she says. Reizie lays claim to Lenox. And Leah reveals that she visits Mount Sinai "with a shopping cart. The doctors, the nurses, they all know my shopping cart. It's famous."

"We really get to know the patients," explains Sally, who visits Memorial Cancer Center every Thursday. "And the ones who go home to recover," she says, in Yiddish-influenced English, "we keep in touch with them too." It's not easy maintaining friendships with the critically ill, though, Sally confides, "especially when some of them never make it home at all."

"I lost two patients last week," she adds quietly. "It was very hard for me." For a moment it's easy to forget that Sally is just a visiting volunteer, and not "her" patients' doctor.

Reizie leans over to make a point. "We're not Satmar," she says, indicating her two sisters who accompany her every week. "But this group is so wonderful that we felt we had to join." Her first experience with Bikur Cholim wasn't easy. She was asked to fill in for a volunteer who unexpectedly took a day off.

Destination? Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. "I saw a lot of pain and suffering that day," she recalls. The experience was harrowing, but it left an indelible positive impression. "I'll never forget the way the patients' eyes would light up when they saw me," she says. "I honestly don't know what they look forward to more, the chicken soup or just having someone to talk to."

The bus weaves through the traffic along First Avenue, dropping off the women at each one's designated location. Sally gets off at Memorial carrying several shopping bags. They are surprisingly heavy, but she manages well. She has her routine. She drops off her jacket in the coat room and stops by the Rabbi's office to ask if any new patients have been admitted. As she passes the visitor's lounge, she scans the room and her trained eye settles on a middle-aged man sitting alone in a corner. He looks Jewish and seems worried. As Sally approaches, he looks up and sees her food-laden shopping bags. "Satmar?" he asks.

Sally smiles. She's used to this. Her shopping bags, like Leah's cart, are famous.

Moments later this virtual stranger is confiding the details of his wife's illness to Sally, who listens intently and sympathetically, showing familiarity with the medical jargon. Over time she's become something of an expert in medicine. She offers the man a food package and he happily accepts. His wife isn't able to eat anything, but he's starving and will have it for lunch. "And what about tomorrow?" Sally prods gently. "And by tomorrow your wife will probably be able to eat jello and clear broth. I'll order it for you." And she quickly scribbles a note onto her card. Later she will call Mrs. Teitelbaum, who will store this information on the computer in her head.

Sally makes her way across the floor. She greets the interns and nurses, who seem to know her well. Many of the patients are too ill to accept guests; some are fast asleep. But their families are delighted to talk to someone who isn't dressed in hospital scrubs. On the eighth floor she visits an Israeli family who have been here for three months with their eight-year-old son.

"It's been very difficult for them," Sally explains. "Things are always up and down."

After chatting with the family for several minutes, Sally goes on to the outpatient clinic, where some chemotherapy treatment is administered. Bikur Cholim has customized packages for this unit too. She fills the communal refrigerator with sealed bags of sandwiches, salad, and desserts. Then she waves at Jeremy, speaks to Yossele, and exchanges pleasantries with a young mother whose daughter is busy playing with a doll house. Here, most of the children have lost their hair, yet no one seems in the least self conscious. They just go about the business of being kids, despite the massive weight hanging precariously over their heads.

The Bikur Cholim bus will be returning to Williamsburg at two o'clock, bringing most of the volunteers back home. Sally, though, won't be on it. "I like to stay here a bit longer," she explains, "and spend some extra time with the children."

Outside the hospital, life in the big city marches relentlessly on. Everyone seems entirely preoccupied, oblivious to the troubles of those who are hospitalized in their very midst, within these massive medical facilities. On the corner there is a newstand. The day's headlines, three inches tall, scream "Yankees Win!" Derek Jeter is pictured, grinning from ear to ear. Someone is pouring champagne over his head. A city of nine million people pays tribute to its heroes.

It's probably safe to say that Sally, Reizie, and Matti don't know a shortstop from a shortcake.

But that's okay. We all have our heroes.

Satmar's Sisters of Mercy

By Jonathan Mark 

Hospitalized, the author meets the Boo Radleys of New Yawk up-close and very personal

The Satmar chasidim are the Boo Radleys of our town. Like that character in "To Kill A Mockingbird," they scare the neighbors and frighten the horses. They hide but don't seek. They're quaint but not cute. In a narcissistic city, they refuse to flatter. Jewish families visit Williamsburg, Va., but not Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They don't want visitors and don't have gift shops.

Yet once when I was in the hospital, a Satmar woman came every morning with hot soup, freshly cooked chicken, homemade applesauce and marble cake. She was shy and of indeterminate age. She didn't know who I was, just that there was a Jew on the eighth floor.

 I didn't need her food but didn't say so because I liked seeing her in the mornings. She was from the Ladies Bikur Cholim D'Satmar, a group of women who cook and deliver food to some 70 patients daily in more than two dozen hospitals from Staten Island to Washington Heights. Almost none of the patients served are Satmar.

About 15 "ladies" leave Williamsburg every morning in a van that takes them and their bags full of meals to the hospitals. More often than not they return to Williamsburg by subway, and a long ride it is from most hospitals. The Ladies Bikur Cholim visits six days a week in rain, heat or sleet. The day after 9-11, they crossed the closed bridges by hitching rides in Jewish ambulances.

"This started with the Satmar rebbetzin [the late Feige Teitelbaum]," said one Satmar lady who wouldn't tell me her name. "She started this after the war, from her own little kitchen. She herself took the soup on the subway. Then she took on a helper, and more helpers.

"It was after the war. Almost everybody [in Williamsburg] was a Holocaust survivor. No one had families. She was like a mother. She heard someone was sick, she made soup. Do you know Satmar?"

I didn't want to say that I knew Satmar all too well from their battles with other Jewish groups. After all, she was coming to me in gentleness, and I wanted to be gentle in return.

I told her my grandparents had a bungalow on the banks of a Catskills lake. The lake was surrounded by tall pines that reflected in the water. On the far side of the lake was a Satmar colony. At dusk we could see the lights in the windows and hear voices muffled across the water. That summer I often though that as different as the Satmars were, we enjoyed the same godly beauty. They must have loved the lake as I did.

"We shared a lake," I said.
"In the summer we go to the country," she said.

That was as personal as the conversations got.. The Satmar women avoided personal questions. "We just try to make the patients feel happy," she said.

In emergency rooms, everything earthly - your keys, shoes, wallet, the computer disk in your shirt pocket - is put into a bag called "Patient's Belongings." In the John Lennon exhibit in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the final item was Lennon's "Patient's Belongings" bag from Roosevelt Hospital, for in the end, no matter who you are, that's what it comes down to.

To the Satmar ladies, all the feuds and misunderstandings of this world go into that bag, that bag that no patient needs. So why talk of earthly things, of old fights or affiliations?

She said, "a Yiddishe neshoma is a Yiddishe neshoma," a Jewish soul is a Jewish soul. If a patient was happy to get Satmar's kosher home-cooked food, then they could be Reform, gay, Republican, Democrat, Zionist, intermarried. It didn't matter, these ladies would deliver.
After getting out of the hospital, like a Hansel or a Gretel, I followed the crumbs back to 132 Ross St. in Williamsburg, a cellar several steps down from street level where the Ladies Bikur Cholim D'Satmar have their office and kitchen.

Throughout the day, Satmar women from the neighborhood would bring in a big sheet of sponge cake, or a large tub of homemade applesauce made in their private kitchens.

In the Ross Street kitchen, Mrs. W. answered the phones and penciled in the information from individuals who alerted her to a Jewish patient somewhere in a hospital. She had no computer to help her keep track of the many patients. She kept the names of her many volunteers in raggedy cloth-covered loose-leaf.

"We're here from 8 in the morning to 6 at night," she said. "Not me, maybe" - she has 12 children, after all - "but someone is here. Other than Shabbos [Sabbath] and yontif [the holy festivals] there's no such thing as a day off. On a short Friday, do you know what it means to deliver to hospitals and be back to make Shabbos? And these are women with large families."

Mrs. W. explained, matter of factly, "this is what we do. The whole Satmar community is based on chesed [mercy]. We help people and Hashem [G-d] should help us."

I said, "I'm sorry I never brought soup to you, if you or someone in Satmar was sick."

"No one should be sick," said Mrs. W. "G-d forbid. We should always be able to help each another."

None of the Satmar women would allow me to know their names or to take their picture, yet we were strangely intimate, these women and I. After all, we Jews are more sweetly intimate than we suppose. There are people in our community whom we barely know, but we can walk into each other's shivas [houses of mourning] without explanation. If one of us dies, we volunteer to wash each other's bodies. If sick, we bring soup to Jews we never met before.

We may never speak again, these Satmar women and I, but it was as if we shared the same lake, a piece of G-d's beauty, the water rippling flowing from one side to the other.

JWR contributor Jonathan Mark is Associate Editor of
the New York Jewish Week.

An Ode To Satmar Bikur Cholim

By 5TJT Staff      September 08, 2010

When Leah’s little boy, Yossi, was diagnosed with a dreaded illness, she found herself spending many hours at the clinic while he was undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Being the creative sort, she spent the time writing a tribute to the Satmar ladies. Her words are poignant and inspiring. They also offer a glimpse into the vital services of what this organization is all about.

Do not worry, do not fear,
Satmar Bikur Cholim is here,

The refrigerator is full at dawn
And is replenished before noon.

Delicious nutritious sandwiches in store,
Vegetables, fruit, soups, and more.

French fries, cooked cereal, blintzes, and what-not,
Milchig or fleishig in a thermos that’s hot.

Twenty-four/seven, day and night
Their work knows no respite,

They truly understand our plight,
They give us koach, they give us might.

It’s my job to appreciate,
In a small way to reciprocate,

I loudly proclaim three cheers,
For the Satmar Bikur Cholim volunteers.

May the New Year bring only good health and happiness to all of Klal Yisrael and may the wonderful women of Satmar Bikur Cholim and their supporters be blessed with all that is good.


  1. Thank you Michal. Truly touching articles. may we learn from those wonderful sellfess ladies.

    Wishing all an easy fast and a gmar chatima tova

  2. There is a lot of chesed done in America, most of which rarely gets reported.

    A friend of mine told me he had a brother who was flown from israel to NY for medical treatment. The family that travelled and stayed with him were absolutely amazed at what the Satmar Bikur Cholim people did for them for months on end. (I think that they also have a mens division doing similar work.) This friend of mine was previously a rabid Satmar-hater. Really in a bad way.
    But after spending some time with his family there came back a totally changed person.

    May we always only say and hear good about others.

  3. agree - a great bunch of articles.
    mi ke'amcha yisrael?

  4. Another Satmar chesed story in NY Jewish week.


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