Hinda and Chaim, an Israeli couple who suffered from Covid-19, went on to become volunteers at Hadassah Hospital.
In this story they share their experiences of helping other hospitalised victims at Hadassah.
Last year on Tisha Be’av, Hinda Hekelman was too sick to fast. She was coughing and weak from the ravages of COVID-19.
“Back then, it wasn’t easy to get a coronavirus test, and my local doctor told me to wait to see if the cough subsided. A few days later I lost my sense of smell and knew that this was a coronavirus symptom. We drove back to the health fund office.
“At 1 a.m. I got a message on my phone that I was positive. Then they tested Chaim, who was positive, too.”
“Somehow, from the moment I knew I had COVID-19, I was determined to be a volunteer in the coronavirus wards as soon as I recovered.”
Two months later, on Yom Kippur, Hekelman was well enough to volunteer. Chaim, a gourmet kosher caterer whose business was closed because of the pandemic, decided to volunteer, too
They’d heard that a volunteer programme for the COVID-19 wards – the first in the world – was initiated at Hadassah-University Medical Centre in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem.
In their orientation, they learned what they could and shouldn’t do to stay safe and follow hospital protocol. By the Sukkot holidays, they were providing comfort and conversation to patients three times a week.
Says Hekelman, “There are no words to describe the dedication of the doctors and nurses, but they didn’t have an extra minute. Patients are so happy when someone has time to sit down and converse with them. She felt a special bond with certain patients, such as the woman who insisted she talk to her at length every day, and another woman with a broken shoulder in addition to COVID-19.
Hinda became close to Yehoshua, a very ill man that had no close relatives or friends visiting and praying for him.
“Something drew me into his room, even though he wasn’t on my usual visit routine,” says Hekelman. “He was ventilated and very sick, but his face was almost shiny – it’s hard to describe. I saw his vital signs looked very bad. I called a nurse named Abigail. She told me gently that this patient was approaching the end of his life. She and I recited Psalms.
“Suddenly I knew what I had to do. At my request, Abigail brought me a siddur. I told this man whom I didn’t know that I was going to say vidui, the confessional before dying, for him.”
According to Jewish law, someone can say the confessional for you when death is imminent, but usually this is a family member or a rabbi. Hinda Hekelman’s hands shook as she read aloud the prayer of final reconciliation with G-d.
Three times, Hekelman repeated the affirmation that the Lord is King and the name of His glorious kingdom forever. And then, Yehoshua breathed his last breath.
Chaim was already in the car and unaware of the drama upstairs in the coronavirus department. Only when Hinda got into the car did she burst into tears, sobbing as she told her startled husband what had happened. “You have done the truest loving-kindness” he comforted her.
There was a call for anyone who could spare the time to come to Yehoshua’s funeral. He was a convert and had no family in Israel. The funeral was scheduled for 3 p.m.
“Off we drove to the funeral hall. When I saw that we were the only mourners, I cried hard again’’. They asked my husband if he would mind saying Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. Since then, Chaim has been saying Kaddish for Yehoshua three times a day. A memorial candle burns for Yehoshua all the time in our home, as it did for my parents when they passed away. I’m sure G-d led me to Yehoshua’s bedside.”
How does Hinda feel?
“Very lucky. Not everyone gets such an opportunity to do a kindness like this for a stranger. You have no idea what a feeling of satisfaction I have, and how inspired I feel to do more good deeds. When you do a kindness; you get more than you give.”
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