‘Shabbat Kits:’ The Ultimate Shabbat Gift
By Mushki Boteach Naparstek
To an extent, Shabbat was always one of those things that people had to part with when they checked into a hospital bed. But today, in some Los Angeles hospitals, Shabbat will find them. It comes in the form of challahs, grape juice, and a pair of electric candles. They call it the “Shabbat Kit”.
The Shabbat Kits project began only eight months ago; a project started by Jeremie Braun and his wife Michal. Having spent a few weekends with close family members at hospitals themselves, they knew firsthand just how difficult it could be to feel a sense of the holy day from a hospital room. “No one proactively came to us and offered candles or challah, or said Shabbat shalom” Jeremie explains; “and…it was a Jewish hospital, clearly.” The Hospital did offer electric candles to patients who requested them. Still, as Jeremie points out, “if you don’t know to ask, you won’t ask”.
He and his wife sought to change that. Jeremie contacted Rabbi Jason Wiener, who was in charge of the hospital’s spiritual care department, in order to reach out to the hospital’s other Jewish patients. The first list he received was of patients who chose to come forward and request a Shabbat Kit. That was “a very short list, of course,” notes Jeremie. However, he also got another list of all patients who had checked the “Jewish” box in their hospital entry forms. Naturally, that list was a lot bigger. And even though these patients never asked for a Shabbat kit, they still seemed to want them. “Nine out of ten take it,” says Jeremie.
The Shabbat Kits were designed by Jeremie’s wife, Michal, and are packed by volunteers every other Thursday night, at the Chabad of Southern La Cienega. The two challahs are partially sponsored Schwartz Bakeries, and the wine by Shalom and Sons, a downtown distributer. “The electric candles, I actually bought on E-Bay,” Jeremie says with a laugh. The total cost-per-kit is only two dollars and fifty cents; and to sponsor a week costs an easy hundred bucks. So far, Jeremie and Michal have been able to raise about twenty-five hundred dollars from family and friends. They’ve also acquired a few volunteers. “Initially, it was just myself,” says Jeremie. And while they started by serving the patients of Cedar Hospital, they’ve now expanded their services to the Guardian Rehabilitation Hospital and Beverly Hills Rehabilitation Center. “And we’re still looking to grow”, says Jeremie, confidently.
The Shabbat Kits Website is the place to keep in touch with the group, and follow their progress. It features news, press, and even the stories and photos of their newest sponsors. Leading the page is a picture of the special Rosh Hashanah edition of the Kits, which includes and apple and a bear-shaped bottle of honey. A later post shows a girl surrounded by her friends at her Bat Mitzvah as they all pack Shabbat Kits together and write personalized cards to go inside. Another shows a father with his newborn daughter, in whose honor he dedicated last week’s run of Shabbat kits. But perhaps the most important feature of the site is the shiny, golden button to right that reads: “Donate.”