Coming off of one of the busiest times of the year, Jewish community members and yeshiva students in Manchester, England, said that a campaign to bring the fall holiday season to homebound and hospitalized individuals resulted in hundreds of people getting a chance to celebrate the High Holidays.

According to Rabbi Yisroel Cohen, the Lancshire-based outreach director for the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in Manchester, requests poured in from local families and congregations that knew of Jewish hospital patients, nursing home residents and other homebound people who needed to hear the sounding of the ram’s horn on Rosh Hashanah, make a blessing on the Four Species during Sukkot, or simply needed a reliable supply of kosher food. All told, Cohen coordinated visits to more than 250 private homes, 14 nursing homes and four hospitals, with teams of students in some cases literally meeting elderly Jews at their bedsides.

“Two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, we put ads in local newspapers letting people know that we were available to visit anyone who would like some company or needed kosher food for the holidays,” detailed Cohen. “We also sent letters out to nursing homes and hospitals, and to local synagogues offering our services.”

One woman called Cohen from Israel to ask him to send someone to visit her 90-year-old home-bound mother. While she would have otherwise spent the Jewish New Year alone, students came to blow the ram’s horn; she asked them to stay and sing some holiday tunes for her.

Visits took place during Yom Kippur, as well, and for each of the days of Sukkot, which ended last Sunday. Nachi Hazan, an 18-year-old rabbinical student, walked several hours to Manchester’s Hope Hospital to blow the ram’s horn for the facility’s six Jewish patients. Two weeks later, he returned during Sukkot to visit a total of 19 patients.

“When we got to the hospital on Rosh Hashanah,” reported Hazan, “one of the patients we visited was an 89-year-old man. We went to him last, so that we could stay with him as long as he needed us there. We blew shofar for him, and afterwards he started to sing a song he remembered from his youth, so we sang with him.

“He was really excited, really touched,” added Hazan. “So were we.”

After the visit, the octogenarian’s son, Howard Marks, asked his father about the visit.

“He was very pleased,” said Marks. “He appreciated their visit very much.”

On the last day of Sukkot, two volunteers took their Four Species – a combination of palm branch, willow twigs, myrtle branches and citron that are held together for each day of the weeklong holiday – and walked the neighborhoods. One man approached and said that earlier in the week, he’d been at Hope Hospital with his mother, the two of them feeling lonely and depressed.

At that moment, two volunteers “who were dressed just like you guys” stopped by for a visit, the man told the youths. “It changed our whole mood.”

A volunteer from the Lubavitch yeshiva in Manchester gives a gift to a Jewish nursing home resident.
A volunteer from the Lubavitch yeshiva in Manchester gives a gift to a Jewish nursing home resident.

Judaism’s Core

Nearly 70 volunteers took part in the holiday effort, beginning the day before Rosh Hashanah with deliveries of honey cake, apples and honey, foods traditionally eaten during the Jewish New Year. While the home and hospital visits also take place throughout the year, the back-to-back holidays this month presented a challenge, said Cohen.

Health officials said that they appreciated the students’ drive, and that the visits helped improve the welfare of patients. John Saxby, chief executive at the Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust, which oversees Manchester’s Crumpsall Hospital, detailed for a local newspaper the cooperation between the yeshiva students and the hospital’s full-time chaplain, Rabbi Avraham Hillman.

“Chaplains have to deal with some of the most difficult human experiences,” a spokesman for John Saxby, chief executive at the Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust, told a local newspaper. “Chaplains nurture wellbeing, foster hope and support people. We are especially proud of the dediated work of our Jewish chaplain and his supporters from Chabad.”

For his part, Cohen said that his students see the campaign as a way to help Jews wherever they may be found.

“Visiting the sick is such an important task that in Genesis, we see that G‑d Himself visits Abraham on the third day after his circumcision,” explained Cohen. “Caring for other people, especially the most vulnerable, is at the core of Judaism.”

He added that the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, devoted time and resources to supporting Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in their efforts to help the sick, the elderly and other vulnerable populations.

“The great personal care and interest the Rebbe took in this particular area serves as the inspiration and role model for the commitment of our volunteers, who spend hours away from their families, walking for miles in order to enable another Jew, whom they have never met, to feel the joy of a holiday,” said Cohen.

The rabbi told of one Rosh Hashanah visit in particular.

“We went to visit one man who was lying in bed because he’d fallen down the day before the holiday,” he recalled. “He wasn’t aware that his wife had found the time to call us.”

“I was just lying here, thinking for the first time in 40 years that I’m not going to hear the shofar,” said the man. “And, suddenly, you walk in.”