search

Kosher Pantry Room Provides Food, Comfort at Stamford Hospital

During the first 12 years of her life, our daughter Tova underwent three major surgical procedures which required extended stays at Columbia Presbyterian Babies Hospital (now New York Presbyterian Hospital). My wife Sharon and I spent long days and nights at the hospital, making sure her recovery went smoothly. As others who have cared for loved ones can attest, finding kosher food to eat at a hospital is often a challenge, but we were extremely fortunate that a kosher pantry – well stocked with packaged and prepared foods and continually refreshed each day – was available to us at Babies Hospital. It made a very difficult period in our lives just a little bit easier.

That’s why I was so pleased to hear that our local hospital in Stamford recently installed a kosher pantry room. The room at Stamford Hospital was dedicated last year in memory of Aaron Sichel by the Sichel family, including Ronnie and Steve Sichel, longtime residents of Stamford. Aaron grew up in the Washington, DC, area, and unfortunately was diagnosed with Stage 4 bladder cancer at the age of 33. He was treated at several hospitals, where he often took advantage of the kosher food pantry. He passed away about 11 months after receiving his diagnosis.

“Our nephew, Aaron, of blessed memory, was in and out of close to a dozen hospitals while battling cancer,” explained Ronnie Sichel. “His diagnosis came just before Purim at Shady Grove Hospital in North Potomac, Maryland. He was grateful to be able to hear the megilla reading in the kosher room. After that, at each new hospital to which he was admitted, Aaron loved to check out the kosher room and sample some treat.”

After Aaron died, his family wanted to organize some kind of tribute to his memory.  Of the many hospitals where he was treated, there were two that did not have a kosher room – UCLA Medical Center and Stamford Hospital.  Aaron’s parents first negotiated with UCLA and did a Facebook Go Fund Me for that project. Within 24 hours, they had raised more than double the initial goal. Once the UCLA kosher pantry room was dedicated, Aaron’s parents turned to their relatives in Stamford to ask if they would take on a similar project at Stamford Hospital.

Ronnie and Steve made an initial proposal to the hospital in 2019 for a kosher pantry room. However, they were shut down by COVID at the beginning of 2020.

In January 2023, the Sichels again approached Stamford Hospital with the support of Diane Sloyer, the executive director at the United Jewish Federation (UJF) of Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien. They discovered a wonderful eagerness on the part of the hospital to make this project happen. The hospital provided a beautiful space for the kosher pantry room, a hot/cold water machine, and comfortable furniture. They even installed a Shabbat elevator! The Sichel family established a restricted fund at Federation, and they were able to purchase a refrigerator, microwave, and hot water urn with the additional funds that were raised. The fund also pays for food, paper goods, and other needed supplies for the room.

Aaron’s Place – the name for the kosher pantry room — officially opened on June 14, 2023.  A plaque on the door states that the room is dedicated to the memory of Aaron Sichel, and is a joint project of Stamford Hospital, UJF, and the Sichel family.

Aaron’s Place has become a community wide project, too. 613 Restaurant, the local kosher steakhouse in Stamford, graciously donates fresh food for Shabbat meals to the kosher pantry room. Schoke Jewish Family Service in Stamford provides frozen meals and soup through the Hirsch kosher meal program. Snacks, coffee, tea, and juices are supplied by the Aaron’s Place Fund at UJF. All food and drinks are labeled with a nationally recognized hashgacha. The room also has a supply of electronic Shabbat candles as well as a microwave.

Ronnie Sichel said that the reaction from community members has been positive: “One family wrote to us, thankful for being able to use the kosher room while they took care of their mother at the hospital. Other people have thanked me personally, as they appreciated a quiet, comfortable place to stay while a relative was in surgery or having treatments.”

The Sichels have also organized a cadre of volunteers in the Stamford Jewish community who carefully watch inventory levels of food, so the baskets can be restocked when necessary. “We are always looking for more volunteers to help,” said Ronnie Sichel.

Ilana Sichel, Aaron’s sister, is grateful to the Stamford community for dedicating the kosher pantry room to the memory of her brother. “The Stamford Jewish community was very important to Aaron and had a formative impact on his spiritual journey. He was partially inspired to pursue Orthodoxy because of the time we spent with our family in Stamford growing up and being immersed in the community on Shabbat and holidays. When he was sick and being treated in New York City, our beloved aunt and uncle, Ronnie and Steve Sichel, opened their home to our family and we moved in for weeks at a time during treatment. That Aaron, through Ronnie and Steve’s dedication and devotion to the cause, has been able to make a lasting and positive impact on the Stamford community would mean the world to him if he knew.”

No one should have to spend any extended period of time as a patient at a hospital, or caring for loved ones at such a facility.  But if it does become necessary, it’s nice to know that there is a place to find kosher food – not only at the big New York hospitals but at Stamford Hospital, too.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
Related Topics
Related Posts