“It’s special" - GOSH Chaplain Michele on Hanukkah at the hospital

15 Dec 2022, 6:25 p.m.

Michele standing in front of Peter Pan statue outside entrance of GOSH, smiling

This year, the Jewish festival Hanukkah (or Chanukah in Hebrew) will take place between the 18 – 26 December.

Known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is a significant event in the Jewish Calendar and is celebrated in various ways. Lighting a menorah (candelabrum) each evening, playing the game "dreidel" and eating fried dishes are among them.

Each year, to mark the festival, GOSH’s Chaplaincy and spiritual care team – funded by GOSH Charity – helps bring celebrations to the hospital.

Here, Michele, GOSH’s Jewish Volunteer Lay Chaplain, tells us more about her role at GOSH and what the hospital is like during this special time of year.

A family-centred role

“I’m a volunteer Chaplain. I’ve worked at GOSH for over eight years now, we have a great team here.

“I come in one day a week. My role is to support Jewish patients and families; it’s very much a family-centred role. I also support non-Jewish patients as well, depending on what’s going on.

“Every situation is different. We have some families coming from abroad, who might not speak English. In these cases, we organise interpreters.

“We make sure that Kosher food (food that is allowed according to Jewish law) is provided and, if there are any festivities going on, we will let them know.

(As well as Hanukkah, Michele and her team mark other Jewish holidays at GOSH – including Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year – as well as Purim and Sukkot.)

“We are very fortunate to have a Shabbat room at GOSH, which is available 24 hours a day. Parents come here to have food and chill out. On Shabbat a charity called Ezra Umarpeh come in and provide hot meals for Friday night and Saturday.

“We try to accommodate each family’s needs, whether they are very religious or not religious at all.”

"A non-clinical listening ear”

“For families, I’m there as a non-clinical listening ear. I love going up onto the wards and just trying to give support to parents. This was especially true during the lockdown, when only one parent was allowed into the hospital.

“The stress can be immeasurable when a parent is here with a child or new baby and they’ve got nobody to talk to. They have to absorb what the doctors and nurses are saying to them.

“To be able to speak to them for 10, 20 minutes, you feel that you are making a difference. It doesn’t have to be anything religious; it is just talking about something other than what is going on in their lives.

“We (in the Chaplaincy team) try and make it as easy as possible for GOSH families by providing them with whatever they need. We inform other members of staff if there are any requirements.”

Celebrating Hanukkah at GOSH

“During Hanukkah there’s a big electric hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah), that goes into the Lagoon. Every night, over the course of the eight nights, we arrange for either a patient or family member to light it. It’s always a very special moment.

“Last year, the family who lighted the menorah were staying at GOSH for quite a long time. I think it meant a lot to them.

“We also celebrate Hanukkah at GOSH with a party in the Lagoon (the hospital’s restaurant and dining room for parents, visitors and hospital staff)."

These parties are often supported by other charities, including Camp Simcha and Spread a Smile.

“We tend to have a table and encourage all families, not only Jewish ones, to come and have doughnuts and gifts and get involved in face painting, games and whatever else is going on.

“It’s lovely when you are in the Lagoon, handing out doughnuts to all different religions and they are all very grateful and interested. It’s lovely. There’s a kind of cohesive atmosphere. I do find it very special.

“It’s nice to also include the staff in these festivities, because there are a lot of Jewish staff here.

“After the party on the Lagoon, we go onto the wards and take anything up to the children who can't come down.

“During the lockdown, we brought things in for patients, and distributed them personally, but weren’t able to have any face-to-face parties.”

Photo of Michele next to quote reading "I think there's a different atmosphere at GOSH during the festive season. It's a special time of year."

GOSH during the festive period

“I think there is a different atmosphere at GOSH during the festive season (as a whole).

“The decorations around the hospital are amazing.

“I haven’t been here on Christmas day, but I have heard that it is very special. Father Christmas visits, and I know in the chapel they have lots of different carol services going on.

“It is a very special time of year and obviously nobody wants to be in hospital over Christmas, but staff really do go the extra mile to make it special.”

You can find out more about GOSH's wonderful Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care team on the GOSH website.

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