While fostering strong relations with all of the faith movements in town since its inception, GBMC HealthCare has enjoyed a particularly long and fruitful history with the local Jewish community.
“Judaism has been an integral part of GBMC since it was founded in 1965,” said Chaplain (Rev.) J. Joseph Hart, GBMC’s director of spiritual support services. “Jewish physicians and employees have been part of our medical team as well as serving on our board of directors, guiding the care for our patients as well as supporting our families and staff.”
But with increasing numbers of observant Jews choosing GBMC for their health care needs, the Towson-based hospital is expanding its efforts to provide care for all of its Jewish patients, families and visitors.
GBMC plans to officially dedicate a new kosher pantry on its premises in September.
While in-patients at GBMC already have access to a full kosher menu, members of the Jewish community now have access to the hospital’s 290-square-foot pantry for kosher refreshments, religious readings and personal contemplation while visiting their loved ones.
The pantry is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Shlomo Gardner, an Upper Park Heights resident who died last year. A mezuzah affixation ceremony in his honor was held last May at the pantry.
The pantry will be operated with the coordination of Bikur Cholim of Baltimore, a nonprofit that serves people facing illness and their families in the Jewish community. GBMC created the pantry — which was completely funded by the hospital — just off its Main Lobby, near the gift shop.
“The spiritual and religious practice of all religions and traditions has been, and are a part of, our guiding principle,” said Chaplain Hart. “The opening of our kosher pantry only highlights our practice of being open to the diversity of ethnic cultural and religious traditions.”
The pantry is open around the clock to patients and visitors. In addition to being stocked with beverages and refreshments, it houses double sinks (for dairy and meat), refrigerators, microwaves and storage cabinets. Sofas and a table will create a lounge area environment, while a reading nook will feature Jewish-themed books in both Hebrew and English.
The pantry’s books were donated by Dr. Dov Frankel, an emergency physician with GBMC. Also on display at the pantry are artworks created by Dr. Daniel Blumberg, a Philadelphia dentist who was commissioned by the late Jewish communal leader Helen Dalsheimer to create Judaica for GBMC’s chapel when the hospital first opened.
To gain entry into the pantry, patrons must use a pushbutton lock. The code for entry is posted next to the door in Hebrew; users must press the numbers on the lock keypad that correspond with the Hebrew letters of the code.
“We are most grateful to the entire GBMC community for being a patient-first hospital, a place where all patient needs are valued, whether it be medical, emotional, religious or family,” said Rabbi Pinchos Rabinowitz, executive director of Bikur Cholim of Baltimore. “The opening of a kosher pantry and hospitality room, which supplies kosher meals and religious articles to observant patients and their families, is an extraordinary display of respect and compassion, and a gift to the Jewish community of Baltimore.”
Besides GBMC, Bikur Cholim operates kosher pantries at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the University of Maryland Medical Center, and at Sinai Hospital’s main campus, emergency room and the Seasons Hospice Inpatient Center at Sinai. Rabbi Rabinowitz said thousands of people use the pantries every year.
Rabbi Rabinowitz praised Chaplain Hart for his commitment to opening the pantry. “He reached out to us and was involved in everything, every step of the way,” the rabbi said. “He’s more than a mentsch. We’re very lucky to have him.”
Dr. John B. Chessare, president and CEO of GBMC HealthCare, said he hopes the kosher pantry will be a valuable resource for Jewish patients, families and visitors.
“At GBMC, we recognize that we have large numbers of Orthodox and kosher-observant Jews who come to our hospital as patients or visitors,” he said. “Having an on-premises kosher food pantry designed to meet the needs of our observant Jewish patients and their families is a breakthrough for not only our hospital but also for the many families being treated at our medical institution.”
Carol Sorgen is a Baltimore-based freelance writer. Editor-in-Chief Alan Feiler contributed to this article.