“Bikur Cholim” or visiting the sick is the mitzvah that allows the Jewish community to shine. We come together and not only do we take care of the individual who is sick, but we take care of the entire family with food and prayers. That’s what we Jews do. Our family members are sick, so we eat.

Unfortunately, I have spent some time with family in hospital waiting rooms, so here is what I learned about how Jews practice the mitzvah of visiting the sick.

Bring Food

When you are in the hospital, watching over a loved one, your Jewish friends make sure you are fed. People shouldn’t deal with crisis on an empty stomach. Nobody wants to hear about a family member in an operation without corned beef on rye and sponge cake on hand.

When family is in the hospital, the Jewish community understands that people want a good spread. In fact, the quality of the buffet is actually what brings some of the more distant relatives into the hospital.

Somebody brought us eggplant parmesan one day. I would have liked to have known that in advance. I would not have visited my sick cousin that day.

Organizations Organize

Places to stay near hospitals and food for Shabbat are organized by committees. This way, people can have meetings about Bikur Cholim. No mitzvah should be done without committees and arguments.

Talk with Other Families Sitting There

Conversation is what we Jews do. We visit our loved ones but we have enough worry to go around. If you are in the waiting room with us, we take your pain upon us. Pain, known as tzuros, is how we thrive as a people.


When you get out of surgery and are still sedated, we are staring at you. We sit there and stare. Then we stare at the numbers on the screen and squiggly lines. Squiggly line moves, then we get worried and stare and say Tehillim (passages from the book of Psalms). Then we come close and stare right at you and talk to you, because you can’t talk back.

Buy Donuts for Nurses

Part of Bikur Cholim is making sure the person heals. That will not happen if you don’t bribe the nurses. Donuts are insurance that they will treat our loved ones well.

If anybody has the answer, please let me know: If you don’t buy the nurses trinkets and pastries, do they treat the patient? If there aren’t candies in the room, do the nurses come to administer the feedings?

Load Up on Crushed Ice

Jews love the crushed ice machine. Nice clear crushed ice with Coke. It makes the hospital experience so much better.

Tell Stories

Jews have an encyclopedic memory of every tragedy that ever happened. They will share it all with you in the hospital. Anybody who ever suffered any form of heart disease, they know it. Every story of every person who ever suffered the trauma, you will hear about it.

All stories are about making it, through a miracle. This reminds all of the family members that it will take a miracle. Sometimes the stories just sound worse. “Their boy has a lung issue. Couldn’t breathe for five months. Five months and two and a half weeks. And then he made it, through a miracle. Miracles happen.”

And then they give advice. They want to make sure that somebody in the hospital is giving you decent advice for how to fight cancer. They know a great trainer. That is the type of advice we get. “You will get through it. I know a great trainer. You just have to move the arm over the shoulder like this.”

Get You to Cry

Some people visit and just want to see you cry. They don’t feel like they have fulfilled the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim until they have made somebody in the family cry.

One friend forced an eight-minute stare-down. She didn’t stop staring. She noticed we weren’t crying yet. She then pulled a quick look away, and came back for the stare. The turn back made it more dramatic. She then said, “It is hard.” That is all she said. I started weeping. She got my sister when she touched her shoulder, while staring right at her saying “it is hard.” My sister is strong, but she had no chance. Right after she had us all crying, she left. She even pulled a long hug with my aunt who was fully cried out already. There were more Bikur Cholim hug tears in her.

Use the Waiting Room

Most guests don’t even make it inside. They go to the waiting room and stay. That’s where the spread is. You’ve got some coffee tables set up nicely with the marble cake and pastrami the Schwartz family brought you. Does it get better?

We use the waiting room as a chance for a family reunion. Cousins are showing up. Why rent a hall when you spent all that money on insurance?

Purell A Lot

We rub the hospital sanitizer with pride, as though it’s a mitzvah.

I see these people using it in the hospitals like they were the ones who stopped hepatitis. That is how we protect the sick; by not washing our hands or cleaning off the dirt. With dirty dry hands.

Yelling; A Lot of Yelling

People yell at old people and sick people.

Everybody thinks that when somebody is in a hospital bed, they age forty years. They think: she had a tonsillectomy, she can’t hear.

I see it every time people visit a hospital. They always yell, “It’s good to see you.” That is the line. There’s no other conversation people open with sick old people. They never add anything to that. You can’t say, “It’s good to see you like this.” You can’t say, “I am happy you broke your arm.” “It’s good to see you in…”

And if you are not screaming at the one who just got out of surgery, you are screaming at a family member. Family fights are a very important part of the Jewish hospital experience.


Being sick is much better when the Jewish community is around. People visit you, scream at you, give you advice the doctors don’t and then feed you.

Next time you are hungry, do what I do and tell people you are not feeling well. You will get some good chicken soup and kugel. Just make sure they give you the food and leave. You don’t want them sticking around and yelling at you while you are trying to enjoy a good matzah ball.