United Synagogue Rabbi Stanley Coten has told of his “humbling and very inspiring” experience on a Jewish chaplaincy team at Nightingale Hospital.
The 4,000-bed medical facility, built last month at the ExCel centre in east London to treat an influx of covid-19 patients, is set to be placed on standby.
Rabbi Coten, of Ruislip Synagogue, coordinated the hospital’s Jewish chaplaincy team, set up last month and comprising Rabbi Akiva Rosenblatt, his spouse Batya, both of Woodside Park shul, Rabbi Alan Wilkinson, and Dr Harrie Cedar, who offered meditation sessions to NHS staff and patients’ families.
“It was humbling and very inspiring. It makes you think that you can do something to help in what is a very difficult situation. It makes you feel very positive,” Rabbi Coten said on Wednesday.
Three members of the team received a full day’s training to access wards. Among them, Rabbi Rosenblatt took to social media on Tuesday to describe the experience, which he said was “quite a whirlwind”.
“We were taught proper usage of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], compassionate care, psychological wellbeing, and comms,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Today I went to give, but I came back having received so much more. It was incredibly humbling to see how tirelessly the staff have been working and how devoted they have been to the cause,” he went on.
Communicating with patients remained one of the biggest hurdles for the team. “You can’t always be heard basically,” Rabbi Coten said. “They had similar hand signals to the ones they use in scuba-diving.”
He said: “The patients on the ward were in isolation from their families and friends, and we are working around that by making audio files for them to use so that they can be given iPads to hear the prayers.
“As far as chaplaincy support we also were sending audios of common prayers. Rabbi Wilkinson, an experienced chaplain volunteered to support our team and produce sounds files of the common tefillot, Adon Olam, Yigdal, shema.”
Supporting the hospital during the crisis was “a great Kiddsuh Hashem,” Rabbi Coten said. “We all pulled together with those of others faiths chaplaincy team and you had a real sense that the medical staff much appreciated our input and willingness to get involved and volunteer our help.”
“We can also be proud that we had Jewish medics working long hours to help save lives at the hospital,” he added.