By Stacey Dresner
WORCESTER — When Rabbi Shmulik and Sarah Fogelman started Chabad of Shrewsbury and UMass Medical School more than three years ago, they thought they would be opening their doors to students and community members, teaching Torah, and organizing a Jewish community. However, two months after opening Chabad, Rabbi Fogelman received the first of many phone calls.
“Since that day we’ve gotten calls from people, not just from here, but also from New York, London — from all over the place — because UMass is a leader in gene therapy.
“We got a call two months after we moved here from a family that comes here from New York every six months for a few days for treatments because UMass is a leader in the gene therapies field, totally on the cutting edge.”
Since realizing the needs of some Jewish patients and their families at the medical center the Fogelmans have been providing them with bikur cholim – kosher meals, pastoral care, and even at times a place to stay in their own home.
But in August, the Fogelmans will be able to offer even more to both students and patients when they open a brand new Chabad House just one block from UMass.
Chabad will close on the house on Locust Avenue sometime in August and by Rosh Hashana should be open for services, classes and Jewish programming.
As a Chabad House, it will provide a Jewish home away from home for UMass medical students and residents to relax, hang out or enjoy a Shabbat meal.
But the new Chabad House will also include “bikur cholim” suites for families getting medical care from UMass, the home of the Horae Gene Therapy Center.
As Rabbi Fogelman stated, the gene therapy center is currently developing breakthrough gene therapies for rare inherited diseases, several of which occur more often in Ashkenazic Jews than in other genetic groups, like Tay-Sachs, Cystic Fibrosis and Canavan Disease. Ground has already been broken on a new education and research building on the UMass campus that will provide research space for clinical trial therapeutics. It is set for completion in 2023.
Chabad of Shrewsbury and UMass Medical School has launched a capital campaign to raise $500,000 for the new Chabad House.
But finding that perfect house has taken more than two years. A plan to build a Chabad House did not work out, and as has happened to many buyers in this seller’s market, the Fogelmans put in offers on at least a dozen houses that ended up going to other buyers.
When the Locust Avenue house went on the market they moved fast and were able to make a quick offer that was accepted.
“This is a tremendous location. This is probably the best location that I’ve seen of all of them,” Rabbi Fogelman said. “It’s a really good place. We’re very happy with it.”
The house’s walkout basement – one big room – will serve as the shul and multi-purpose room, with a wheelchair accessible bathroom.
“There will also be a student lounge area for classes and students can just hang out or read or borrow a Jewish book,” Rabbi Fogelman said. “Jewish students hanging out together is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe wants.”
The bikur cholim suites at the Chabad House will include three bedrooms and a handicapped-accessible bathroom for the families of UMass patients. The kitchen will be stocked with kosher food for the visitors including fresh baked goods; and hot kosher meals will be provided. And all of this is offered to the families for free.
“Here, they will have their own space with all the amenities, and it’s their own space for however long they need that space,” said Rabbi Fogelman. “We want to really make them feel warm and invited. It’s a very, very hard time for them, especially for people who have been coming for years for treatment. And the food and everything we provide is to try to alleviate some of that stress.”
Which is something the Fogelmans have been doing even before getting the Chabad House up and rolling. The couple has offered bikur cholim in several ways over the past three years – hosting some of these families at their own house on Lake Avenue and bringing kosher snacks and hot meals to them when they are up in their children’s hospital rooms or waiting rooms.
“We don’t ask them to come to the front door to pick up food, we go to where they are. If they’re getting a treatment in the north side of the building I’ll go over there and bring it directly to them if they are comfortable with that.”
They even drop off freshly baked cookies at the front desks of local hotels for families coming into town for treatment.
And of course, they also offer the families more spiritual services. This includes providing a minyan for a father whose son was getting treatment recently at UMass. Rabbi Fogelman gathered a minyan so that the man could say kaddish for his mother.
“He was just so grateful. We were able to arrange so he was able to take his son to treatment and able to do kaddish.”
The Fogelmans know personally how difficult it can be when a loved one is in the hospital. Their son Berel was born with some health issues last September.
“We were in and out of the hospital for five months,” Rabbi Fogelman said.
Berel is okay and at home now, but that time spent in the hospital with him gave his parents even more of an understanding of the work that they do.
“We have realized how important our work is with families,” Sarah Fogelman. “It was interesting for us because it put even more value to what we do — to see how important it is. We always thought it was important but personally, I really feel it on a different level now. You could think food is just such a simple thing, but when you’re sitting there in the hospital and doctors and nurses are talking to you and you really don’t have time to leave at all and then someone comes and brings you food… you can’t put a price on that. We are continuing what we’ve been doing for the past few years, but with a deeper feeling and appreciation for it.”
Rabbi Fogelman calls the new Chabad House “a game-changer.”
“UMass Medical School in the last three years has been growing tremendously on the Jewish side of things,” Rabbi Fogelman said. “We’ve been doing services all over the place at UMass. We’ve been doing services in classrooms, in the chapel, in auditoriums.
We brought kosher food into the UMass cafeteria via Chani’s Kosher Takeout Catering, and moving around in a rented room in [our former] apartment building.
We rented a house this year because of Covid; we rented a field. We’re doing it all over the place.
“This is going to be a permanent address for all of the hundreds of people at UMass – students, residents, patients, administration, doctors – it’s an address to come to for anything you need for Yiddishkeit. And now we have an easy address to find us. This house is going to be popping all week. There’s going to be classes, there’s are going to be barbecues, there’s going to be students talking and learning Torah there. There will be Jews meeting other Jews. The students are really enriching their Jewish lives for the long haul with this address. It’s going to be the permanent address for Judaism at UMass.”
Main Photo: The future Chabad House of Shrewsbury and UMass Medical School (PHOTO CREDIT: Realtor.com)