Chicken soup for my spirit and soul

Spending a week in hospital is never pleasant, but slap in a severe case of tonsilitis, pancreatitis and a pandemic and it’s more a hell than a haven of recovery.

For those who keep kosher, hospital stays are even grimmer, with the only sustenance offered in the way of vacuum-packed frozen meals often consisting of unpalatable choices such as fish pie or tough inedible meat goulash – not the ideal thing for an empty stomach and a sore throat scratchier than a woollen jumper. 

Lying dolefully in my hospital bed, listening to the steady beeping of the machinery and smelling the hot fresh soup and other practically gourmet-looking fare my neighbours were enjoying was slowly sending me insane
with longing. 

Embarking on a random Google search to distract my growling stomach, I was shocked to discover that, since 1968, only frozen kosher meals with a shelf life of up to one year have been formally provided to hospitals in the UK, while other patients are given fresh daily meals, including breakfast and snacks.

My darling mum, like every good Jewish mother, felt helpless that she couldn’t fuss over me and feed me, as Covid regulations, especially last April meant that nothing from outside – (both food and visitors) could enter the hospital. And, as stated previously, the kosher fare on offer was severely lacking, to say the least.

My tonsils were the size of large swollen plums and I was hooked up to an IV most of the time. There was nothing I craved more than the relief of piping hot, fresh chicken soup to soothe my poor throat.

Not to be dramatic or anything, but I even dreamt about it, in between a blur of fitful sleep and being woken up for bloods and blood pressure checks.

But, as I don’t eat non- kosher meat, I thought my visions of some good old Jewish penicillin would remain a distant dream.

So, when my mum rang, excitedly telling me about an amazing new hospital charity called Bedside Kosher that could get me the soup I so desperately craved, I didn’t believe her at first. 

But, after a brief text conversation with the kind and sympathetic founder, Ari Feferkorn (who, like me, originates from Stamford Hill) I soon saw it was very much a blessed reality.  

A volunteer soon rang me to go through the options available and was exceedingly patient and polite, although I was practically incoherent, with my thick tonsillitis croak.

In fact, it was too painful for me to talk properly so I ended up sending him a list via Whatsapp and he not only got everything I asked for, but some extras he thought might help soothe my throat, such as fruit purée. 

As well as the much craved for chicken soup, I was given fresh mini rolls, yoghurt, soft cheeses and lots more. All were labelled and in separate bags so it was easier for the harried hospital staff to deal with. 

Although my appetite and ability to swallow was still weak, the fresh food, as well as the heart-warming feeling of being cared for by the community even in a cold, sterile hospital environment, helped give me my much-needed strength back.

Now an established, registered charity in full swing, Bedside Kosher has 400 volunteers delivering around 100 fresh kosher meals and snacks daily to Jewish patients in all hospitals across London and the south-east and, from this week, Manchester. 

Bedside Kosher also provides a special child- friendly menu for children having treatment or siblings of a hospital patient. As my wonderful experience shows, the organisation is willing to cater to different tastes and service any other dietary requirements, offering vegetarian, gluten free, lactose free and sugar free options.

While researching this article, I was impressed to find out that nine months on from my hospital stay, Bedside Kosher is even providing china plates on which all of the meals can be served. Feferkorn explains: “If we are doing it, we are going all the way and providing five-star worthy dining. We are not cutting corners.”

As well as not cutting corners, the organisation has been busy creating courses, offering free training to staff whose duties require an understanding of the basics of a kosher diet. This can cover all levels from catering managers, nurses and dieticians through to kitchen orderlies. 

The sessions aim to explain the principles of kashrut and how the kosher meals should be heated and served in hospitals. The charity has also produced a useful, clear information leaflet for hospital staff to refer back to. Having experienced the understandable confusion from hospital staff when I struggled to explain my kosher chicken soup dilemma, I very much feel this is a much-needed and valuable resource.

Recently, ITV News featured a story on how an elderly Orthodox man from Stamford Hill did not receive kosher food while in hospital and his family say he died hungry and alone. 

Upon reflection, being young and otherwise healthy, without Bedside Kosher I probably could have survived on the minimum. However, other elderly Jewish patients with Covid all over the country are most likely too weak and fragile to do so. Proof that Bedside Kosher’s work is not only pioneering, it’s also crucial for the kosher observant community at large.

Sadly, I was still in hospital over Shabbat but, sipping my grape juice and flicking through the complimentary magazines and newspapers that were so kindly provided along with the dedicated Shabbat meal kit, really did give me “a taste of Shabbat” as Feferkorn had envisioned. 

Luckily, I was out of hospital before Shavuot but, had I still been there, a slice of the cheesecake from the Bedside Kosher Yom Tov kit would definitely have cheered me up.

  •  Bedside Kosher has a 24-hour phone line for orders: 020 3746 3803. Follow @bedsidekosher on Facebook and Instagram

020 3988 6906