Bread, No Chocolate
Michael Nisenblatt, MD, a medical oncologist and clinical professor of medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, says yes. He has been giving challahs a braided bread eaten by Jews at the Friday night meal to his hospitalized patients since 1994. Poor Jews in Eastern Europe ate dark bread all week but saved their money to buy white flour to make special loaves of a traditional egg bread for welcoming the Sabbath. It has become part of a ceremony of renewal that marks the end of a week's hard work.
Nisenblatt's first delivery came straight from his own dinner table to a patient with multiple myeloma, who had lost her will to fight after a particularly rough flare-up of her illness. She took heart from the gift and resumed her struggle against the disease. Because of her response, the doctor started buying a fresh challah every Friday for each of his hospitalized patients Jews and non-Jews alike.
In August 1996, he and Leon Kartzmer, a retiree whose wife had died of cancer in 1995, created the Challah Fund, which now delivers a fresh loaf every Friday to more than 50 patients undergoing cancer treatments at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and St. Peter's Hospital in New Brunswick. Wally Milbrod, whose wife died of cancer in 1996, also assists in the "challah visits."
Why do they do it? "Because hope is hard to come by," says Nissenblatt. "It's slippery. It can fall through your fingers and through your words."
A short visit and a loaf of bread may not make it into the annals of cancer therapies. But there is high tech health care and low tech health care; and even doctors know that the low tech variety sometimes works better. Just ask their patients.
Winter 1998 Table of Contents