It was getting late. Time to leave. I had told my driver I’d be down at about 3:00 PM and it was now 3:30. Woman enjoy schmoozing and we were enjoying the visit – I, a staff member of the Ezer Mizion Brooklyn office and the staff of one of the many, many departments of Ezer Mizion in Israel whom I was meeting for the first time in person. “Before I leave, I’d like to take a quick look at the kitchen,” I said. “Another five minutes won’t make much difference,” i thought to myself.  I had warned the driver that it will probably be later than anticipated.

I was imagining a very large kitchen with a long table across the wall, maybe two or three. This was just one of several kitchens throughout the country where hot meals are prepared for families sitting for hours on end at the hospital bedside of a loved one. Juggling work and family responsibilities with the needs of the patient, the family member has no time or energy to give a thought to her own needs and would live for weeks mostly on chips and coke if it were not for Ezer Mizion. Meals are delivered by kindly volunteers who deliver compassion and understanding with every package.

And who prepares these meals? A significant part of the staff is a group of women challenged by mental illness. Unable to function in the real world, they would normally have no reason to wake up in the morning and would gradually deteriorate. The pride in their voices as they confidently say, “I work for Ezer Mizion.” brings tears to the eyes of all involved.

And so, on my way out, I stopped by for a ‘quick glance’ at the kitchen.

For many years, I have been producing articles on the numerous divisions of Ezer Mizion, what many have termed an Empire of Chessed’. Many of the articles mentioned numbers but numbers are no substitute for an on-site view.  i had no conception of the scope of its efforts. For a full hour I was given a ‘quick tour’ of the many rooms of the kitchen. Yes, there were long tables. Many of them. And walk-in refrigerators and freezers. And a fryer the size of a washing machine whose giant tray tips to drain the hot oil.  A stove where meatballs are produced by the hundreds. And industrial sized processors. And a walk-in oven which immediately sends the cooked food to the blast fridge to avoid even a hint of a germ in the meals going to our precious family members.   And shrink-wrap machinery. And a whole department making rolls and cakes which we had to skip due to time constraints.

Each corner of the machinery, every ladle, every inch of tables, floor and walls was spotless, scrubbed rigorously and meticulously by staff whose goal is perfection. Always. After each shift.

I was in awe of what developed from the ideals of one newly married, young man, Rav Chananya Chollak and his wife, Leah A’H, who, in 1979, began cooking for families virtually living in the hospital. Their minuscule home was filled with neighbors whom they recruited to help and,   using giant pots, bubbling away on their tiny stove, the foundation of the Ezer Mizion Food Division was created.  I began making my way towards the door and to my so very patient driver. It was now 4:30 but we weren’t done yet. To be continued.