Christmas trees, tinsel angels and cutouts of the Holy Family adorn every floor of Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. But Jewish patients, who make up about 20 percent of the population of the Roman Catholic institution, have not been forgotten.
They will have a chance to celebrate Hanukah next week, with the help of a group of faithful volunteers and students from the nearby Hebrew Academy.
The Women's Auxiliary of the Academy has arranged for groups of students from the school to visit the hospital, beginning Sunday night and throughout the eight-day celebration, to light the Hanukah candles and recite the appropriate prayers.
Together, they will recall the ancient miracle of how, when their spiritual ancestors drove the enemy from the temple in Jerusalem, they found only enough pure oil to burn the lamp one night, and yet it burned for eight days.
In addition, Rabbi Tzvi H. Porath of Ohr Kodesh Congregation has prepared and taped special programs to be broadcast over the hospital's in-house closed-circuit TV channel every evening of Hanukah.
Porath, one of two rabbis who serve on the Holy Cross Apostolic Committee, which sees to the spiritual care of patients of all faiths, explained that although Hanukah is not considered one of the major Jewish holidays, the event it commemorates is significant in both secular and religious history.
"It was the first time that a nation fought not for wealth, not for territory, not to subjugate another people, but for the right to worship God, for freedom of religion," he said. "This is a watershed in human history, that a people fought for spiritual things," he continued. "If the Jews had lost, there might not have been any Christianity, because the Jews would have been wiped out."
Porath stressed the importance of helping Jewish patients celebrate the holidays and observe the traditions of their faith. "We hope the patients will have faith because it will help them to recover," he said.
That is the philosophy behind a year-round program that the Hebrew Academy's Auxiliary conducts at the hospital.
Every Friday, two or three women from the group check in at the hospital's pastoral care office, where they pick up a computer printout of names of Jewish women patients.
Then they make the rounds, offering each patient the opportunity to perform one of the most intimate and traditional rites of Jewish family life -- the lighting of the Sabbath candles.
Not all the patients approached accept the little two-pronged electric candelabra. "I don't usually do it at home; I'd feel like a hypocrite," was the response of one patient recently who declined the candles offered her by Ginger Pinchot, who originated the Sabbath candle program.
But across the curtain in the next bed, a seriously ill heart patient nodded her acceptance of the candles even before Pinchot had a chance to ask. Unable to speak above a hoarse whisper, she confided, "I was just lying here thinking that I wouldn't be able to light today," as Pinchot found a place for the electric candelabra among the bottles and tubes on the bedside table.
For thousands of years, as the sundown before the Sabbath approaches, Jewish women have kindled the Sabbath lights and offered the age-old blessing: "Ba-ruch atah, Adonoi . . . Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe . . . ."
"Sabbath starts when you light the candles," said Pat Koslowe, one of the volunteers with the auxiliary, in explaining the act's significance. "It's the beginning of a day set apart from the rest of the week."
"When I do it, with my children next to me," said Rose Margolis, another volunteer, "it is the feeling of a one-to-one experience with God."
Ginger Pinchot, whose first name seems to derive as much from her bubbly personality as from the color of her long wavy hair, began taking Sabbath candles to hospitalized patients eight years ago when she was living in Chicago. When she moved here with her family four years ago, she enlisted the aid of some of the mothers at the Hebrew Academy, where her children go to school, to begin the practice at Holy Cross.
She has noticed a difference in responses over the years. "Eight years ago, if they hadn't lit the candles at home, they didn't want to do it in the hospital." Now, she said, more women ask for the candles, and some who had not been observing the tradition at home take it up once more after their hospital stint. "We've had a few letters from women saying they're continuing at home because they like the feeling."
"The candles made me feel a little less lonely that Shabbat, and I sincerely appreciated your taking the time to find Jewish patients to distribute candles to," one woman wrote the auxiliary after her release from the hospital. "As a past patient I can tell you honestly that it makes a person feel as if people care about them."