Hospitals are adept at dealing with immediate medical issues but for medical problems requiring long-term care, patients enter a rehabilitation center. This type of treatment is life-changing in many ways. After strokes or other debilitating diseases, patients need to relearn basic life activities. This can take a long time and is emotionally traumatic for the patient. In addition, it puts a strain on the family. Into this darkness enters Rabbi Shlomo Klughaupt; a man with no job title and no mandate except to bring a bit of sunlight into this darkness.
Shlomo works out of Beit Levenstein Rehabilitation Center in Raanana. For all intents and purposes, he is recognized as an unpaid staff member, with an ID tag that allows him full access. He shows up every day after half a day of working in special education and begins his day at Beit Levinstein.
“What do I do?” Shlomo said. “I walk around the different wards and see what people need.”
This may sound simple but for any other person, this would be a daunting task. Some examples of Shlomo “helping people with what they need”::
- After an Arab mob rioted in Akko last May, a Jewish man was hit on the head. He suffered serious brain injuries and has been in the rehabilitation center ever since. Shlomo is helping him to remember.
- A young boy’s heart stopped five times and the doctors succeeded in reviving him. But he doesn’t remember anything, including basic functions like eating or using the bathroom. “His entire memory was blanked out,” Shlomo said. Shlomo is helping him to remember, basic activities as well as Mitzvoth (Torah commandments).
- One man had a stroke and could not move one side of his body. “When he moves his fingers, even slightly, I make a big deal out of it and celebrate with him,” Shlomo said.
- For a young boy that cannot communicate, Shlomo sings nursery rhymes.
- For girls who had strokes and only have the use of one hand, Shlomo brings them ice cream, convincing them to learn to play piano.
- A girl was totally immobilized after a stroke and Shlomo sat by her side, cheering her for each blink of an eye. “Of course, I did that,” Shlomo said. “How do you think she felt, lying there alone?”
- Shlomo is a basketball coach, teaching his ‘athletes’ to play one-handed from a wheelchair.
- Every Tuesday, Shlomo leads a one-handed baking class, producing cakes fit for angels.
- Shlomo arranges Shabbat accommodations so that families can be with their loved ones who are patients.
- When the children were isolated in the hospital during the pandemic, the children gave Shlomo a wish list. He put out a call for toys and got 50 boxes of toys to keep the children happy. “People help me,” Shlomo explained.
- Similarly, a local bakery provides cakes and challah bread every Shabbat for Shlomo’s people and a local gourmet eatery provides him with pasta dishes and pizza.
Shlomo also gives advice and walks people through legal dilemmas or bureaucratic difficulties, enlisting help from willing professionals when necessary. Private doctors approach him, skiing if they can help.
Shlomo remarked that he “can talk all day.” There is little reason to doubt this as Shlomo describes each patient as a jeweler who would display his gems; with unrestrained joy.
“The hospital gives me carte blanche,” Shlomo explained. “They let me do whatever I want.”
Shlomo works overtime, arranging Shabbat for the patients.
“I make sure that there are prayer services and that the patients can get down to the synagogue,” he said. “Some patients need someone to turn the pages of the prayer book.”
He also explained that after several decades of his work, his family has resigned themselves to spending Shabbat afternoon without him. On Shabbat afternoon, Shlomo can always be found praying and telling stories at the hospital. He remains until Shabbat ends and the Havdallah service is complete.
“Even the non-religious patients join in,” Shlomo said. “It is not just a religious thing for the religious patients. It is more than that.”
Shlomo’s efforts are not limited to the patients. The families frequently need encouragement or sympathy and Shlomo is there to provide.
Shlomo is not a young man but his energy is unmatched. He is frequently seen racing the hallways, pushing wheelchair-bound children, bringing them a dose of laughter and joy in the somber hospital setting.
Shlomo has been working in special education for over 50 years but his ‘second career’ began in 1988. He had a custom of praying at a nearby nursing home. One of the congregants who Shlomo became friendly broke his leg and was transferred to Beit Levenstein. Shlomo went to visit him.
“After he left, I went to visit other people and never stopped,” Shlomo said.
“I love kids and I get along with them,” he said. “But I can connect with almost anybody. I like to help people. It makes me feel good.”
The activity Shlomo especially loves is to get down on the floor and play with the children.
“It makes them happy,” Shlomo said.
Shlomo is not about to slow down. He learns Torah daily.
“II exercise one hour every morning,” he emphasized.
His support sometimes is more than spiritual. For some of his projects, Shlomo needs to ask for donations.
“If it is a parent who is in the hospital, the family may not be prepared for the loss of income,” Shlomo said. “Even if it is a child, the mother or the father has to be with them and that can mean a loss of income. Just imagine, you are working hard to live your life. All of a sudden, your 12-year-old daughter has a stroke. Or your son goes to school one day and falls down because an infection went into his spine.”
“How does your life change?” Shlomo asks. “I’ll tell you; everything changes. Nobody knows what will be. People are not prepared for it. They don’t know how to handle it, what to do, where to go. But I am there to help.”
Shlomo describes meeting families of newly admitted patients.
“They’re devastated,” he said. “They ask themselves what they did to deserve this. They are overwhelmed by this huge hospital system. So many people are coming at them, asking questions and demanding things from them. Then I come in and I don’t want anything. I tell them, ‘I am here. What do you want?’”