By Rachel Lampert
A wellspring of information
"A woman's wisdom builds her house…" (Mishlei 14:1)
We all know that the woman is the essential center of the home, the ikeret habayis, it's mainstay and it's life source, to the point where Rabi Meir didn't call his wife "wife" he called her "home". As it says in Mishelei, she builds her home with wisdom, with all sorts of chachmos, from the sublime to the down to earth.
Further on in Mishele, Shlomo HaMelech tells us, "A wise heart seeks knowledge…" (Mishelei 15:14) Wisdom must be pursued. The verse says, "lev navon…" wisdom in the aspect of bina, the ability to understand, the extrapolate essential knowledge from given information. Bina is the special wisdom of the woman; HaShem gave her bina yisera, extra abilities in this area. Thus, a person with a "bina heart" will know that they must look for information in order to achieve real knowledge.
Women do this all the time. We are constantly talking and inquiring, asking and discussing for our family's sake and as so much of our lives are taken up by practicalities, the search for practical knowledge is part and parcel of our daily lives.
What happens, then, when we cannot access the resources we need? When our search is blocked because we don't have access, or we're plunged into a situation that is beyond the chachmos we have acquired so far?
"It was then that I realized that I had no idea what the doctor was talking about and no way to find out; he wasn't going to give me information that he assumed everyone knew. I walked out of his office with the test results in my hand and my head spinning and I knew I needed help".
When the information highway is a perpetual traffic jam and, particularly in the world of modern medicine, there is new information every day, how are you, the woman of the house, supposed to find information?
"I suppose I could try to look thing up, but how can I find information which is 'kosher v'yashar'? I wish there was someone who could just explain things to me!"
Now there is.
Since April 2005 The Center for Women's Health Information has helped women in the orthodox community find their way though the vast amount of medical information necessary for today's Jewish family.
"First and foremost, a woman is responsible for her own health because without her, there is no home. Early marriage, the childbearing years, post childbearing and aging all have their own profiles and problems," explains Tzipora Black, a center volunteer.
"In addition, she is in charge of her family's health. By the time a woman reaches middle age, she may be responsible for three generations: her children, her husband and herself, and her parents. All in one day, she could have a question about croup, slipped disk and Alzheimer's disease. There was a need for a central resource planned for the Chareidi woman.
Shoshanna Goldfinger, municipal comptroller and advisor to the mayor on the status of women in B'nai Brak, was behind the original initiative for The Center for Women's Health Information.
"We were a group of friends who got together to brainstorm about what we could do for clall Yisroel. Between us, we had many years of work for the clall and we were looking for a way to use our experience to help women in a significant way. We all agreed it would be something to do with health and medicine".
"We saw that in today's medical world the Chareidi woman is at a disadvantage. Once medicine was simpler and there were few choices, doctors had time and expected to explain what they were doing to their less educated patients. Now, often there are several treatments for one condition and the doctors are used to patients who have access to information that was formerly available only in medical texts.
Chareidim stay away from popular media and shun electronic communication, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage as medical consumers".
What would be the most effective way to bring basic information to the most women as quickly and efficiently as possible?
First they created a core course for 25 volunteers. The speakers came from Ma'ayane HaYeshua Hospital and Ezer M'Tziyon and other health related organizations, the staff of Laniado Hospital was particularly helpful. All were volunteers. In addition to common health issues, they lectured on medicine and the Chareidi population and on how to create a referral network.
Once there was a coherent framework in place, they presented the organization for rabbinical approval. They soon received the enthusiastic endorsement from both Chasidish and Litvish leaders who continue to be intimately involved with the organization. Everything they do is done with daas Torah.
The next step was the call center. Here would be an easily accessed medical resource center. Any time of the day or night, all the caller would have to do is leave their number and their question if they wished, after the introductory recording, and the call would be returned within 24 hours. Every call would be anonymous, providing the caller the security to discuss their problem without fear.
The group presented their idea to the B'nei Brak municipality. Very excited, they provided a room and, most important, a phone line. The call center was in business.
"Our staff of volunteers are divided into three sections. One section actually has very little to do with the call center. They concentrate, rather, on our courses, lectures and seminars, from finding the speakers and the venue, the advertising and the logistics.
"The second section is in charge of coordination and administration, which includes finances, liaison and networking.
"The third section works the hot line.
On any given day, the call center receives calls on a wide range of issues. Some are straightforward such as the care of a cuts and scrapes and others are critical, such as chemotherapy or cardiac arrest. Over time, as they collected statistics, they realized that there were many issues that came up time and time again. On these issues they created information packets that are sent to anyone wants written information about their query. They have files on many more medical issues that can be collated and dispatched. An eminent cardiologist has donated many copies of his book on heart disease, and it is available free on request.
The volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds but they all have in common some connection with medicine or community. One worked for years in hospital administration, another is a former biologist who checks all written materiel for accuracy. Yet another is a former high school principal. The more sensitive questions are handled by a volunteer with a degree in counseling, to make sure that the callers are understood and get the help they need. A halachic authority has checked all of their materials and everything is done according to das Torah.
"That is what is so unique about this project", says Tzipora. "The accuracy of our information goes hand in hand with das Torah, without compromise".
After contacting several high-level medical professionals, then the group created a course to introduce influential women to common health issues. The lectures targeted community leaders and the attendees were rebbetzins, school principals, heads of organizations and community centers, all experienced women who already had a voice in their communities. Each course was attended by 70 to 80 women.
"Our core curriculum was built with Esther Straus, who is the head of Laniado Hospital nursing. Our professional volunteer advisors and lecturers include lawyers who are experts on patient's rights, the Health Ministry Ombudsman, and doctors and administrators from Maayane Yehoshua Hospital, Bikur Cholim Hospital, Hadassah Ein Kerem, and the major health funds such as Klallit and Maccabi. All of our contacts and advisors are not only high-level professionals, but also leaders in their fields".
While The Center for Women's Health Information initially concentrated on community leaders, they are determined to reach all of the community, even the socially deprived.
"We recently worked with Social Services Department in Bnei Brak and created and gave a course on healthy life style to women under their care", says Mrs.Goldfinger.
"It is part of our goal to work with other organizations. We've worked extensively with Neshei Agudas Yisroel, with the Kiryat Sefer municipality, with the B'nai Brak municipality, with the Neve Chemed community center in the Ezras Torah neighborhood, and others".
What was the next step?
"After the call center was up and running for while, we brainstormed again and, based on our statistics, created lecture about the most common issues. We also had three very successful two day conference at the Nir Etziyon Hotel which was attended each by more than 250 women".
And the future?
"We want to reach more frum communities. While we have had many events in B'nei Brak and Yerushalyim, and are in the middle of a series in Kiryat Sefer, there still remain many communities on the periphery that we have yet to contact, communities such as Ashdod, Elad and Haifa. We are looking for funding to finance projects in these outlying areas.
"We would also like to reach out to teachers, especially in the sciences, and work out a curriculum that would include basic health information in the science syllabus, therefore jumpstarting young womens' careers as the prime caretakers for their bayis n'eeman."
"All of this without ever losing sight of our original goal which is to educate in order to promote health, prevent disease, and legitimize women's right to quality health care within the ultra-orthodox communities."
The Center for Women's Health Information is located at Rechov Ezra 18 Benai Berak
The call center number is 03-6787377.