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“If you don’t come to work on Yom Kippur, don’t bother coming back the day after.” Many of us have heard stories of Jews two or three generations before us who faced such discrimination. Did you know that there are still places where Jews are hearing this?

Among the many services which Agudath Israel provides for its constituents is advocating for people who call for assistance with religious accommodation issues.

On Thursday, October 5, a nurse who works in a NYC public hospital called the Constituent Services Department of Agudath Israel, to say that her supervisor was forcing her and three other Jewish employees to work on Yom Kippur or face negative reprisals, including loss of their jobs.

Agudah’s Constituent Services Department’s sprang into action, with only a few days left before Yom Kippur, which was on October 9th. Chava Shulman immediately emailed the CEO of the hospital, asking her to accommodate the Jewish employees for Yom Kippur. In a letter to the CEO, she stressed that employees have a basic religious right guaranteed by the constitution to observe their holidays.

She also called a number of New York politicians, including Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and Senator Simcha Felder who lent their support for this issue.

Assemblyman Eichenstein’s office wrote the President and CEO of NYC Health and Hospitals, the Mayor’s office, and other NYC offices: “…As you know, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for Jews around the world, and is universally observed by them as a day of prayer and introspection. To ask these four employees to work on Yom Kippur is unthinkable…”
Senator Felder’s office wrote: “…We must protect New Yorkers from employment practices that force a choice between religion and employment…”
Emails flew back and forth. But after 8 hours of email exchanges, the CEO of this hospital emailed Agudath Israel, saying that the hospital had reversed its decision and was giving the four Jewish employees leave for Yom Kippur.

Dear Ms. Shulman,

We will be able to accommodate the 4 Coney Island Hospital employees who requested off.

Sincerely, CEO of …….. Hospital

The employee who called us for assistance is originally from Russia. She told Chava Shulman that she would have gone to work on Yom Kippur even though she did not want to, because she did not want to lose her job. When she was informed by Agudath Israel that she did not have to go, she started to cry with joy. Since coming to America 20 years ago she has kept every single Yom Kippur, and she had been afraid that she would not be able to keep this one.

Unfortunately, this problem is endemic in all hospitals throughout NY. In the few days since this story happened, Agudah’s Consituent Services Department we received an email from a nurse in another hospital who is being forced to work on the first day of Sukkos. She added that a fellow nurse at that hospital was fired for not coming in on Rosh Hashana. We are receiving more and more requests for assistance from medical workers in all hospitals, including nurses, physicians and pharmacists. This is a problem that must be addressed on a macro scale, as hospitals are becoming places where discrimination against religious Jewish employees is becoming more and more the norm.

The Agudah motto, “working for Klal Yisroel and Reb Yisroel” is as true today as ever. Helping the individual has always been a high priority for Agudas Yisroel. The Agudah’s Constituent Services Department helps close to 2,000 people each year. They listen patiently and guide clients through a myriad of life challenges. Some of the areas where people are helped include religious discrimination, end-of-life situations, medical referrals, legal issues, government assistance, educational consultations, and almost any other problem that an individual may face. Some of the most complex challenges are addressed, all handled with extraordinary warmth, dedication, and sensitivity.

To reach the Constituent Services Department, please call 212-797-9000, extension 335.