Orthodox Nurses on the Front Line Against the Coronavirus in America

In the break room of the small Maryland community hospital where nurse Chaya Milikowsky works, a large painting depicts a tree standing in grass against a deep blue sky.

Every time a patient hospitalized with the coronavirus dies, their nurse paints a star in the sky; for every patient that recovers from the virus and is discharged, they add a flower in the grass.

“We’re all so invested in these patients and know we’re never going to forget them – both those who die and those who make it out of the hospital,” Milikowsky, who works in the intensive care unit exclusively with COVID-19 patients, tells Haaretz.

Chaya MilikowskyCourtesy of Chaya Milikowsky

After having children, Milikowsky, an Orthodox Jew, became a nurse as a career change. Early on, she was assigned to critical care patients and now works in her hospital’s ICU. “It’s a constantly changing environment, you have to be on your toes,” she says. “That’s what I love about it. And yes, it can be hard seeing a lot of sickness and a lot of death. But on the other hand, I can be witness to people who we didn’t think would recover and then end up recovering.”

Milikowsky, 36, is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association, an organization established in 2008 by Rivka Pomerantz, a nurse who felt the need for a forum to discuss issues specific to those in her field from her own community. She began an online support group at the time, which is now a proper organization with 300 paying members and close to 2,500 people interacting on its Facebook group.

The painting in the hospital where Chaya Milikowsky worksCourtesy of Chaya Milikowsky

The association’s president, Shevi Rosner, also 36, says that at first the group was intended to help navigate concerns such as not working on Shabbat, wearing a skirt or covering one’s hair during shifts.

“Anti-Semitism is always an issue, too. Co-workers are making remarks about different patients and stereotyping, so it was a safe place to discuss the issues that came up at work, what people’s view are on how you handle [them],” Rosner says.