Remembering Sinai Hospital: Making muffins, back when work was fun

What makes a good work team? I’ve been thinking about that lately, because of all the jobs I’ve had, the most fun was when I worked at Sinai Hospital of Detroit in the 1980s.

It wasn’t because the work itself was particularly meaningful. It certainly wasn’t because I was earning the big bucks.

What was extraordinary about that work experience was the people I worked with. Many of us are still friends today, 27 years since our group was blown apart when a bunch of us were “laid off” after some political maneuvering at the C-suite level.

I’ve worked with many good people before and since, so I’ve been trying to put my finger on what made this team so special.

For one thing, most of us were around the same age, so we grew up with the same frame of reference about music, movies and other cultural touchstones.

We all had a good sense of humor, and we could tease each other without anyone taking offense.

There was also a Jewish ethos about our group – Sinai was a Jewish-sponsored hospital after all – even though we weren’t all Jewish.

Learning Yiddish

When our department was moved to a former apartment on campus, I brought in an old copy of The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten and put it in the bathroom. Soon the Catholic members of our group were spouting Yiddish like they’d learned it from their bubbies.

But occasionally something tripped them up.

Our media relations pro, Suzanne, was a good Catholic girl but she looked like a Yiddishe maidel, with what some would call a Jewish nose and long, curly, black hair.

One day she came into the office looking distressed and asked, “Bobbie, what’s daven mean?”

Daven  (DAH ven) means to pray. No one is sure where the word comes from; Rosten says maybe from divin, French for divine.

Suzanne had been in an elevator at the hospital when a middle-aged Orthodox Jewish man got on. He looked her up and down–probably thinking what a good match she’d make for his son—and said, “So, where do you daven?

It would be like saying to a stranger, “So, what church do you go to?”

Suzanne, not knowing what in the world he was talking about, stammered. “I don’t!” and beat a hasty retreat as soon as the elevator stopped.

We still laugh about that one.

And maybe part of the reason why that job was so much fun was that our jobs were manageable. Our team was extremely productive, but we didn’t feel we were understaffed and overworked as so many do today. We had time to goof off when we needed to; it kept the creative juices flowing.

Memorable muffins

All the above is an excuse to write about today’s recipe, which comes from the Sinai Hospital cafeteria.

Whenever they had these muffins on the menu, we’d all make a beeline for the cafeteria.

Sinai Hospital is gone now, first merged into the Detroit Medical Center and then closed. Its name is memorialized in the unmellifluous DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital and DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital. The building itself was torn down and is now the site of a high school.

But Sinai Hospital lives on in our hearts!

A few weeks ago one of my Sinai colleagues was back in town for a family visit, so I invited her and two others we worked with, and their spouses, to lunch.

I served these Glorious Morning Muffins, which they all recognized immediately. We ate, and laughed, and reminisced about the good old days.