Jewish Spiritual Care Specialists Who Make House Calls

Jewish Spiritual Care Specialists Who Make House Calls
By Elana Boiskin, JCFS Tikvah Coordinator

Now, more than ever, people are turning to their rabbis and religious leaders to seek consolation in times of ill health, mourning, loss and loneliness.  Research shows that baby boomers, many of whom rejected religion when they were young, often engage in a spiritual reevaluation, a search for meaning.  As the population advances in age, the field of spiritual care becomes a key component of health and healing. 

What is spirituality?  It is broad with room for many views.  It is a term with many definitions: Love, light, culture, hope, soul, harmony, meaning, theology, and religion.  It often refers to a connection to something greater than us.  These are just a few of the concepts that come to mind when we talk about spirituality. 

Most adults believe in God or a higher power.  Among adults, spiritual experiences are associated with lower mortality rates, increased longevity, lower rates of heart disease and better perceived health.  Religious persons have increased well-being, life satisfaction and happiness.  They have greater purpose and meaning in life. Cognitive functioning declines more slowly among the religiously active.  A study of cancer patients in a palliative care unit found that the majority experienced spiritual pain.  Half of the patients indicated that they would like the chaplain to provide a sense of presence, listen to them, visit with them, or accompany them on their journey.

Everyone will experience illness, grief and sadness in their lives.  To support these needs, Tikvah: The Jewish Chaplaincy Community Initiative was launched as a program of Jewish Child & Family Services.  Rabbis and cantors professionally trained in chaplaincy are available to offer comfort to Chicago Jewish community members who need support.  The training includes over one thousand hours in healthcare facilities, being part of multi-disciplinary teams, deep listening skills, and self-reflection.  Our spiritual care specialists can visit you in a private home, hospital, senior home, skilled nursing facility or other residence.  Using the tools of Jewish tradition, Jewish chaplaincy offers emotional support within a spiritual framework: it is appropriate for all stages of life, not just end-of-life.   

Recently, one of our chaplains visited an elderly couple in their room in a suburban assisted living facility.  The husband is physically frail, but mentally sharp.  His wife has dementia and sleeps most of the time.  On the last visit the chaplain sang to her.  She perked up and sang along to Hatikva, Ein Keiloheinu and Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  She sang accurately and beautifully. She seemed to enjoy it. Her husband, who has been feeling lonely and isolated, spoke at length about his family and his children.  The chaplain’s visit was uplifting in different ways to both of these individuals.

The chaplain visited a Holocaust survivor in a home on Chicago’s North Side during Thanksgiving weekend.  The survivor seemed lonely and distraught, as he considered his aging and decline, and the chaplain asked him, “Is there anything on this Thanksgiving for which you are thankful?”  The survivor paused for a moment or two and then said, “My family and my life.  I never knew if I would even have either one when I was in the camps and I am just grateful to be alive in this country.”   His mood changed as he was able to offer these words knowing the chaplain would accept whatever he would say.  And he grew calmer and less anxious as he found ways to express gratitude. 

According to Tikvah Chaplain Rabbi Joe Ozarowski: “In the end, Judaism affirms that God is with each of us in everyday life, especially in sickness and in sorrow, but both clergy and loved ones can, in their ways, help those in need of spiritual guidance.”  A chaplain can be a source of comfort and support during difficult times to both individuals and family members. 

List of References:
Gallup, 2006, 2008, 2010
Koenig, H.G. (2007).  Spirituality in Patient Care: Why, How, When, and What. 2nd Ed. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.
Roof, W. (2001). Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion.  Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 
Thoresen & Harris, 2002; Oman & Thoresen, 2002