Creating Community Through Chaplaincy

Creating Community Through Chaplaincy

by: Carol Brumer Gilksman, Jewish Chaplaincy Services Coordinator 

Although it’s a snowy winter Friday afternoon in Chicago, inside Bella Terra, a senior living community in Morton Grove, warm Shabbat melodies envelop Jewish residents. Twice a month they come together to welcome Shabbat with services led by conservative Cantor Fortunee Belilos and volunteer Rabbi Milt Wakschlag.  A service includes a discussion on the Torah portion or other important topics followed by brachot over the challah and grape juice. Afterwards, Cantor Belilos and Rabbi Wakschlag conduct mini visits, approximately 10 minutes each, with some of the residents inquiring about their well-being and offering a mishaberach, a blessing for healing.   Residents find meaning and comfort in these few moments of spiritual care.

Since 2017, Cantor Belilos has been leading services with the residents on Shabbat and the holidays, including Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, Purim and Passover.  In doing so, she helps create a close-knit community within a large senior residence. 

Cantor Belilos is one of five JCFS Chicago chaplains.  Like her JCFS chaplaincy colleagues, Rabbi Joe Ozarowski, Rabbi Suzanne Griffel, Rabbi Paul Saiger and Rabbi Eliezer Dimarsky, Cantor Belilos has participated in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training, a process that takes a few years, in addition to Rabbinic or Cantorial school.  CPE students address ethical issues, pastoral theology and actively learn about intensive listening.  Via an interdisciplinary approach and group process, CPE students receive clinical supervision in a health care setting.

In addition to Bella Terra and other senior/hospice residences, JCFS chaplains visit with individual clients throughout the greater Chicago area.  They travel near and far to meet with clients, from Rogers Park and Skokie to Lake Zurich and Lemont.  Beyond independent and assisted living residences, long term, hospice and memory care communities, our chaplains also meet with clients in their homes.  Their conversations may focus on a recent illness, questions about the end of life, or general inquiries about Judaism. Together they explore a client’s suffering, meaning and hope. Meeting with a JCFS chaplain can also open doors to supplemental JCFS services that a client may need such as counseling or career advice. These visits bring spirituality and connection to the Jewish community to people who often don’t experience it in other ways.

Rabbi Joe Ozarowski, JCFS Chaplain and Rabbinic Counselor, shares his experience with a client.

Martha (changed for privacy) is a patient at a local nursing home.  She entered this facility after a stroke and her own inability to care for herself. She was an active synagogue member and has a loving, supportive family.  But her husband and son are having various issues of their own.  I have been visiting with her monthly, for over a year.

Recently, she has had some setbacks.  She was in the hospital and was being fed through tubes.  She is beginning to come out of this setback. But, during my last visit, I found her extremely depressed. She began to realize that she would probably never leave the care of this nursing facility.  She thought she was on the road to death, and she was lonely.

Through compassionate presence and reflective listening, I helped her to realize that even in a later stage of life, she had much to give and also for which to be grateful.  She began to develop an ethical will and consider what legacies she would be leaving to those around her.  She told me at the end of the visit, “Thank you so much!  You have lifted my spirits and made me realize there is still so much more to my life.”

While there are several Jewish community chaplaincy programs around the country, JCFS Chicago is seen as a leader in this growing field that others turn to for advice and best practices. JCFS Chicago’s Jewish chaplaincy services have the capacity to be where Jewish seniors and community members need us most.  We welcome referrals from social workers, clergy, physicians and individuals interested in meeting with one of our chaplains and/or from family members or friends, as well as connections to additional senior living and hospice communities.  Please visit our chaplaincy services webpage for more information. To make a referral or for more information, contact Carol Brumer Gliksman, JCFS Chaplaincy Coordinator, at 847.745.5404 or