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First Israel trip inspires Episcopalian nurse
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First Israel trip inspires Episcopalian nurse

Chaplaincy conference focuses on role played by faith communities

Cecille Asekoff, left, director of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Greater MetroWest and executive vice president of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, and Beth Batastini, a faith community nurse at Christ Episcopal Church in Newton, discuss
Cecille Asekoff, left, director of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Greater MetroWest and executive vice president of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, and Beth Batastini, a faith community nurse at Christ Episcopal Church in Newton, discuss

Beth Batastini, a registered nurse by training and an Episcopalian by religion, returned from her first trip to Israel earlier this month with a renewed dedication to recruit more nurses — especially from the Jewish community — to her new field as a faith community nurse.

Cecille Asekoff — director of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and executive vice president of the national organization Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains — is eager to help her accomplish that mission.

Asekoff and Batastini attended a conference Jan. 27-28 in Jerusalem entitled “Hope and Resilience: Innovative and Interdisciplinary Spiritual Care,” organized by the NAJC. The conference included presentations by Israelis and others on models of pastoral care, and site visits to Laniado Hospital in Netanya and the St. Louis French Hospital hospice in Jerusalem.

“One of the things I fell in love with was how Israelis care about other people,” Batastini said. “They were open, kind, and terrific, whether they were Muslims, Christians, or Jews.” 

In Israel, she met a psychotherapist, a cancer survivor, who shared with Batastini a CD she uses in providing spiritual comfort to patients through meditation. Another Israeli she encountered runs a website that connects patients and chaplains by phone.

Batastini said she plans to integrate both programs into her own work.

Attendees were also introduced to treatments for children with attention deficit disorders and chronic illnesses and were shown a comparison of Israeli and American chaplaincy models.

Batastini and Asekoff met in 2013 on the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany, where Asekoff has her office, during a day of sensitivity training for health care providers cosponsored by the Joint Chaplaincy Committee and Atlantic Health Systems. 

Addressing the gathering was Benjamin Corn, the Brooklyn-born chair of the Radiation Oncology Department at Tel Aviv Medical Center, who talked about his efforts to bring spiritual care into mainstream medicine and health care. Included in his talk was his declaration that, as he told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview from Israel before the event, “We need to do more in terms of paying attention to the spiritual needs of our patients.” 

Corn’s message resonated with Batastini, and since then, she said, “I was determined to go to Israel.”

But even before the trip, Batastini’s path had intertwined with people in New Jersey’s Jewish community.

Her parents, both Episcopalian, attended what was then the overwhelmingly Jewish Weequahic High School in Newark. She believes “there is a chance that my parents’ experience at Weequahic was part of my life even though I was raised Christian.”

Trained as a registered nurse, Batastini, who lives in Frankford, worked with dialysis patients, but was forced to reinvent herself in 1998 after she was sidelined for 10 years with a severe back injury.

“Nobody was going to hire me as an RN because I was out of work for so long,” she said. “But my priest at Christ Episcopal Church in Newton asked if I was interested in becoming a faith community nurse. I said ‘yes.’”

Faith community nursing was pioneered by a Lutheran minister named Granger Westberg, a chaplain and theologian in Illinois who believed in spiritual and holistic healing. Batastini describes her job as “care of the mind, body, and spirit. You come with the autonomy of a registered nurse and you add the spiritual piece to it.”

Her new style of nursing does not permit Batastini to perform the medical procedures done by an RN. But since 2013 she has been working with the chaplain at Newton Medical Center in a pilot program called the Faith Community Health Partnership. It spawned a second program at Morristown Medical Center.

Batastini described the partnerships as opportunities “for us to get clergy and the people clergy select from their congregations to learn more about hospitals and preventive health care. We have seven Presbyterian, one or two Methodist, and one Episcopal church involved, but no synagogues or mosques as yet, but we are working on everybody,” she said.

Asked what advice she would give to Jewish communities, Batastini said, “If your synagogue has the opportunity to become a faith partner with a hospital, you should do it. Look at it as a way to get education for your congregation.”

Although there are several Jewish registered nurses in North Jersey who already combine medical and spiritual care, Asekoff conceded that nurses who do so “are much more prevalent in the non-Jewish world.” 

But, she noted, “The whole concept of caring for people with health needs is as old as Abraham in the Bible. Part of what we do is give tools to people to create a community of people who have the skills and training to help people in need.”

To that end, Asekoff said, she looks forward to a long relationship with Batastini. “We want to build bridges and create a community where different disciplines get together for the sake of caring for individuals.” 

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