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Helping shul groups improve pastoral care
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Helping shul groups improve pastoral care

Volunteers from caring committees at New Jersey synagogues will be offered a full day of sensitivity training in Whippany on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

The purpose is to help people who serve on such committees — volunteers who visit congregants who are hospitalized, homebound, or sitting shiva and members of burial committees — offer additional spiritual and emotional support during difficult times.

“Our goal is to give some professional training to these lay people and at the same time help synagogues without such committees to create them,” said Cecille Asekoff, director of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Greater MetroWest, an event cosponsor.

The training session, the first of its kind being offered in the community, is being cosponsored by the Atlantic Health System, which operates hospitals in Morristown, Summit, and Newton. The program will be held at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany.

Keynote speaker Benjamin Corn, the Brooklyn-born chair of the Radiation Oncology Department at Tel Aviv Medical Center, will talk about his efforts to bring spiritual care into mainstream medicine and health care.

“We need to do more in terms of paying attention to the spiritual needs of our patients,” he told NJJN in a phone interview from Tel Aviv. “One thing we have been doing is creating an archive of text-based learning. Much of it is from traditional Jewish sources, such as prayers and the Talmud as well as poetry and philosophy. We try to create a dialogue between physicians and volunteers by presenting a short passage of text and saying, ‘What does that mean to you? Could this have application for us?’ We really learn from each other a lot.”

Rabbi Ruth Gais of Summit, a board-certified chaplain and pastoral education candidate at Overlook Hospital, will serve as a mentor to the lay people in attendance.

“We want to create a cadre of leaders who can go back to their caring committees and energize them to think more deeply and creatively about what it is they would like to accomplish,” she told NJJN.

She said her task includes efforts “to continue the momentum by visiting individual communities and helping them to understand how our tradition deals with visiting the sick.”

Following the training, Asekoff said, the Joint Chaplaincy Committee will provide synagogues and organizations who request a mentor who will serve as a trainer and a resource to form or expand caring committees.

“But this is not intended to supplant the work of the rabbis in the community,” Asekoff said. The aim is to form a cadre of skilled “pastoral extenders,” who are meant to be a help to the clergy.

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