Humble beginnings of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee

Humble beginnings of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee

THE JOINT CHAPLAINCY Committee of Greater MetroWest was originally founded in January 1959 as the Joint Chaplaincy Committee. Its purpose was to fund a part-time chaplain at Newark Beth Israel Hospital, as the medical center was then known.

Local pastoral care expanded in 1967 when $1,500 was given to the Joint Chaplaincy Committee by the Board of Rabbis of Essex County and the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Essex County for “eight hours of service a week at Beth Israel and other hospitals,” according to a 1989 report written by Cecille Asekoff and provided to NJJN by the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey. The cooperation of the two boards of rabbis is how the organization became known as “joint” chaplaincy.

A rabbi was to be selected for this role, although chaplains do not need to be clergy members. Those wishing to become a chaplain need to enroll in a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) course and receive board certification. Such courses are offered primarily through health-care facilities, sometimes in collaboration with religious organizations. 

Asekoff first joined the committee in 1979, and by 1989, the Joint Chaplaincy Committee was serving 15 hospitals and 30 nursing homes, according to her report.

Rabbi Robert Rubin, now at the Conservative Temple Beth Or in Brick, became the committee’s first full-time chaplain in 1984 and remained through 1989, serving Essex, Morris, and Sussex counties.

“Cecille was great to work with,” said Rubin. “I wish her luck in her retirement.”

In 2012, following the merger of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey with United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, the federation became known as the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and Asekoff’s organization became the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Greater MetroWest.

Today, the Joint Chaplaincy Committee has some 16 chaplains, who are CPE trained. Asekoff said they average 15,000 individual visits a year to patients in dozens of area facilities and private homes.

“Cecille has been a dynamic pillar of our organization,” said Dov Ben-Shimon, executive vice president/CEO of the Greater MetroWest Federation. “She has affected positively the lives of thousands of individuals in the area, nationally, and [in] Israel. We are sad to see her go and wish her good fortune in her retirement.”

Asekoff worked part-time with both Neshama and the Joint Chaplaincy Committee until she retired from her national position in 2016. Federation is looking for a part-time manager to succeed her. 

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