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Initiative spotlights visits to the sick
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Initiative spotlights visits to the sick

The Jewish Federation of Monmouth County is preparing to cast a wide net in hopes of attracting large numbers of volunteers to visit patients at area hospitals.

A Caring Conference, to be held Sunday, Feb. 9, at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, is the kickoff event for a program known as Jewish Monmouth Cares.

Breakout sessions will cover such areas as practical visiting skills, caring for the caregiver, and comforting the bereaved. The conference is part of a wider effort at training, supporting, and placing volunteers in health-care settings.

The initiative aims to expand “the wonderful work that volunteers are already doing through Jewish Family and Children’s Service, synagogues, and other Jewish organizations,” said Rabbi Michelle Pearlman, the federation’s director of community engagement and chaplain, who is spearheading the effort. “We want to reach out to more members of our Jewish community, whether they are members of a synagogue or not, and help them find meaningful volunteer opportunities.”

Eleanor Rubin of Tinton Falls, a relative newcomer to Monmouth County, is chair of the Jewish Monmouth Cares steering committee. Rubin, who moved to the area from Watchung two years ago, chaired the chaplaincy committee at the former Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.

“Hospital visitation is not only a very important mission for the patient, but one that is enormously rewarding to the one paying the visit,” Rubin said.

Jewish Monmouth Cares is developing a selection of prayer brochures that volunteers can read to patients or leave behind for them to look at later on.

“We have a team of rabbis, Jewish professionals, social workers, nurses, and gifted lay leaders working on this initiative,” said Pearlman. “We will be working through the local hospital chaplains to set up the training and the support.”

While some of the visiting opportunities will be covered by organization members such as synagogues, Hadassah chapters, and the like, Pearlman added, “Local community members not connected through an organization will be working through the chaplain and the volunteer office at the hospital of his or her choice.”

Training and coordination of efforts are paramount considerations, said Pearlman. “We hope to provide opportunities for individual volunteers to shadow existing volunteers,” she said.

Pearlman thanked the Rev. Lisa Lancaster, chaplain at CentraState Medical Center, for hosting the Feb. 9 opening conference. Scheduled from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the gathering will offer both plenary sessions and breakout workshops.

Rabbi Shira Stern will keynote the event, and Rabbi Ephraim Karp, incoming president of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, will be a featured speaker. Karp was the first community chaplain in Monmouth County and now lives in Cleveland.

Stern — a pastoral counselor and director of primary education at Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro — said she “self-identifies as a chaplain because I’m passionate about the holy work of bikur holim,” the mitzva of visiting the sick.

“Far from being work for professionals only, this is the responsibility of every Jew,” said Stern. “I hope to imbue my sense of passion about this in all who attend the conference. And I hope that they will carry that message back to their home congregations.”

Another highlight of the conference will be special recognition of Liesel Spencer of Aberdeen, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who has paid well over 1,500 visits to Jewish patients at Bayshore Community Hospital during the past 19 years (see related article).

In describing the launch of Jewish Monmouth Cares, Pearlman was careful not to diminish the volunteer work already being done by members of such organizations as Chabad, Temple Shaari Emeth, Marlboro Jewish Center, Congregation Sons of Israel, Freehold Jewish Center, Bikur Cholim of Lakewood, Sephardic Bikur Holim serving the Syrian-Jewish community at the shore, and many others.

Still, she said, “all of the days are not yet covered. It would be wonderful to have more groups and individuals commit to visiting the sick in hospitals like Jersey Shore University Medical Center, the major trauma center in our area.

“We would like to increase our reach as a community,” Pearlman said. “The idea here is to help people — both the volunteer and the patient — build connections and relationships within our community, so that we can recruit more volunteers and reach more people in need.”

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