Janice Weinberg was at her father’s bedside eight years ago, when he was placed in the Martin and Edith Stein Hospice on the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset. She saw how much a visit from federation chaplain Rabbi Milton Kroopnick meant to him.
“My dad wasn’t religious until near the end,” she said, “but he had always been very connected to the Jewish community, and he really appreciated those visits.”
On July 18, Weinberg and her husband, Norman, helped honor the chaplains whose work often goes unrecognized by those fortunate enough not to be facing a crisis.
The couple served with Rabbi David Saltzman as cochairs of “Refuat Hanefesh: Creating a Caring Community,” which honored two of the key people responsible for establishing chaplaincy care in this region.
The event at Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield paid tribute to Eleanor Rubin, founding chair of the Chaplaincy Committee of Central New Jersey, and Rabbi Mark Mallach, cochair of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of MetroWest NJ.
The latter committee, now the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ, was formed by the link-up between the two groups in the early 2000s. It also served as a forerunner to the merger that has just taken place between the Jewish Federation of Central NJ and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, under whose auspices they operated.
About 170 people were at the fund-raiser for the committee.
The evening’s guest speaker, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, stressed the need to overcome divisions between the Jewish denominations.
Making the award presentation to Rubin, Janice Weinberg described Rubin’s lifelong affinity for the elderly, and how she inspired lay volunteers to become an important part of the chaplaincy effort.
“Much of our success is thanks to the foundation that she laid,” Weinberg said. Rubin, she added, also helped establish the partnership with the MetroWest chaplaincy committee led by Cecille Asekoff, now director of the Greater MetroWest committee, and executive vice president of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains.
Rubin, who is a past president of the Central federation and founding president of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, said that a survey done 15 years ago showed there were 25 nonsectarian nursing homes with Jewish residents. “We were determined to serve them,” she said. “A society is judged by the way it treated its elderly.”
At the event, Rabbi Azriel Fellner introduced Mallach, the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael. He credited Mallach with showing the community the way many years earlier when, serving as assistant rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, he guided members in establishing a chevra kadisha.
“There was — and is — a certain gentleness to his ministrations,” Fellner said. He also praised Mallach’s professional expertise and competency.
Mallach, in turn, credited Fellner — who served as religious leader at Temple Beth Shalom for 18 years — for his own involvement in chaplaincy. He said he taught him one simple practice: When visiting an institution, take the elevator up, and walk down, visiting people floor by floor.
In closing remarks, Norman Weinberg said that in addition to the regular fund-raising, an anonymous donor has put up a challenge grant, offering to match up to $10,000 in donations.
Debbie Rosenwein, director of planning and allocations for the Central federation and now Greater MetroWest, helped establish the chaplaincy program; she told NJJN that progress has been made toward reaching the challenge grant goal, and they are hoping the community will step forward to help meet it.
“The turnout for the event was wonderful,” she said. “They came together to honor these two very important people and a program that isn’t always recognized for just how important its work is.”