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NJ, Israeli chaplains meet for first time
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NJ, Israeli chaplains meet for first time

Similar challenges faced on caring for elderly, sick

Jewish chaplains and health caregivers join with Israeli counterparts for a four-day seminar held in Arad and Ashdod in May. The group is photographed in Jerusalem. Cecille Asekoff is fourth from the right, standing. Photo courtesy Joint Chaplaincy Commit
Jewish chaplains and health caregivers join with Israeli counterparts for a four-day seminar held in Arad and Ashdod in May. The group is photographed in Jerusalem. Cecille Asekoff is fourth from the right, standing. Photo courtesy Joint Chaplaincy Commit

For the first time in the 12-year relationship between spiritual caregivers in Israel and the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Greater MetroWest, health professionals from both countries met face-to-face to exchange ideas on aging and illness.

The 22 specialists — including doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains from both sides of the Atlantic — split their four-day seminar between two locations: a combination assisted-living facility and nursing home in Ashdod, and a volunteer training center in Arad. The cooperative program is called Creating a Caring Community Together.

“The group from Greater MetroWest represented the diversity of our community’s agencies and disciplines,” said Cecille Asekoff, director of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee. “We spent our days immersed in study and forging relationships as we discussed compassion and hope in aging, illness, and the end of life. Our hope was that this time spent in collaboration would flow into and infuse our work in New Jersey.”

Although the joint study sessions, held from May 7 to 11, were something new, collaboration between chaplaincy programs in Israel and New Jersey have been going on for the past dozen years.

The relationship began in 2005, when a team of 10 rabbis and healers, led by Asekoff, visited Israel to share their skills in ministering to the spiritual needs of the sick, the elderly, and the dying. Since then “we have done some training together in Israel for spiritual care providers who have been certified as chaplains.  We have had programs here in New Jersey for training our lay and professionals people here in synagogues and agencies,” she explained. But until last month the chaplaincy committee had never brought the American and Israeli spiritual-care communities together in one location.

The New Jersey delegation included representatives from the Daughters of Israel nursing home, the Jewish Community Housing Corporation, the Jewish Family Services of MetroWest and Central NJ, and the Joint Chaplaincy Committee. 

Rabbi Leanna Moritt, a member of the Joint Chaplaincy Committee who works in the group’s Seniors at Home program and lives in West Orange, said the get-together with Israelis “really humanized our work, both professionally and personally. Despite our differences, we all gained an in-depth understanding of what it is we do and how we can support one another.”

As the populations in both nations continue to age, Asekoff foresees the need for greater volunteer efforts to augment the skills of professionally-trained and salaried caregivers. 

“As people age in their homes as they go through life-altering, if not life-threatening, conditions, the professionals in our communities can’t necessarily handle all of the load,” she told NJJN. “That means that in synagogues they are turning to caring committees and mitzvah committees to help them reach out and service their own constituents. So it is important that the professionals from agencies have the training and the tools to support the volunteers’ efforts” in Israel as well as in the United States.

The next step in the international program will be to prepare American professionals to mentor the Israelis when they visit New Jersey sometime in the future. “But it will not just be a visit,” Asekoff insisted. “They will meet with the hospitals’ and agencies’ pastoral care departments and see people in their homes.”

Those who accompanied Asekoff to Israel were pleased at what they had accomplished at the seminar.

Dr. Joshua Schor, medical director at Daughters of Israel, said he was impressed by “the deep seriousness of our Israeli partners.” He said the meetings “helped cross cultural boundaries.” 

Said Laurie Loughney, chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Housing Corporation, “We got to see each other in a new light. We laughed and learned together. It can only help in our work in the community.”

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