Program helps train synagogue caregivers
Nearly 70 chaplains, rabbis, and lay volunteers gathered in Whippany seeking to expand the size and effectiveness of synagogue caring committees.
The Oct. 23 training program, sponsored by the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Greater MetroWest, offered advice on comforting the bereaved, “active listening,” and applying spiritual approaches to health and wellness.
Participants at the program held on the Aidekman campus included chaplains as well as volunteers who staff synagogue caring committees whose members visit hospitals and arrange home visits.
“Our overall objective was to bring together professional chaplains to train lay volunteers and help them within their own communities to better meet the needs of their congregants and be a helping hand to their rabbis,” said committee director Cecille Asekoff.
The keynote address was by Dr. Benjamin Corn, chair of the Institute of Radiotherapy at Tel Aviv Medical Center and a cancer specialist who interacts with people with major medical tragedies. A day earlier, he addressed an audience at the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset (see story page 9).
Treasure Cohen, founder of a new minyan, Kol Rina, in her hometown of South Orange, said she came for advice in expanding the outreach of the group’s caring committee.
“Part of what our people need is a sense that not only do they have a place to pray but they have a caring network if anything goes wrong,” she said. “We started a small place where people really do care for each other, so when there is a crisis you don’t have to rally the troops.”
Bette Birnbaum of Hoboken, a chaplain with the Joint Chaplaincy Committee, makes house calls under a grant from the Grotta Fund for Senior Care at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest.
Her clients are some 200 senior citizens who are aging in place, and she pays special attention to those caring for others.
“Many of them are in a situation where they are caring for a mate and are completely overburdened and overwhelmed by what is happening,” she told NJJN. “I make them feel they are not alone and not forgotten.”
Marilynn Schneider, director of the WAE (Wellness, Arts & Enrichment) Center in West Orange, said she came to the program looking for new ways to help the families of the organization’s clients — individuals with disabilities who come for alternative learning in the arts and wellness.
“We have families that we help and members who are learning about self-awareness,” said Schneider, whose organization is part of the Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled of MetroWest, a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “We use techniques of meditation, of silence, of communing with one another, of singing and sharing. All of those are part of the WAE Center in a daily basis.”
Garry Gross of Morristown is executive director of Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael and cochairs its hevra kadisha, or burial society. “We interact with families in times of need, and I wanted to learn how we can be more helpful to our congregants and their families,” he said.
Rabbi Michelle Pearlman, director of community engagement at the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, led a delegation of volunteers from her area to learn how to initiate caring committees at synagogues.
One of them was Eleanor Rubin of Tinton Falls, a past president of the former Jewish Federation of Central NJ, who said she is eager for caring committee membership to expand in her area. “This is a wonderful way not only to help people but to get volunteers involved in federation work,” said Rubin.
Speakers included Rabbi Shira Stern, a trained disaster chaplain, director of the Center for Pastoral Care and Counseling in Marlboro, director of education at Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro, and a past president of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains.
Stern offered advice on what not to say to the bereaved.
“What are you supposed to say when you walk into a shiva house?” she asked. “Say nothing. We are supposed to wait for them to initiate. Are they going to tell funny stories? Terrific. Are they going to cry and tell a sad story? That’s fine. Are they going to sit there and look at the wall because they feel numb on the inside? That’s fine. When they have crying jags, you sit with them. Crying can be difficult to tolerate, but try to do that. It would be a great gift.”