The Art of Caring

by Debbi Kaner Goldich, Torah Fund Chair Rabbi Lilly Kaufman, Torah Fund Director

How do clergy-in-training learn to  interact with people who are hospitalized, living in nursing homes, progressing through addiction recovery, seeking support groups, or finding themselves in hospice? How do rabbis and cantors learn the art of providing comfort and acquire the skill of offering hope? 

Astonishingly, these topics have not always found a place on the curricula for rabbinic and cantorial training. But, today, the seminaries that the Women’s League Torah Fund campaign supports dedicate substantial dollars, expertise and time to these issues. A recent Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies alumnus, Rabbi Ron Goldberg (ZSRS ’15), who serves as Campus Rabbi at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, reflects on his preparation:

The coursework that helped me in preparing for my career would be Pastoral Counseling and the classes I took in Chassidic studies. Both of those emphasized the need for the rabbi to be able to see the divine spark in every soul, and to be present.  Being “present” means to be attentive to the needs of the larger community and to the individuals that make it up; to listen actively and to deeply “hear the voice” of the person speaking, especially when it comes from a place of deep emotion.

At the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Center for Pastoral Education, founded in 2009, over 100 students per year, of multiple faith traditions, study for certification in pastoral education. This includes class-room learning, group seminars and hundreds of hours of supervised fieldwork where stu-dents help meet the spiritual needs of under-served populations. Rabbi Megan GoldMarche (JTS ‘14), Silverstein Base Hillel Rabbi at Lincoln Park and Campus Rabbi of Metro Chicago Hillel, had this to say about her experience: “I learned how to listen without trying to make things better. I learned how to be present for negative emotions … I feel much more equipped now to be a rabbi in situations of suffering, knowing I can be of comfort.”

The JTS Center partners with Jewish, Christian and Muslim educational and social agencies to serve local communities in New York and Connecticut. It sponsors conferences for clergy and physicians, addressing issues such as the arts in healing, helping physicians cope with stress, and confronting end-of-life questions with sensitivity. The Center recently launched a pilot training program at 32 synagogues and independent Jewish groups across the U.S. to bring pastoral education skills to the wider Jewish community. It offers a free online study guide, “Creating Caring Communities through Bikkur Holim”, which you can access at www.jtsa.edu/caring.

The Center for Pastoral Education’s found-er and director, Rabbi Mychal B. Springer, is a past Associate Dean of the JTS Rabbinical School and an accredited chaplain. She holds the Helen Fried Kirshblum Goldstein Chair in Professional and Pastoral Skills at JTS, a chair named for a past national president of Women’s League, for whom pastoral care was a passion. It is deeply meaningful to see Helen’s abiding influence continue!

In Israel, Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, ordained at Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, and Rabbi Valerie Stessin, who studied pastoral care at Schechter and in the United States, seek to bring spiritual care to Israeli hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice. Their organization is called Kashouvot: Spiritual Care in Israel (www.kashouvot.org).

We are inspired by the commitment of our students and graduates to this deep level of caring. Thanks to the support of Torah Fund, the ripple effects of these students’ education will impact people in all of our communities.

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