By John Stangle
Upon seeing that Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains was going to hold its 25th annual conference in Jerusalem and that the theme was “Interfaith Spirituality,” I got the clear idea that this was something worth doing. Don’t all of us chaplains want to visit the Holy Land sometime? There’s nothing wrong with being merely a tourist or better, a pilgrim, but it seemed that this conference might be exceptionally educational — and it was.
My wife Krisztina had years ago taken some Hebrew when working on her MA (I took Greek), and could recognize letters. I didn’t even remember that Hebrew is written right to left when she mentioned it. We had much to learn! We also didn’t know how much of the conference would be in English, as Hebrew is the official language in Israel. In the end, both English and Hebrew were used with major addresses and many workshops utilizing very professional translators with participants wearing earphones like in the UN.
The NAJC conference itself was two days, with tours to pastoral care sites, mainly hospitals, before and after the main conference. The workshops were varied and interesting and the major addresses were well done and excellent. Rev. Eric Hall of Healthcare Chaplaincy gave the keynote address in which he condensed the solid research that is available for presentation to hospital boards and administrators vis-à-vis the value of pastoral care and chaplains. Maybe the reason he was chosen to present this subject is that the Israeli healthcare system is lacking chaplains. There are apparently plenty of rabbis, but their emphasis is more on rites and liturgy and determinations of lawfulness, rather than personal encounters and presence and spiritual care as one would find in taking CPE.
Therefore, many of the workshops were designed to expand knowledge of pastoral care and techniques for the many Israeli attendees. That there is much interest in pastoral care in Israel was also attested by a ceremony to certify and recognize the first large group of 20 or so chaplains. Their training has been ongoing for the last four years by U.S.-certified supervisor trainers with classes taught in Israel in Hebrew. A great effort was made to do this considering the travel and cost involved.
At the first tour the day before the conference, we visited the 125-year-old St. Louis French Hospital, a huge and beautiful stone structure just outside the stone walls surrounding the old city of Jerusalem. A German sister, Monika Dullmann, is the administrator and she has highly supported the Kashouvot organization of women to do hospice and pastoral care work. Its members have taken CPE, and some were certified at the hospital in a ceremony while we were there. The hospital itself is being renovated at great expense so as to be integrated into the Israeli healthcare system. It was built for the poor and indigent and for those who have no place to go, and it still has this mission of caring for all irrespective of race, nationality, or religion. Both Kashouvot and St. Louis French Hospital would be thankful for any support.
Another very interesting hospital that we visited was Laniado Hospital in the town of the same name on the Mediterranean Sea. It was founded by a rabbi who survived the Holocaust but lost his entire family and relatives numbering 150 people. He alone survived, and with a vision of fulfilling the Torah’s commandment to care and love for all, he laid the cornerstone in 1958 when he had not a penny to his name! His vision is now a complete medical health center that has never been threatened by closure or labor strikes as apparently some hospitals have experienced.
An interesting fact — every rabbi I talked to had either lived or trained extensively in Israel. One poor young guy from the U.S. had even had to leave his fiancée for a whole year to complete his studies in Israel. Which brings up the question: Why don’t more Christian pastors, priests, teachers, etc. spend time in the place that they talk so much about? The NAJC is exploring an interfaith pastoral care tour to take place in November or December. Check the NAJC website or contact Cecille Asekoff at email@example.com for more information.
One last thing — even the food was educational. There was an abundance of delicious fruits (my favorite was fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice) and wonderful cheeses and breads and pastries at the buffets for breakfast. For lunch there was always hummus and tahini and often crispy falafel. It seemed like we were eating a very nutritious and healthy vegetarian diet although fish and meat were available. All, of course, was kosher.
John Stangle, BCC, is a chaplain emeritus who retired from Sells Indian Hospital in Sells, AZ.