Journey as Spiritual Care Volunteer created my extended Jewish family
- Published: Thursday, 24 November 2016 10:00
- Written by SueAnn Strom, PH.D., Guest Columnist
Nearly five years ago I learned from my rabbi and Congregation Beth Torah’s Founding Rabbi Mark Levin that Jewish Family Services, and in particular, Jewish Community Chaplain Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, was seeking volunteers to train and serve as Spiritual Care Volunteers (SCVs) in the Greater Kansas City Jewish community. I quickly signed up and then began a journey into one of Judaism’s special commandments — bikur cholim or “visiting the sick.”
Through training with Rabbi Rudnick and other Spiritual Care Volunteers (SCVs), I learned that bikur cholim is considered an aspect of gemilut chasidim (benevolence, selflessness, loving-kindness) and further, that it is traditional to recite prayers for healing, such as the Mishebeirach prayer in the synagogue, and psalms (especially Psalm 119) on behalf of the sick. I was amazed to learn that bikur cholim societies exist in Jewish communities around the world and that the earliest bikur cholim society dates back to the Middle Ages.
My first assignment as a SCV allowed me to work with chaplain Victor Wilson at Menorah Medical Center. I served late Friday morning and made visits to three to seven Jewish patients, often recovering from a recent surgery. Once I was fortunate to spend time with a new mom and her newborn daughter.
Our goal as SCVs is to bring Jewish tradition along with a connection to Jewish community. These combined with a pleasant smile and a caring attitude, occasionally lead patients to share the circumstances of their hospitalization. We carry a “Circle of Healing” booklet containing prayers, psalms and uplifting quotes that are shared with those we visit. The patient and I might read some of the prayers or sing a Mishebeirach, and I’d leave wishing the patient a speedy recovery.
After serving at Menorah for some time, I learned about the growing population of Jewish seniors at Brookdale in Leawood. I suggested to Rabbi Rudnick that we might start a program, offering a “Taste of Shabbat” monthly to their Jewish residents. Little did I know that another amazing journey was about to begin. Since January 2014, I have arrived at Brookdale-Leawood in time to lead residents who were seeking an opportunity to recite prayers — especially those with friends and family that are ill, and those wanting to bless the memories of loved ones no longer with us, by reciting Kaddish.
These monthly visits to Brookdale-Leawood have challenged me to research and share a d’var Torah, on the parashah of the week and thus, I have become more knowledgeable about our precious Torah, which offers a way of life for all those who follow it. So for me, taking on the role of SCV as part of Jewish Family Services’ Chaplaincy Program, has provided a pathway to develop further my Judaism and introduced me to fabulous Jewish residents at Brookdale-Leawood, who are now a richly, rewarding part of my life. They are my extended Jewish family!