On any given day, Rabbi Yochanon Klein of Miami, Florida can be found walking the local hospital halls—visiting with patients, distributing his iconic smiling emoji pillows, and bringing cheer and warmth to those in need. Having had personal experience with illness and extended hospitalization, Rabbi Klein and his wife Esti chose hospital shlichus over the pulpit rabbinate and now directs Healing Hearts, a volunteer-based program offering support, kosher food and housing near medical facilities for patients and their families.
This past Friday, June 15, Klein shared his story with sixty other rabbis and chaplains from as far as Australia in the first annual Chicken Soup For The Shliach on Call. The conference is a project of Chabad on Call of Merkos, Suite 302, the comprehensive network and resource for hospital shlichus. Recognizing the important activities of shluchim to medical centers, Chabad on Call aims to provide real, helpful tools so when a shliach or shlucha is called upon to counsel a terminally ill patient or needs to determine the proper halachic protocol in a medical situation, they aren’t limited to bringing chicken soup.
These tools were made easily accessible with the conference featuring a broad panel of professionals who gave practical and relevant workshops and courses on all matters relating to hospital shlichus.
A workshop by Dr. Norman Blumenthal, director of the OHEL Miriam Center for Trauma, Bereavement and Crisis Response, guided the participants on best practices for supporting, counseling and alleviating the trauma of end-of-life patients and their families and friends. Tackling sensitive subjects, Blumenthal talked about helping people say goodbye to their loved ones and other daunting scenarios that arise all to often for a rabbi and rebbetzin.
Addressing the lack of awareness among many hospitals on Jewish law and practice, Rabbi Mordechai Dinerman–of JLI’s curriculum development and editor-in-chief of its flagship courses–introduced a new cultural sensitivity course designed for shluchim to present to hospital staff in their areas. The course covers key topics like kosher and Shabbos restrictions, the Torah’s view on end-of-life, and the burial process. Produced by JLI for Chabad on Call, it includes a slideshow, handouts, and marketing templates all geared toward engendering an appreciation for and understanding of the Jewish patient population.
Knowing the halachic implications of medical steps and terms like “ending life support” and “there’s nothing more we can do” is invaluable to the shliach working the hospital halls. A lecture by Rabbi Menachem Horowitz of Chayim Aruchim, moderated by Rabbi Chaim Brickman, clarified the halachos and empowered the audience to ensure proper behavior. Lively discussions and debates, matched with personal tips and stories by a panel of fellow shluchim, explored how to best service Jewish patients and create culturally sensitive environments at local medical centers.
The group was also addressed by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch who shared a personal message emphasizing the importance of care and warmth for a patient. “Every day we recognize the uniqueness of the mitzvah of caring for the ill as mentioned in ‘Eilu Devarim’. It’s has no limitations—there is no such thing as visiting someone too many times.”
Prayer pamphlets, psalms booklets, meaningful cards, and other resource samples produced by Chabad on Call were displayed for rabbis to distribute and stock hospital chapels. The event also celebrated the launch of a new campaign encouraging the placement of tzedakah boxes in hospital rooms as per the Rebbe’s instructions, providing beautiful, collapsable pushkas for shluchim to distribute to patients they visit.
“Informative, interesting, relevant and complete with delicious food,” is how Rabbi Zalman Spitetzky of Chabad on Call – Baltimore described the conference. “Thank you for all your effort and hard work!” Participants are looking forward to the follow-up training and future conferences.
Mrs. Chani Goldberg, director of Chabad on Call, noted the effect the program had on the unity of the shluchim. “They really connected with each other—swapping anecdotes and tips—creating a network of shluchim who are all doing the same work in their respective communities. The event had an atmosphere of solidarity and the connections made here will be an invaluable support system for them when they return to their shlichus.”
The next time a shliach gets a midnight call asking for help with end-of-life care for a Jewish patient, he’ll be better equipped to offer professional support and counseling.