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Haber: Cutting the chaplains, without dropping the Jews

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Mount Sinai Hospital street view

I was saddened and disappointed to read that Mount Sinai Hospital did away with Jewish spiritual care providers. It is one more nail in the coffin of Jewish identity and association for a hospital founded by, and servicing, the Jews and the Jewish community. The excuse of moving to a “spiritual care model” does not take away from the need for a Jewish spiritual care professional on staff.

“Spiritual care” is defined as “accompanying an individual in his or her quest for meaning, purpose and wholeness, often in a context of something greater than one’s self.” In this sense, spiritual care is broader than traditional faith-based pastoral care, because it seeks to meet the needs of those who self-define as “spiritual but not religious,” in addition to those identifying with a particular faith or faith community. But it should not be an excuse to abandon faith communities.

Indeed, spiritual care professionals possess a particular faith perspective and must have graduate-level education in a faith tradition as part of their training, so that they are anchored in a strong sense of faith, even as they work in a multifaith environment. Their task is to help a client tap into his or her spiritual resources to find hope, perseverance and coping in the face of life’s difficulties, illness and existentialist angst. It is not about evangelism or proselytism, but about empowering the client to use his or her spirituality to find personal and meaningful healing (as distinct from cure).

Nevertheless, spiritual care professionals bring their own worldview to the bedside and, for the vast majority of providers, that does not include any meaningful knowledge or understanding of Judaism, Jewish life or Jews from a religious, cultural, sociological or historical perspective. There are even some who are latently, if not overtly, anti-Semitic. In my experience, the result is that the needs of Jewish clients go unmet.

The guiding principles of a spiritual care model are to care for all, since all are made in the image of God, to look out for those of other faiths and those without a declared faith identity, and to provide for one’s own faith-based community. This means that spiritual care professionals should be calling on, or referring to, those of different faiths when specific faith-based accommodations or needs are required. And in spite of their multifaith approach to care, sometimes clients want someone of their own faith to talk with.

READ: KAPLUN: UNDERSTANDING THE SPIRITUAL-CARE MODEL

Toronto has a Jewish community chaplain, but he is already stretched thin providing spiritual care to non-Jewish hospitals, prisons, long-term care and other institutions. He cannot be everywhere at once all the time. Congregational clergy do sometimes visit, but they are not specially trained in spiritually integrated psychotherapy (as spiritual care professionals are) and often do more damage than good when faced with real spiritual care challenges. A Jewish spiritual care provider on staff resolves these concerns.

Any claim that there is a dearth of qualified Jewish spiritual care professionals is simply untrue. In fact, there is another Jewish faith-based care institution in Toronto whose three Jewish spiritual care providers are Canadian Association for Spiritual Care (CASC) certified and registered psychotherapists with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO). One is even a CASC-certified supervisor-educator of clinical pastoral education, the training program for spiritual care professionals (beyond their graduate work or ordination). Furthermore, all three of those spiritual care professionals are also members and two are involved in the leadership of Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC), a U.S.-based worldwide organization that certifies Jewish spiritual health professionals. I know this because I am the chair of its certification commission.

In other words, had Mount Sinai Hospital wanted a Jewish spiritual care professional who is certified and qualified to register with the CRPO, they could have found one. They could have tapped into the resources of NAJC to find competent, educated, experienced and certified spiritual care professionals who are also Jewish, thereby complimenting their non-Jewish spiritual care staff and providing a full range of service. They could have honoured their history and heritage, but instead, they chose the way of expedience and assimilation, at a great loss to them and our Jewish community.

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