Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The hope – an Israel that’s more free and open (and that’s true to itself)

I started the day, today, at the annual Israel spiritual care conference – only the sixth one – and ended it listening to a group of school kids sing HaTikvah at the dedication of a new building for the Machon Schechter seminary here.

It wasn’t until I heard the words of Israel’s national anthem – HaTikvah means “the Hope” in English – that it came to me what it is that links these two seemingly disparate events: They’re both part of an effort – mostly slow and quiet in this loud and hyperactive little country – to gradually bring the best of the West, the West’s cultivation of a diverse and open society, to Israel in a way that stays true to Israel’s soul.

John DeVelder said it well at the conference: he talked about bringing the best of the well-developed American field of chaplaincy training to Israel in a way that is “indigenous”— so it’s not “American only.” DeVelder, the leader of chaplaincy and spiritual care training at the Robert Wood Johnson hospital in New Jersey, was there representing the CPSP, a smaller alternative group to the larger Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (of which I am a member and certified Associate Supervisor). Teresa Snorton was also there representing the larger group as its executive director. They were there as part of a trip from the States organized by the National Association of Jewish Chaplains and its executive director, Cecille Asekoff. “I want to thank Cecille for having the dream of doing CPE in Israel,” said DeVelder.

Cecille Asekoff From Israel Spiritual Care Conference, 2010

The dream, or hope, is to have a developed profession of chaplains and other spiritual caregivers here. It might be hard for Americans to conceive of what an infant field chaplaincy really is here. I talked to one young rabbi, today, who is pioneering a spiritual care program in a cancer unit of a large hospital here. He told me that Israelis have very little sense that a rabbi can provide any other care than facilitating rituals (like marriage, etc.). The American tradition of talking to a religiously trained person is just not part of the Israeli landscape.

My sense is that’s largely the result of the larger split between the religious and the secular societies here, a split that is much more “black and white” than in the States. Secular people see very little possible role for a rabbi in their lives. But that doesn’t mean Israelis aren’t spiritual and it doesn’t mean that they don’t need spiritual help when they’re hurting, whether it’s from illness or some other source of grief. The effort to bring serious training of spiritual caregivers – that is, Clinical Pastoral Education – here in a serious way is essential if those spiritual needs are going to be met. It’s part of an effort to break down the boundaries that sharply separate secular and religious and instead make a place for an active faith life for all Israelis.

Breaking down those barriers and making a place for an active faith life for all – even those who call themselves secular – is very much what the Schechter Institute is all about. When I was a student there about 10 years ago during my rabbinic training, the new building was just a dream – a vacant lot near the old building. When I was here a bit over a year ago, it had just barely moved up to a hole in the ground. And now a real building is clearly taking shape. The institute has many programs, but one especially close to my heart has been the efforts to train indigenous Israelis – both men and women in this country where nearly every rabbi is a man – to be rabbis who are serious about Judaism and Jewish texts, but who are also open to the reality of what modern life is for most people.

It’s such a privilege to be here right now and to have the honor of seeing leaders like Snorton giving something back – giving Israelis advice on how to create a broad vision of spiritual care training here. She ended her talk by sharing a definition of what spiritual care should be: “spiritual care is the art of meeting people at their point of need, to assist them in making meaningful connections between their current crisis, their faith and their life as a whole.”

I love this country so much and would so much like to be a part of bringing CPE to these shores. May it indeed be the will of the Holy Blessed One!


Here are some more pics from the conference:

Miriam Berkowitz, author of Taking the Plunge, teaches about Mikveh as healing waters:

From Israel Spiritual Care Conference, 2010

Teresa Snorton, executive director of the ACPE, shares her counsel on setting up professional standards (it's so great that you came so far to help chaplaincy in Israel, Teresa!):

From Israel Spiritual Care Conference, 2010

Naomi Kalish -- ACPE supervisor, president-elect of the NAJC (and my classmate at NYU) -- gave a great teaching, using a text from Avot D'Rabbi Natan like it was a verbatim.

From Israel Spiritual Care Conference, 2010

And, finally, here's a picture of the new building at Schechter:

From Schechter dedication, 2010

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