I’m the chaplain, “says Dina Herz softly. She speaks English and Hebrew with the lilting accent that sometimes gives away her birthplace of Switzerland. Chaplaincy is relatively new in Israel. The patients aren’t always sure what a chaplain does.
Aisha, (not her real name) was happy to have someone to talk to. She’d just received the unhappy news that there were no more treatments for her lymphoma. She wanted to talk about where she was going.
Dina was careful. As a modern Orthodox Jew, she had certain ideas about the World to Come. She didn’t want to push Aisha, who is a modern Moslem. “Let’s read the Travelers’ Prayer, suggested Dina, who has a set of cards with different prayers and thoughts in different languages. “The Travelers’ Prayer? We have one, too,” said Aisha. So they compared the prayers and then said them together.
“Most people have moments or loneliness and spiritual needs when they are hospitalized, particularly for serious diseases,” said Herz, who works in the Bone Marrow Transplantation Department of the hematology-oncology department at Hadassah Ein Kerem.
Hadassah has a Rabbi, of course. But Rabbi Moshe Klein’s many duties include organizing prayer services, checking kashrut, and making ties with the religious community. Although he does visit and comfort patients, it’s not the single focus of his work as it is for a chaplain.
Herz’s salary is paid by the Kashouvot organization, which in turn is supported by New York Federation’s Caring Commission. She sees the patients twice a week. Her own excellent Jewish background and her empathetic nature was a good starting point for such work.
But chaplaincy requires extensive training, (there’s now a course at Neve Schechter in Jerusalem). Herz had to undergo 800 hours of training, in Israel and abroad, to qualify as a chaplain. A monthly advisor helps her avoid burn-out. “Sometimes a person needs a hug, sometimes the chance to talk about fears, and sometimes just to have someone to be with,” says Herz. “They see I’m not upset to talk about the big subjects like pain and death. One woman told me that her tears were stuck and I helped her by letting her cry, ‘You made space in my throat'” she said.
“It’s very complex, says Herz, “to me, being able to bring spiritual comfort is a dream job.”