Association of Jewish Chaplains holds international conference
By Deb Silverthorn
Dallas has lately been the site of many conferences of the global Jewish community. The city held its proverbial community door open for the international conference of Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC). The 500-plus-member organization, serving across the United States, Canada, Israel and Mexico, made the Fairmont Hotel its home base from May 7 to 9.
“Our work is about making patients feel better, about touching them and their families,” said Rabbi Dr. Maurice “Moe” Kaprow, NAJC executive director. “Being together at this conference allowed us to invigorate one another — to grow and to strengthen and to encourage one another — with the passion we have for the very important work we have chosen to do.
“Dallas opened its doors and welcomed us,” said Kaprow. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like kosher barbecue and Kosher Palate delivered. Everything was hosted with goodness. It was a wonderful few days together.”
NAJC members include support to hospitals, nursing homes, homes for the elderly, emergency service personnel including law enforcement and fire departments, military services, prisons and other institutions. They also often serve in times of emergencies and natural disasters in conjunction with national relief agencies.
In Dallas, chaplains gathered for a conference of “Connecting to Community and Self,” the opportunity to share their own experiences with one another and to learn and understand the importance of self-care while one is constantly giving.
“It was an honor to help plan this conference of chaplains of all denominations across the Jewish spectrum: rabbis, cantors and chaplains. Learning, growing and sharing with and from one another is such a blessing,” said Rabbi Holly Cohn, hospice chaplain and bereavement coordinator at The Legacy at Home who orchestrated local events for attendees.
“It was a busy conference. But it was very special to be with colleagues, all Jewish, and to touch base with where we are as a whole and then in affinity groups learning about chaplaincy within our own movements,” said Cohn. She organized a tour of The Legacy Midtown Park (LMP), where chaplains enjoyed a kosher meal by LMP’s chef, Eldad Jacobson, arranged by Faith Retsky, The Legacy at Home’s Jewish community liaison.
Providing ongoing education, training, certification and sacred community for Jewish spiritual care specialists, the NAJC also advocates for Jewish chaplains and chaplaincy.
More than a dozen sessions were presented with topics including “Family Estrangements in our Community: Coping and Caring,” “Radical Inclusive Chaplaincy,” “From Hospice Professional to Primary Care Giver: From the Outside Looking In,” “Refuat HaNefesh: Palliative Care Chaplaincy for Psychiatric Patients,” “Transforming the Jewish Communal Response to Suicide” and “What Matters: Caring Conversations About End of Life.”
In addition to their own programming, NAJC participants took part in programming of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA), also at the Fairmont Hotel during the same time frame, with crossover panels including “Running a Jewish Organization in the 21st Century: What Does it Mean to Be a Jewish Human Agency,” “Putting Humans First: Focusing on our Bright Spots” and “Threats to the Rule of Law and Jewish Organizational Responses.”
During the annual conference, Kaprow was awarded the Anita and Barry Kinzbrunner Award for his distinction, dedication and honor. Kaprow became a chaplain after working in education for 18 years, establishing the first Jewish community chaplaincy in Orlando, Florida. Beginning in 1990, he spent 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps and then 11 years working with VITAS Healthcare.
Rabbi Jason Weiner, senior rabbi and director of the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, California, and author of “Jewish Guide to Practical Decision Making” and the “Guide to Observance of Jewish Law in a Hospital,” received the organization’s Ner Tamid award and was one of the presenters for a NJHSA plenary session.
Founded in 1990 as the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, the organization was renamed Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains to better reflect its international membership and commitment to reach out to the human spirit or soul.
In Dallas this spring, Neshama connected hands and hearts to spread their message and strengthen their own resolve.