Before giving birth to her first child several years ago, Mollie Spaugh checked off “Jewish” when asked by an Atlanta area hospital about her religion. Rabbi Judith Beiner, on one of her regular rounds visiting Jewish patients, appeared in Spaugh’s hospital room the day the baby was born to welcome her.
As Beiner sat on the bed, holding the baby, she asked the infant’s parents and the maternal grandparents to hold hands as she read a traditional Hebrew blessing for a newborn.
Spaugh, who was not affiliated with a synagogue, remembered that moment with Jewish Family & Career Services’ Jewish chaplain. She reached out to Beiner to request a special prayer she could recite for her daughter’s first birthday. The rabbi provided another blessing.
Upon rehearing the story, Beiner told the AJT that “So many of those ‘touches’ that I make are not requested, results of unplanned encounters that comprise so much of my day-to-day routine.”
In addition to reaching out without a formal request, Beiner and the JF&CS chaplaincy program receives referrals or requests from senior living facilities and hospitals as well as from synagogue rabbis to help serve the needs of Jewish community members who may or may not be affiliated with a local congregation.
A rabbi recently turned over a request he had received for Beiner to conduct a funeral for a departed Jewish man, whose non-Jewish children wanted to honor their father’s heritage. Another time, a request came from a hospital. The family wanted a rabbi to say some prayers in a hospice situation, which brought Beiner to the patient’s bedside soon after receiving the call.
Beiner could not do the work she does without the support of Denise Deitchman, the JF&CS chaplaincy department’s program assistant, who manages the Bikur Cholim (Visiting the Sick) program in which volunteers visit people in hospitals and care facilities. Deitchman notes that after applying through the JF&CS volunteer department, “individuals meet with Rabbi Beiner and me to understand the expectations of the program, how to visit with elders, how to initiate conversation and make connections, and how to get started at the facilities or hospitals.”
In response to the pandemic, Deitchman told the AJT that “COVID has set strict limitations on our program as no one has been allowed to visit in person. Many of the volunteers who normally visit in-care facilities have been making weekly phone calls instead to stay connected.”
Before COVID, Sandy Springs volunteer John Reicher took a Jewish man living at Historic Roswell Place, an assisted living facility, for a Dutch-treat lunch once a week.
Volunteer Alyson Spector of Dunwoody visited one-on-one with some Jewish residents at Berman Commons, Belmont Village and Sandy Springs Place. Following firm COVID guidelines, Reicher and Spector now pick up the phone to stay in touch.
The challenge for JF&CS is how to ensure that the chaplaincy program is able to fulfill its mission to support elderly and isolated members of the Jewish community until in-person visits resume.
Local health care facilities also reach out to the JF&CS chaplaincy for several of their Jewish patients.
Chaplain Liz Harris-Lamkin of Piedmont Atlanta Hospital’s Spiritual Care Services considers Beiner a colleague and team member. “We regularly collaborate and coordinate efforts for care, education and religious support for our Jewish patients and families, particularly at end of life or in critical situations,” Harris-Lamkin said.
“Additionally, we have volunteers through JF&CS chaplaincy that see our patients.”
Even when strict COVID-related guidelines began in mid-March, Beiner and the JF&CS Bikur Cholim volunteers have found ways to continue providing compassion and connection to the Atlanta Jewish community. Beiner said she is hopeful that the chaplaincy program’s in-person visits will resume.
For more information about JF&CS’s chaplaincy program, visit www.jfcsatl.org/services/support-services/chaplaincy.
Disclosure: AJT contributor Flora Rosefsky is Spaugh’s mother.
- Mollie Spaugh
- Rabbi Judith Beiner
- Jewish Family & Career Services
- denise deitchman
- Bikur Cholim
- John Reicher
- Historic Roswell Place
- Alyson Spector
- Berman Commons
- Belmont Village
- Sandy Springs Place
- Liz Harris-Lamkin
- Piedmont Atlanta Hospital
- Synagogue Guide
- Flora Rosefsky