Hospice Hero

Abba Stoll may be the littlest Hospice Hero, but by no means are his contributions small. Once a week Abba and his Bubbe Shaindy visit with Clara, a 97-year-old palliative care patient who was reticent to invite adult social workers into her home. Unlike adults, Abba communicates with Clara by looking at pictures, playing BINGO or just sharing a snack. Every visit ends with a hug and a kiss.

“Abba’s visits totally change Clara’s demeanor and remind her of younger, happier times,” says Shaindy. “Abba has awakened her spirit, so now Clara doesn’t feel like she’s at the end. Abba’s visits give her a new beginning.”

Barbara Haddad became a social worker because she loved helping people. She does that every day as director of Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network’s Lifelinks, a central referral service for families facing end-of-life care decisions. 

“Hospice is the most satisfying and gratifying social work I’ve ever done because you are helping people when they are most in need,” says Barbara. “We become part of the family.”

Barbra Giles, the administrator for Fleischman Residence, understands well the intricate needs of the aging. She also knows how to get additional resources when her elderly residents require them. Barbra turns to the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network when residents approach the end of life. As a caregiving partner with JHCN, Barbra makes sure her social work staff works closely with the Network’s rabbis, professionals and volunteers to ensure that “emotional and spiritual needs re being met.”“Barbra helps us console and enrich the end of life for so many elderly residents and their families,” said Rabbi E.B. Freedman. “She is a remarkable caregiving partner.”

Becca & Jenny Weiss were just 9 years old when their father, Allen, died of a neurodegenerative disease. The compassionate care provided by the hospice team who helped their family left a strong impression on the twins. “When our dad was sick, they took care of everything and took our minds off of everything,” Becca says. “Now we’re giving something back.”

Becca and Jenny ran a support group in middle school for students who lost
parents. And because their father lost his ability to speak, they now study speech pathhology at Michigan State University. During their vacations, Becca and Jenny volunteer in Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network’s offices. “We love helping Jewish Hospice,” says Jenny. “We know by doing it, we are helping other people.”

Bruce and Miriam Milen are grateful for the spiritual and medical comfort Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network provided to Bruce’s father, Jack, at the end of his life. Today the Milens make tributes to JHCN whenever someone they know passes away.

“Spiritual and physical comfort was very important to us and to my father,” Bruce says. “Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network made the entire process easier for us. They guided us through every stage.”

Adds Miriam, “We know our contributions will help make a difference.”

Cheryl Weiss contacted Rabbi Bunny Freedman for spiritual care
after doctors diagnosed her husband with Shy-Drager syndrome, a terminal neurodegenerative disease. She worked full time and needed help caring for Allen and their twins, then 8.

“I was trying to do everything by myself,” Cheryl says. “They came into my home, took over and saved our lives. Their presence was the best thing we could hope for, next to a medical miracle.”

“The memory of what happened in my house inspires me. Hospice is about living the best possible life under difficult circumstances. It allowed my husband to die a peaceful and heroic death.”

David Techner’s father, Harry, was not religious, but discussions with rabbis on Jewish views about death and afterlife comforted him greatly at the end of his life.

“The rabbis said the shema with my Dad while he laid in his hospital bed dying, and he never would have done that alone,” said David Techner, co-founder and president of Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network. “I watched my father die in peace, and that became the vision for Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network.”

Dr. David McAree of Hospice of Michigan knows well how to provide traditional medical services for end-of-life patients. But he’s learned more than he ever could have imagined about faith, social and emotional support from his close relationship with Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network staff and volunteers.

“I wish other ethnic and religious communities would do what the Jewish community does through Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network,” Dr. McAree says. “They give our patients twice the services by adding the Jewish component to hospice care.”

Dr. Gela Pala, the medical director for Beaumont Hospice, credits Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network for enriching the quality of life for the many Jewish patients enrolled in Beaumont Hospice, and for teaching her hospice staff about the spiritual component to end-of-life care.

“It is a top model for ethnic, patient-centered care that should be replicated by all communities,” Dr. Pala says. “The whole Southeast Michigan community, Jewish and non-Jewish, is benefiting from their work.”

Dr. Kathleen Murphy understands how to communicate the language of hope. She traded her career as an internist for one in palliative care, which incorporates the spiritual, psychological and emotional elements of pain into medical treatment plans.

A palliative care specialist with Beaumont Hospital and Henry Ford Health Systems, Dr. Murphy works daily with terminally ill patients and collaborates with JHCN for spiritual guidance for her Jewish patients.

“Dr. Murphy’s gift is listening. She knows how to say the right thing to embrace each patient, rather than add to their devastation,” said Rabbi E.B. Freedman. “Her level of commitment to Jewish patients is a blessing.”

Eva Sylvester felt she “found my life’s purpose” after her first day as a hospice social worker in Florida 21 years ago. “I felt lucky,” recalls Sylvester, director for St. John Hospice. “I love this work.”

Eva works closely with Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network to make the end of life better for terminally ill patients and their families. St. John provides medical support; JHCN provides emotional and spiritual support.

“They are a true partner in making a difference for Jewish patients. They are pioneers doing something that never before has been done, and they are there for the right reasons.”

Irving Laker first contacted Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network seeking care for his mother after doctors gave her only months to live.

“When Jewish Hospice services were added to her care, she began to thrive. There’s no doubt in my mind she lived an additional 21?2 years because of the warmth and compassion Jewish Hospice brought to her. They focused on living, not dying, and extended her desire to live.

“They are able to reach people. They awaken the spirit,” Irving says. “Where else are you going to be uplifted when you are down? Jewish Hospice is a bracha!”

Jack and Miriam Shenkman never wait to be asked to support a noble cause. When they encountered the good work of Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network’s dedicated caregivers, they initiated a multi-year gift to to ensure a Jewish presence for the most vulnerable in our community.

“The Shenkmans contacted us when they recognized a need to nurture the spiritual soul at the end of life,” says JHCN Executive Director Rabbi Bunny Freedman. “They knew intuitively that providing continuing education and training for the finest hospice caregivers would ensure no Jew is ever alone.”

Joan Cascade called the Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network looking for help for her ailing husband, Maurie. Maurie had asked her to find a rabbi so he could reconnect with God before he died. Rabbi Avie Shapiro took up the cause and weekly visits with the Cascades followed. Maurie’s spiritual health improved, and Joan was inspired to a new calling.

“Rabbi Shapiro and the Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network took care of my husband while he was dying,” says Joan, now one of JHCN’s dedicated volunteers. “I now devote my volunteer life to their work. It is the right thing to do, and thank God I am able to do it. It is just bashert Rabbi Shapiro walked into our home.”

Michael Walch, MSW, learned first-hand how to speak with compassion and kindness to grief-stricken families when he was a homicide detective. After retiring as Southfield’s deputy police chief, Michael wanted to “get back into the field” to help more people. Today Michael serves as JHCN’sdirector of Palliative Care services.

“We are so fortunate to have him as a resource,” says Barbara Haddad, JHCN Program Director. “Michael combines genuine understanding and warmth with the skills to guide people who are grieving, suffering, or facing the end of life.”

Nancy and Jim Grosfeld believe the Jewish terminally ill deserve to die with dignity and respect. For this reason, they have generously supported Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network since its inception.

“My husband, Jim, and I applaud the wonderful work JHCN does without ever asking for a fee from the families who receive services,” Nancy says. “It is vital we all support this organization that helps more than 500 families a year cope with everyday life during their most vulnerable times.”

Nancy Goldberg answered an ad in the paper asking for volunteers to visit the sick and elderly when she turned 16. “My parents said, ‘Isn’t that depressing. Don’t you want to do something fun with your time?’ I told them it’s only depressing when no one shows up to visit.”

Now a retired educator and veteran Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network volunteer, Nancy dedicates her time to visiting hospice clients, many of whom can’t communicate or respond. “I try to add some life to the room with music or conversation,” Nancy says. “When you see a smile on their face because they anticipate a visitor, it is gratifying and I feel like I’m making a difference.”

Phyllis Schwartz knows well how to step up to the plate. The retired social worker and lifelong volunteer scrubbed floors at a camp for kids with cancer, taught adults with mental illness how to cook and spearheads Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network’s volunteer support group.

In all she does, Phyllis finds her own visits with Jewish terminally ill patients the most inspiring. “I get a sparkle in my eye when I can engage my patients in their memories,” she said. “Listening to stories about how they survived difficult times and shared joys is the most uplifting experience I’ve ever had.”

“Rabbi Avie Shapiro has enriched my spiritual soul,” says Joan Cascade, a Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network volunteer. “His guidance is beyond belief. And, if it were not for him, I would have not become a volunteer.”

Rabbi Shapiro was Cascade’s JHCN spiritual advisor while her husband, Maurie, was dying. As he routinely does, Rabbi Shapiro went above and beyond the call of duty for the Cascade family. “We now consider him a part of our extended family,” Joan says. “It is just bashert Rabbi Shapiro walked into our home.”

Rabbi Dannel Schwartz believed no Jew should ever be alone at the end of life long before Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network was formed. He helped build a coalition of rabbis in metropolitan Detroit that transformed the way our rabbis look at – and deal with – death and dying.

“When our loved ones’ lives are left in God’s hands, the best thing we can do is care,” says Rabbi Schwartz, a JHCN vice president. “No matter where we each are spiritually, it is critical we work together to provide the best spiritual care for our Jewish dying.”

While serving as the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom for 34 years, Rabbi David Nelson always found time to volunteer as Jewish chaplain for Beaumont Hospital.

In his retirement, Rabbi Nelson completed formal clinical pastoral education training and serves on the Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network rabbinic team. “This is a natural progression of Rabbi Nelson’s lifetime of extensive devotion to the sick and needy members of our community,” says JHCN Executive Director Rabbi E.B. Freedman.

Rabbi Hershel Klainberg devoted his career to teaching Torah to children and serving as a chaplain before joining the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network staff. Much has changed since he became a hospice caregiver six years ago.

“Instead of teaching others, I am becoming the student by watching my patients show love, respect, dignity and devotion toward their loved ones as they face the end of their lives,” Rabbi Klainberg said. “Teaching was meaningful, but this is more rewarding.”

Rabbi Irving Schnipper urged the rabbinic and lay communities to visit the sick and aid the dying decades before Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network was organized. He did not want any Jew to die alone.

In his retirement, he continues his life-long dedication to hospice care, visiting the Jewish dying, listening to their stories, praying with them and holding their hands.

“This is in his heart. He is an inspiration to his colleagues and everyone around him,” said JHCN Executive Director Rabbi E.B. Freedman. “Rabbi Schnipper is the model for how pastoral care is supposed to be. We are blessed to have him on our team.”

Jennifer Kaluzny was encouraged by a hospice rabbi’s warmth and
kindness when her aunt was dying. Then 19, the future rabbi vowed to make chaplaincy work part of her life.

Before being ordained, she interned with Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network and completed training in clinical pastoral care.

“Every family grabs my heart, and I will be there as long as people need guidance and a hand to hold,” says Rabbi Kaluzny, of Temple Israel and JHCN. “I became a rabbi to help and to be there when families need spiritual comfort.”

Renee Gruskin was incensed when her husband’s oncologist told Dr. Alan Gruskin to “go home and plan your funeral.” After that, Alan would sit in a chair, all night, every night, afraid to sleep. “I was going crazy, in tears every night,” Renee says.

A friend suggested the Gruskins call Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network. JHCN’s warm and nurturing approach made Renee realize the end-of-life could be peaceful.

After Alan’s death, Renee convinced Wayne State University to add a seminar series for senior medical students focusing on the spiritual and emotional side of end-of-life care. “Doctors have to remember they are treating people – not just a disease,” Renee says.

Rita Winer was inspired by hospice nurses who cared for her dying father in Florida 15 years ago. “It was comforting to know he was safe and being cared for without aggressive treatments,” says Winer, a registered nurse now part of the Beaumont Hospice staff. “This was a natural progression for me.”

Rita’s work with Jewish patients and their families through JHCN is especially meaningful. “I get such satisfaction being able to give back to my own community,” she says, adding, “It’s the little miracles I get to see every day that make this so rewarding.”

After watching her mother die peacefully under hospice care, Rose Fenster, R.N., had a change of heart and now dedicates her career to palliative and hospice patients.

Today, Rose puts her “whole heart and soul into the job” as a clinical nursing supervisor with St. John Hospice, a medical partner of the Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network. In addition, Rose manages the skilled nursing care teams for St. John Home Care’s Jewish Palliative Care Program.

“I do this work because I love it,” Rose says. “This is what I am meant to do.”

Sally Krugel remembers well the words that comforted her brother, Al, at the end of his life. He could no longer speak, yet his eyes lit up every time a rabbi from Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network sat beside him, speaking the Yiddish he knew as a child.

Today Sally, a long-time community volunteer and retired development professional, helps organize JHCN’s marketing efforts.

“I am thankful I can contribute my professional skills, but I have come away with so much more than I give. It has enriched my own life,” Sally said. “Our community is blessed to have JHCN.”

Because Sandy Danto’s grandparents’ lives were forcibly extinguished during the Holocaust, she and her husband, Jim, wanted to find a way to honor their memories with the dignity they were denied.

The Dantos created the Gitel and Yankel Muskovitz, Sarah and Kalma Garfinkel Memorial fund at JHCN to help individuals and their families cope with terminal illness and end-of-life issues.

“We support JHCN because it helps provide the dignity denied to my grandparents at life’s end,” Sandy says. “We are grateful for the spiritual support, counseling and compassionate services JHCN offers.”

Shelly Bradley was thrust into the caretaker role after her mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Yet it wasn’t until her mom proclaimed on her deathbed that Shelly would have been a wonderful nurse that she realized end-of-life care was her true calling.

“I like taking care of people,” says Shelly, today a popular hospice caregiver who often works with patients within the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network. “The most important thing a person needs at the end of life is kindness.” Our Jewish patients benefit from her kindness.