One of the finalists for the Schwartz Center’s compassionate caregiver award is an extraordinary chaplain at Boston-based Hebrew SeniorLife, an integrated system of housing, healthcare, research and teaching programs.
Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow creates and oversees religious programming at seven Hebrew SeniorLife sites; conducts regular Torah study sessions and “conversations with the Rabbi”; and somehow finds the time to attend to the spiritual and religious needs of individual patients, families and staff.
“Transformational” is the word used over and over by admirers to describe what Rabbi Sarah has done in four short years. She created a clinical pastoral care program to increase the number of spiritual caregivers; developed a Palliative Care Service to improve end of life spiritual care; devised ways to embrace the Russian residents with tenuous connections to their Jewish roots; and always works hard to create an atmosphere of inclusion: Passover’s ritual meal - the Seder - now includes gospel songs of freedom, so staff feel included.
Families tell of their agitated loved ones dying peacefully after a visit from Rabbi Sara and of her gift of connecting with the most difficult or confused patients. One chaplain intern said the following about her weekly Torah study sessions: “Despite the medical challenges of her students - hearing loss, speech impediments and dementia - Rabbi Sara leads the study into topics that are intellectually and emotionally challenging…struggling with the residents around difficult topics rather than coddling them because of their infirmities or age.”
One daughter of a resident wondered if Rabbi Sara might be a Lamed Vavnik - one of the 36 people in the world who are living saints, according to Jewish mysticism.
In my final post, I’ll tell you about the two physician finalists. Selecting a winner will not be easy.