Posted by: Nancy R. Smith
"I'm tired, God. My doctors say that this treatment will help me, but it is sapping me of my strength. I'm sick of feeling sick, God. Sometimes I want to give up. But most of the time I just want to get better."
These words, written in the face of medical challenges, introduce a prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy titled, "A Prayer When One is Undergoing a Long and Draining Treatment." This is but one prayer in the booklet Jewish Prayers, Psalms & Readings for Comfort, Hope and Support created by the staff of JF&CS Jewish Healing Connections (JHC). Early on in its development, JHC recognized that the need for connection guided by Jewish tradition was key to a person's healing and regaining a sense of wholeness.
For the past five years I have served as the Jewish Chaplain at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and, in that capacity, have been witness to individuals and families facing the challenges of coping with devastating illness and loss. I minister to Jewish patients and families who cross the spectrum of Jewish observance. While there are some who are steadfast in their beliefs and for whom Jewish ritual and prayer provide strength and comfort, there are others who feel disconnected from the established Jewish community and describe simply, "I don't go to synagogue anymore but I am deeply Jewish in my heart." In each of these instances I have found that, at a time of isolation and vulnerability that so often characterize a hospital admission, there is a yearning for communal connection, and that feeling alone can exacerbate one's sense of pain and suffering. While there are many ways to address this need, reading the words of others who have moved through the process of illness can be a powerful tool in providing a patient or a patient's family with the courage and determination to face what lies ahead.
It is not uncommon for me to provide texts or resource material in my role as a pastoral caregiver. I have discovered that the slim JHC booklet contains just the right mix of prayers and readings, such that it is not uncommon for me to hear, "Those words really resonated with me" or "I took the booklet home so that my husband could read the one addressed to caregivers" and "I couldn't imagine that another person shared the same feelings of desperation and hopelessness." Though each situation is unique, as is the impact of that situation on an individual or family, there are universal themes and feelings that emerge at times of illness and vulnerability. The JHC prayer booklet provides original and liturgical material, from templates for prayer to the traditional mi shebeirach (prayer for healing), and in so doing offers a path of connection that is based in our tradition. It also includes two moving and inspirational prayers written by JHC Advisory Council members, Betty Ann G. Miller and David Breakstone.
A few weeks ago I was visiting with a patient who has a chronic illness requiring frequent admissions and with whom I have developed a relationship over the past three years. As I was about to end our visit she asked me to reach into her purse. "You know I need to have this prayer booklet whenever I'm admitted," she explained. I handed her the booklet and she proceeded to read to me what she described as "the one [prayer] that has really been speaking to me lately."
Nancy R. Smith, MAJS, LICSW, BCC is a Board Certified Jewish Chaplain and a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. She currently works as the Jewish Chaplain in the Department of Pastoral Care and Education at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She also maintains a small private practice focusing on life cycle issues from a Jewish perspective. She previously worked at JF&CS as the Coordinator for Chaverim Shel Shalom, a program for Jewish adults living with chronic psychiatric illness, and currently serves on the Advisory Council of Jewish Healing Connections.