Yesterday I understood anew why HSL has created a hospice organization.
Hebrew SeniorLife Hospice Care is uniquely skilled to meet the spiritual needs of all patients who come to us from diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds. Because of a particular need from Boston’s Jewish community, we have taken on a special mission to meet the needs of this underserved community by providing a unique sensitivity to its varied religious and cultural needs at end of life.
Hopefully we have been fulfilling this goal every day since the summer of 2013 when we began to tend patients. But yesterday our purpose for being took on a new clarity.
Morris was a survivor of Auschwitz. After the war he spent several years in a tuberculosis center where he met the woman he would marry—Edith, also a Shoah survivor. In time they immigrated to the United States and settled in Waltham. Morris found satisfying employment with an electronics company where he remained happily for the entirety of his work life.
But Morris had another passion. He was born and raised in a religious family in Czechoslovakia. As cantors, leaders of worship, and experts in chanting Torah, all of the men were steeped in Jewish music—both the melodies of the synagogue and the Yiddish songs of our People. Quickly he became a leader of the Waltham synagogue, chanting Torah each week, conducting the daily minyan (a quorum of ten Jewish adults required for prayer) and keeping it going; teaching, singing, and sharing stories. He was known for his humor, his gentleness, his modesty and his simple piety.
He reveled in the opportunity to share his treasury of songs and melodies with a musicologist who specialized in the music of Eastern European Jewry. He visited high schools to talk about the Holocaust, sharing his experiences without ever a hint of bitterness or anger.
Morris and his wife did not have children of their own. But they embraced the men and women of that Waltham synagogue as their own and, in turn, the congregation embraced them as parents.
Our hospice team became part of that uniquely configured family. We were by his side, and supported his wife in the last seven months of his life. I believe that they saw us as mihspocha (family) and were able to open freely their hearts to us because we came from Hebrew SeniorLife. I know that, in turn, each of us felt a particular privilege in traveling with Morris through his final journey with him and supporting Edith.
Yesterday underscored this special relationship. Seven of us attended his funeral simply because we wanted to. The nurse who he called “My angel.” The chaplain who sang Hebrew and Yiddish songs with him. Three volunteers who visited Morris weekly, listening to classical music with him, sitting quietly in companionship or providing an hour of respite for Edith. And this Rabbi who could see Morris joining in every prayer or Hebrew phrase I was offering. And with us in spirit yesterday, the social worker who arranged her schedule so that she could occasionally take over feeding Morris and the massage therapist who Morris welcomed heartily each week.
As I left the funeral I marveled at how each of us had created a special bond with a special human being. I experienced deep gratitude for the privilege of caring for him. I know my colleagues did, too. I came away with the sure knowledge that our hospice has a unique role to play in our Jewish community.
Written January 1, 2015