Rabbi Jim Morgan is rabbi and chaplain at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Center Communities of Brookline. He ran the Vermont City Marathon on May 29 to raise money for HSL’s Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program, in which he recently completed his third unit of training. The CPE program trains rabbis, rabbinical and seminary students, leaders of many faiths, and qualified health care professionals to become chaplains. Students learn to accompany seniors through difficult emotional and spiritual moments, support families in making complicated end-of-life decisions, and help people find peace, meaning, and dignity in aging.
Despite difficult hot and humid conditions on race day, Rabbi Jim successfully completed the Vermont City Marathon in 3:58:51! He also exceeded his fundraising goal, raising more than $2,000 to support HSL’s Chaplaincy Institute. Congratulations Rabbi Jim, and thank you to the generous donors who supported his effort.
Before his run, I had the opportunity to talk with Rabbi Jim about how his training is going and why this is a cause that he’s chosen to support.
Why did you enroll in HSL’s chaplaincy training program?
After finishing rabbinical school, I worked for several years doing international partnerships at a non-profit organization. I enjoyed the work, but the travel took a toll on my family and me. When I left that position, I worked several part-time rabbinical jobs that involved interacting with older adults. It was a really great introduction to the joys and challenges of working with an aging population. At that point, I began to think about chaplaincy. I had completed one unit of training elsewhere during rabbinical school, so when I learned about HSL’s program, it seemed like a good fit for my interests and I enrolled. Because of my fluency in Russian I was assigned to one of Hebrew Rehabilitation Center’s Russian-speaking floors for my clinical internship hours. Although I had been a bit uncertain before enrolling in the program and resuscitating my Russian, after just a week or two I knew it was exactly what I should be doing. I’m continuing my studies in the program while working at Center Communities of Brookline.
What do you think makes HSL’s chaplaincy training program special?
First of all, it’s the only accredited Jewish geriatric CPE program in the country. There are other Jewish chaplaincy programs, and other geriatric chaplaincy programs, but the combination of the two is truly unique. And there’s a seriousness that Hebrew SeniorLife takes regarding spiritual care – our spiritual care director sits among the other senior leaders in the organization. The quality of the team is just exceptional, and to have colleagues and mentors of many faiths whom I can learn with and from is tremendous.
Tell me about your work at Center Communities of Brookline.
As rabbi and chaplain at CCB, I’m a resource for all 500-plus members of the community. I lead religious services and holiday programs, meet with residents and families in one-on-one counseling sessions, and lead spiritual learning groups that are about secular or interfaith topics, so people of all backgrounds can feel comfortable engaging in a conversation. I’m exploring ways we can use technology to bring services and learning sessions to residents who aren’t able to leave their apartments. Even in a community like CCB, it can be isolating when residents lose mobility or suffer from an illness, so I’m trying to help people feel connected even if they can’t be physically present. One of my jobs is to acknowledge that while aging can bring joy, it can also be hard and the losses are real. All of the staff at CCB is focused on providing a community where people know they matter.
Why are you running to raise money for HSL’s chaplaincy training program?
In my mind, marathon running and being part of the CPE program are totally in sync. I ran my first marathon last year, and the training started and ended at the same time as my first CPE unit at HSL. I really believe that the CPE program made my marathon training more successful, and vice versa. It is very easy to get overwhelmed in this business, trying to help people through their spiritual challenges and very often, the end of life. Running gives me a mental reserve and a boost in mood. It’s almost meditative.
What impact do you hope to have with the funds you raise?
I’m so grateful to the CPE program not just for the training I received, but because it really helped me find my path. The CPE program relies heavily on donors. The modest tuition doesn’t cover the cost of training the 25 students who go through the program each year. For the students, it can be financially difficult– it’s really hard to have a full-time job while completing the clinical hours that are part of the training. Not everyone has the resources that I have, and if I can make this training available for others, then I feel that that’s a great way to give back. The training benefits not only the students, but also the seniors that they are caring for. Chaplaincy students provide spiritual care for more than 1,000 seniors across Hebrew SeniorLife’s continuum of care. This work is so important to giving dignity and purpose to residents of all abilities and faiths. None of it would happen without donor support.