America’s Jewish chaplains need to be better integrated into the “leadership structure” of their communities and could benefit from additional support for their professional development, according to a new study.
Jewish chaplains in the U.S. operate in health care, hospice, elder care, the military, on campuses and in prisons. But their work is “largely underappreciated and unrecognized” by Jewish organizations, the “Mapping Jewish Chaplaincy” study found.
The study said chaplains should gain “a greater and more prominent role” in communal leadership.
The number of Jewish chaplains in the U.S. documented by the study is small: just 1,000 were so identified, the report said. However, their impact may exceed their number.
According to the study, Jewish “chaplains may be the only religious professionals that many American Jews, especially those under 30, see in times of need” due to a decline in congregational affiliations. Chaplains are also well positioned to minister to those over 65 and multi-faith families, the study said.
Experts said that many chaplains are rabbis or cantors, the ordained worship leaders who support a congregation. But others are not ordained, Rabbi Joseph S. Ozarowski, a rabbinic counselor and chaplain in Skokie, Illinois, said.
The rabbi, president of a trade group known as Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains, said the word ‘chaplain,’ which has origins in the Latin word for a cloak used in Christian practice, has sparked confusion in some quarters.
He said some were concerned that non-Jewish chaplains “are out to convert them, which is the furthest thing from the truth.” Those concerns, however, have kept some Jewish chaplains from using the word.
Rabbi Ozawoski said Jewish chaplains provide “spiritual care” and “deal with spirituality meaning, purpose, suffering, hope — all those things within a Jewish context.”
Those interested in becoming board certified as Jewish chaplains but are not ordained as rabbis or cantors can gain certification in Clinical Pastoral Education, Rabbo Ozarwoski said, along with “master’s level training” in Judaic studies. But, he added, professional membership in Neshama can be granted with the completion of CPE alone.
“As a professional member, they don’t need anything besides CPE. But if they want to be board certified, then they have to have master’s level training in Judaism,” he said.
Study organizer Wendy Cadge, a Brandeis University sociology professor who also founded the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at the school, said the Jewish community would benefit from a better focus on chaplaincy’s role.
“There’s a demand for the work that chaplains do, but many Jewish community leaders don’t think of chaplains as the people who are doing it,” she said in a telephone interview. “The opportunity is for some Jewish communal organizations to think about how chaplains might help them with problems that they’re currently experiencing and to experiment with that,” she added.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at email@example.com.
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