Baltimore Jewish Community Offers a Jewish Approach to End of Life


As individuals face the end of life, it is crucial that they and their families have the physical, emotional and spiritual support they need.

Recognizing this – and understanding that Judaism offers its own traditions on dying – The Associated is committed to ensuring that they receive services that are sensitive to Judaism’s beliefs and customs.

Through its Dignity Fund, The Associated is helping Jewish Community Services (JCS) respond to the emotional, psychological, and practical needs of individuals, families and professionals through a wide range of services.

The agency collaborates with community organizations to provide families with information to plan for end-of-life matters, with caregiver support, and with grief support after the death of a loved one. In partnership with organizations including Sol Levinson Bros., Inc., Gilchrist, Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care, the Edward A. Myerberg Center, LifeBridge Health, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the Alzheimer’s Association and local synagogues, JCS has provided:

  • Grief support groups for those coping with the death of a loved one.
  • Community programs for individuals and families that have included “The Empty Place at the Table,” to help family members cope with grief related to holidays and family gatherings.
  • Community programs to help individuals and families plan and prepare for financial, medical and end-of-life matters with loved ones within the framework of Jewish perspectives on aging and end-of-life.
  • Programs to increase understanding and dispel myths about hospice care.
  • Support groups for caregivers, including those caring for loved ones with dementia and those caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s Disease.

Training Caregivers

JCS professionals also have educated health care professionals who specialize in end-of-life care on Jewish traditions and customs. One of its first undertakings was a partnership with Gilchrist Hospice to train its employees on topics that ranged from the mourning process of shiva to Jewish laws like Kashrut so that the professional caregiving team can ensure that Jewish traditions and customs are respected.

JCS has also supported efforts to recruit volunteers to complement the professional in-home and facility-based hospice care.

“By helping care providers understand the Jewish community and the traditions and needs of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstruction and secular Jews, they can better honor a dying person’s wishes,” says Jacki Ashkin, Director, Community Connections for JCS who sits on the Gilchrist Jewish Hospice Advisory Board with Joan Grayson Cohen, JCS Executive Director. “It helps alleviate some of the stresses for both patient and family members.”

Chaya Lasson, who serves as the Jewish Hospice Program Manager at Gilchrist has noted the importance of these trainings and other JCS programs. “We have found that knowing that our caregivers are trained in Jewish customs and rituals, helps people feel more comfortable with their end-of-life care,” she says.

Support from The Dignity Fund, in addition to a grant from the Jewish Federations of North America, also enabled JCS to train service providers at hospices, home care agencies, long-term care, assisted living and rehabilitation facilities, as well as physicians and family caregivers, on providing care to Holocaust survivors that is sensitive to the issues and needs that can arise for them as a result of their past traumatic experiences.

Aging Holocaust survivors have a unique worldview, explains Grayson Cohen. For example, although many seniors may have difficulty giving up their homes to move to an assisted living or other facility, this takes on added stress for Holocaust survivors. Being displaced reminds them of the ordeal of being displaced from their homes, quickly and without possessions, earlier in their lives. Or, when a caregiver showers a Holocaust survivor, they may not understand the painful memories or fears the shower evokes.

The Fund is also instrumental to providing necessary financial subsidies for personal care to individuals nearing end-of-life for whom in-home care services would be otherwise unaffordable. This helps them remain in the comfort, familiarity, and security of their home for as long as possible and provides their families with peace of mind in being able to honor those wishes.

As an endowed fund, The Dignity Fund is designed to provide continuing support to help JCS ensure that the needs of individuals and their families are met throughout their end-of-life experience.

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