Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California

In a Jewish community the size and scope of ours, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the small acts of kindness that define our concern for justice and quality of life.

The Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California provides such acts. There’s no glamour, no fanfare.

Headed by Rabbi Robert Kraus, the chaplaincy program reaches out to those in need of spiritual guidance and companionship — among them, members of our community in hospitals, nursing homes and correctional facilities. Making their weekly rounds, the dozens of participating rabbis seek out the elderly, the disabled, the ill, the injured, the unfortunate or the imprisoned. They offer support, advice and pastoral counseling.

Many of the facilities the chaplains visit are not particularly pleasant. Anyone who has seen the scores of small convalescent and nursing homes that dot the Westside and the Valley understand how dreary and sad these places can be, particularly for people without friends and family. Being lonely is almost worse than being ill. The rabbis are truly the lifeline to the Jewish community for these lonely souls.

In addition to being a spiritual connection to the Jewish community, the chaplains can also act as advocates for the forgotten. We in the Jewish community do not readily admit that, like any other part of our society, we have people with personal problems that can become legal problems. It is never easy being an inmate, but think about what it means to be a Jewish inmate in a prison where you are a minority in a hostile environment.

Like their service in the hospitals or nursing homes, the rabbis’ visits to the prison system is a Jewish communal response to the isolated and the sometimes forgotten. They renew Jewish souls in need. Assuring spiritual support to people who have erred in life and need spiritual guidance is vital. And getting frozen or freeze-dried kosher meals for a traditional Jew in prison is just one more aspect of having a communal chaplain.

It is our Jewish concern for human welfare that takes the rabbis where the needs exist. It is the United Jewish Fund’s concern for justice and human need that directs Federation support to the chaplaincy program.

So, the next time you wonder what even a small gift to the UJF accomplishes, I ask you to think about the dozens of rabbis acting as part of the Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program, who act out of a Jewish ethos for their fellow Jew. Your small gift can make an enormous difference in how a fellow Jew faces daily life.

John R. Fishel is executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.