Issue of June 26, 2009 / 4 Tammuz 5769
Rabbi Binyamin Mayefsky of Far Rockaway could not have predicted where life would take him once he graduated from Yeshiva University,
but the father of two is happy to have found his calling as a chaplain for the Hospice Care Network.
“As a chaplain, I go see Jewish patients and their families all over Queens, Nassau and Suffolk, usually in their own homes,” said Rabbi Mayefsky, 31, explaining his role. “I visit them, I talk to them about their spiritual journeys, I say prayers with them, and I talk about
how they’re doing with their illness, and how it relates to them from
a spiritual perspective.”
The Hospice Care Network (HCN), which began in 1988, is a non-profit
organization that services patients and their families by addressing
their physical, emotional and spiritual needs during the end stages of
life. The staff includes an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses,
social workers, dieticians, pastoral care providers, bereavement
counselors and trained volunteers. Three years ago, HCN began an
Interfaith Outreach program that trains people to become advocates for
their congregation. Recognizing that hospice can be a sensitive
subject, HCN believes that by creating personal connections within
religious organizations, they can better reach out to people.
After finishing his rabbinical courses at YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan
Theological Seminary, Mayefsky attended the Healthcare Chaplaincy, an
organization in New York City that trains people of different faiths
to become chaplains. Following that, he studied Clinical Pastoral
Education for several years and later secured his current job at HCN,
where has worked since September 2007. As the only rabbi on staff at
HCN, Mayefsky is automatically assigned to all Jewish patients, but he
visits people of different faiths as well.
“So many of their experiences are similar, as far as talking to them
about their illness, whether they’re religious or not,” he observed.
However, “I find that with Jewish patients who are religious like I
am, I’m able to make a connection with them based on that,” he said.
Another part of Rabbi Mayefsky’s job is centered on outreach to the
rest of the Jewish community, where many are unaware of the services
provided by HCN. “I go to different shuls and talk to rabbis and
people in the community about what hospice does,” he explained.
But it is not only the Jewish community that is largely unfamiliar
with the concept of hospice care.
“My program began because we found that people came very late to
hospice, from lack of knowledge about our services or because of the
misconception about what it really is,” said Angela Cesa, the
Interfaith Outreach Coordinator for HCN. “It is not meant to be given
in the last week of life. The criteria is that a person has a terminal
illness that the doctor believes that, if it progresses the way it
normally does, the person’s life expectancy is six months or less.
That’s the time that a person could enter a hospice.”
The Interfaith Outreach program aims to help people in those earlier
stages, rather than in their last few weeks of life. “We had the idea
that when people are struggling with terminal illness, they turn to
their faith community,” explained Cesa, an interfaith minister. “If
there are key people who know about hospice and can give that
information, we have a better chance of having those people enter
hospice at a more appropriate time... We try to reach out to different
churches, synagogues, mosques, temples of any kind and we have
representatives in almost all of the faith communities now.”
Cesa also clarified that hospice is not a place, but a way of caring
for people. While 90 percent of patients receive hospice care in their
own homes, there are freestanding hospice facilities available, as
well as treatment in nursing homes and hospitals for those who may not
have family or others to care for them in their final days.
Since The Interfaith Outreach program began in 2007, 50 lay people
have been trained to become advocates for their congregations. Each is
required to have the approval of the leader of their religious
community, and to pledge confidentiality. Following that, they
participate in a five-hour training course given by Cesa or by one of
the chaplains on staff.
“The advocate is like a familiar presence, someone you can talk to
who will hold your confidence,” Cesa said. “You are more likely to
turn to someone you know. It’s very low-key. For example, if an
advocate knew someone in their congregation dealing with a terminal
illness, they could very gently advocate for that congregation, hoping
to get the dialogue going with families that might need it.”
Close to 20 years ago, Barbara Prins, a HCN-trained advocate, began
working as a client visitor, providing respite assistance to people
who were caring for sick relatives in their homes.
“I have always been in favor of it, because my father was involved in
it in Florida, so I know firsthand how they can be of help,” said
Prins, a member of the Central Synagogue of Nassau County, a Reform
congregation in Rockville Centre. “If people bring it up, I am happy
to tell them what I know. More and more people are living longer and
need help, and since I maintained contact with hospices for a few
years and I saw that Reverend Cesa was part of it, I was glad to come
for a refresher course in the training.”
“I don’t get paid, but I accept people’s gratitude,” Prins added. “It’s my privilege to help them in any way I can because it’s the Jewish way and I like to... As much as the doctors can do, sometimes patients need hospice care more.”
The religious component of hospice care is an integral part of HCN’s
work. “When people die in other places, they don’t often have the
benefit of the intense spiritual connections that we can give them,”
explained Cesa. “We can facilitate their own spiritual leaders coming
to visit them. Rabbi Mayefsky is available around the clock to speak
For more information on HCN and to learn how you can become an
advocate for your congregation, visit www.hospice-care-network.org.