Situation Today

One might expect in a place so central to the three monotheistic religions that every hospital and nursing home would have a chaplain available to address the emotional and spiritual aspects of illness and death. One would also assume that people would be familiar with chaplaincy and understand its benefits. The very opposite is true.

Pastoral Care / Spiritual Support is very new to Israel, compared to the US, Canada, Australia and some parts of Europe.  Many people have never heard of it, others hold misconceptions and even hostility toward it and even the language to describe it needs to be invented and carefully introduced.

Many hospitals have a rabbi on staff, but this is not the same as a chaplain. Hospital rabbis in Israel are in charge of kosher food, prayer services, halakhic observance and occasional ethical decisions.  Their role is not to visit patients or offer their families support and in general they are not trained to offer pastoral counseling or experienced in interfaith work. There is no official representation of Christian or Muslim chaplains in Israeli hospitals or nursing homes.

Developments in the Field: Training

Only in the past several years has the field of “spiritual support” taken root in Israel, due in large part to the vision and generosity of the New York Federation’s Caring Commission guided by Elisheva Flam-Oren, its Israel representative.

Around 2005 several parallel developments occurred: Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, then a student at Machon Schechter, the Conservative Movement’s academic institution in Israel, founded Beruach at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. His co visionary was Dr. Nathan Cherny, Director of Cancer Pain and Palliative Medicine, Department of Oncology. Beruach offers training based on textual study and work in Shaare Tzedek’s oncology department, directed by Hanni Kreuser.

Also around 1995 Hebrew Union College secured an endowed chair in pastoral counseling and adapted it to Israeli realities.  This program now consists of a program in bibliotherapy and Mazorim, a training program for clergy students and medical field workers to enhance their ability to offer spiritual support.  Dr. Ruhama Weiss directs Mazorim as part of the Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling. Students are now focusing on the benefits of spiritual support and guidance to people undergoing a wide breadth of life transitions and challenges not necessarily related to health and aging.

Over the years other programs developed: Machon Schechter initiated a training program bringing Rabbi Zahara Davidovitz-Farkas,  an American trained supervisor of C.P.E. (Clinical Pastoral Education) for summer training of rabbinical students.

Herzog Hospital’s Yakir Kaufman, Director of Neurologial Services, has also offered C.P.E. to his staff and affiliates. Rabbi Hannah Klebansky’s organization Zimratya trains Russian-speaking Spiritual Care volunteers.

Today New York Federation oversees the “Reshet”, the Israel Jewish Spiritual Care Network, which is a loose coalition of organizations the Federation funds, and the Reshet sponsors an annual conference on topics related to Spiritual Support.

Developments in the Field: Placement

The presence of chaplains in the field is growing but still very modest. Usually decisions are made by department, not hospital-wide, so a hospital may have a chaplain (student or volunteer, on rare occasions paid by an external foundation) a few hours a week in one department. There is still along way to Kashouvot’s vision of each patient having access to spiritual support and of the chaplains being regular paid members of hospital staff.

Pastoral Care is beginning to develop at Sheba Medical Center (Tel HaShomer) near Tel Aviv, Ramban Hospital in Haifa, Hadassah Mt. Scopus and Assaf HaRofe near Rehovot.

Haverut, directed by Rachel Ettun, offers art therapy, part-time chaplaincy and a bikkur holim group at Hadassah Mt. Scopus. The J.D.C.’s Eshel program for the elderly has introduced the field to some nursing homes.

Outside hospitals and nursing homes, Tishkofet – Ma’agan organizes support groups, classes and retreats for people affected by illness. Their director of spiritual care, Eli Sharon, provides counseling and support to individuals and groups. Other organizations like the Yuri Stern Fund focus on holistic support to patients and Koby Mandel Foundation offers support to bereaved parents. Other organizations outside the Reshet, like Achva and Telem, are also contributing to the field in all its diversity.

Into the Future

In our opinion, the next challenges are:

  1. To offer more opportunities for learning with certified supervisors (based on knowledge and experience from abroad where the field was developed, along with a focus on specific Israeli realities);
  2. To develop uniform and high standards for the training, accountability and personal background of spiritual support workers (practitioners and supervisors);
  3.  To create more public awareness of the field and its potential.

Our hope is that eventually the Ministry of Health will mandate a chaplain (spiritual care giver) for each public hospital and nursing home, along with the requisite budget allocation, so that the field will no longer have to rely on the support and commitment of private donors in Israel and abroad.


Kashouvot was founded in 2010. It is the only organization dedicated solely to placing C.P.E. (or equivalent) trained chaplains in hospital and nursing home settings. We are dedicated to advancing the field  in Israel and seek partnerships with other organizations. We are committed to working with patients of all faiths and backgrounds and offering the highest quality care.