Bikur Cholim: A Caring Community for Jewish Patients at Mayo

For patients at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester facing serious illness far from home, emotional and spiritual support is a vital part of their care. Jewish patients and their families can find a warm and welcoming sanctuary in the care of Rabbi Michelle Werner and her congregation, B’nai Israel Synagogue.


The Rochester Chaplaincy program, which has received funding from St. Paul Jewish Federation for more than a decade, attends to the needs of Jewish patients by bridging the gap between their practical and spiritual needs. Not only does Rabbi Werner serve as a chaplain at Mayo, she connects families with B’nai Israel congregants who embrace and welcome them.  


Rabbi Werner also serves in a teaching role, educating staff on various aspects of Judaism and Jewish grieving practices. Mayo’s Jewish patient population is oftentimes larger than Rochester’s Jewish population.


“We think it’s incredible that the Federation supports us, and we are grateful.” 


In some situations, Rabbi Werner and her congregation provide a shiva minion for patients whose relatives have passed away, but who are unable to return home for the funeral.  Recently, this was provided for a Jewish medical student whose mother passed away.


The rabbi and congregation go beyond visiting patients in the hospital by creating community for people during a most agonizing time in their lives.  


In one instance, the congregation welcomed an Israeli family that was in Rochester so that the family patriarch could receive treatment for a brain tumor. B’nai Israel arranged and paid for accommodations, met with the family, provided orientation to the city, and brought them food from Israel. 

During Passover, the synagogue included them in their Passover seder where the father/patient spoke about how much it meant to him to be part of a Jewish ritual in this otherwise difficult circumstance. As it turned out, they shared with him his last Passover seder, and when he passed away, his family reached out to his “American Jewish family,” to share the sad news.

Rabbi Werner gets notes of appreciation frequently.  One former patient wrote, “We found ourselves delayed at Mayo over Yom Kippur and very much appreciate your welcoming us to your synagogue for Kol Nidre. We loved your warm and inspiring congregation and especially enjoyed Rabbi Werner’s sermon.  Thank you for giving us a place to worship for the holidays.”


“This is who we are,” said Rabbi Werner. “We think it’s incredible that the Federation supports us, and we are grateful.” If you or someone you know wishes to connect with Rabbi Werner while at Mayo, please contact her at


-- Lisa Pogoff

Lisa Pogoff is a freelancer writer who lives in Minneapolis.

Acts of Lovingkindness

Ron Menaker believes he’s a better person for undertaking acts of lovingkindness. An operations administrator at Mayo Clinic and a member of Rochester’s B’nai Israel, Ron is one of the congregation’s many members who have taken up the call 
to welcome out-of-town (and out-of-country) patients. 
“Rabbi Werner called me about a patient who was having an extended stay and asked if I was willing to make a visit,” explained Ron. The patient and his family had come from Mexico City and ended up staying in Rochester for a year. 
“We developed an extensive friendship,” Ron said. “I visited him every day in the early days,” and then, after the patient was discharged, “every week at their apartment.” 
With a shared business background, the two hit it off. “And we connected the spouses as well,” said Ron. 
After the patient and his family left Rochester, they would return yearly for check-ups. “They would stay at our house. It moved from chaplaincy to friendship,” said Ron. The families shared many meals together and discussions. “Our home was their second home. We extended ourselves as family to them.”  
When visiting Mexico for the patient’s son’s wedding, Ron and his wife Linda were introduced to friends and family as the “Rochester Angels.” 
“It made me understand more about tikkun olam, what I can do as a person, as a member of an international community,” Ron commented. 
B’nai Israel’s mission of reaching out to out-of-town patients in their time of need gives its members an opportunity to express their Jewish values.  “This,” Ron commented, “was the most meaningful experience I’ve had in my Jewish faith.”