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.
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 email@example.com.
-- Lisa Pogoff
Lisa Pogoff is a freelancer writer who lives in Minneapolis.