Review by Rabbi Johnny Solomon
As a Jewish educator and Rabbi I am blessed to know many religious leaders and Rabbis. Some work in synagogues, while others work in schools, Yeshivot and Seminaries. However, I believe those who are most involved on a day to day basis in bringing redemption and comfort to the lives of others are Chaplains working on campus, and specifically those working in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons.
Rabbi Sidney Goldstein is a true expert in this field. He was the Director of Chaplaincy at the Albert Einstein Medical Center, and he founded the National Association of Jewish Chaplains. Beyond this, he served as the community Chaplain of the Jewish Family Service of Palm Beach County.
In ‘Heal Us O Lord’, Rabbi Goldstein describes the experiences of the fictional Rabbi Josh Green who leaves the synagogue pulpit having hit an impasse. Having then chosen to become a Chaplain, the reader learns of the moral dilemmas – based on the personal experiences of Rabbi Goldstein – that face Chaplains in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons.
In this stirring book, Rabbi Goldstein describes the vulnerability of those nearing the end of their lives, while also highlighting how early life experiences may provide the necessary tools for the elderly to overcome the challenges brought about by old age and illness. He describes the importance of treating patients with the utmost dignity including how they are addressed by doctors and nurses, and how one of the greatest challenges for those living in a nursing home is their sense of loneliness and disconnectedness. Yet he also shows that the attentiveness of a Chaplain and their willingness to engage with and listen to others can be transformative – both for the patients, and the Chaplain.
King Solomon famously asked in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) “what profits a man with all his labour when he labours under the sun?”, and in the final paragraph of ‘Heal Us O Lord’, Rabbi Goldstein answers this question by explaining that:
‘It is true that life often is unjust, frustrating, and depressing. At times, it appears to be purposeless and lacking in meaning, and filled with empty routine. Green was convinced that the way to overcome this numbing nihilism was through giving to others. In that way, one expands the circumference of his existence, and his essence achieves greater depth.’
‘Heal Us O Lord’ speaks about the human condition and what we can do to bring hope, comfort and redemption to those feeling vulnerable, lonely and lost. It is truly an exquisite book.