Living and Dying with Dignity

Even late into his chemotherapy regimen, Isi Moed preferred to get to the doctor on his own. Before he was overtaken by cancer, Moed was an active man who enjoyed swimming and playing tennis into his 70s. But as the cancer progressed, he and his family had to face the reality that he could no longer get around independently. They decided he had reached the limits of the benefit the chemo could give him.

A music therapist pays a home visit to one of MJHS’ hospice care patients. A music therapist pays a home visit to one of MJHS’ hospice care patients. Photo courtesy of MJHS

Nadine Fischler, one of Moed’s daughters, recounts how she was greatly helped by the professional staff of what is now MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care, a beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation. “They were so gentle and soft-spoken and feeling our emotions. They were almost part of the family. Before we were able to tell them his story they knew why they were there,” she says.

The hospice care staff helped Fischler and her family figure out how to make Moed as comfortable as possible in his home, shepherded the family through the emotional challenges of saying goodbye, and advising on the Jewish rituals surrounding death, burial and bereavement.

In addition to helping patients create a comfortable end-of-life environment in their homes, MJHS also operates the Mollie and Jack Zicklin Jewish Hospice Residence, the first, and one of the only, Jewish residential hospices in the New York area. The Zicklin Residence upholds the highest standards of Jewish dietary laws, organizes Jewish holiday celebrations, and offers counseling on end-of-life issues for patients and their families through an on-staff rabbi as well as rabbinic chaplaincy interns from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

“The rabbinic interns don’t just take care of Jewish people,” says Miryam Rabner, the Jewish Outreach Coordinator and Facilities Coordinator at the Zicklin Residence. “They’re coming from the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Everyone is created in the image of G-d, and that colors the way we respond to people and how we treat them.”

Filling the Vacuum

The Zicklin Residence, which opened in 2005, was conceived by UJA-Federation’s Caring Commission when its End-of-Life Taskforce recognized the vacuum of Jewish hospice services. “There was always residential hospice care but we never had, in New York City, a standalone Jewish hospice facility,” says Paul Kronish, a founding chair of the task force.

Two years after her father passed away, Fischler turned to MJHS once again when her mother, Molly Moed, was diagnosed with cancer. When it became clear that Mrs. Moed had passed the point of treatment, she entered the Zicklin Residence. Now Fischler works as a volunteer at MJHS helping others experience their last days as her parents did, in “a calming, loving, and dignified way.”