JFS Perspectives

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

JFS’s Community Rabbi Provides Spiritual Support in Times of Need

JFS’s Community Rabbi Provides Spiritual Support in Times of Need

Last March, Jessica Allen was faced with a dilemma. Her father was facing certain death and she had no idea where she would find a rabbi who could put him to rest in a way that would honor his life and Jewish faith. It was important to her and her family that that he be buried in a Jewish cemetery following Jewish rituals. For her mother, Sharon, who was losing her husband of 50 years, it was mandatory.

Glenn RunyanGlenn Runyan, of blessed memory, suffered from serious gastrointestinal issues and started to decline last fall. Jessica suspects that had stomach cancer. It reached the point where he stopped eating. Jessica believes that he was in denial and wouldn’t accept that he was as sick as he was.

The family was not affiliated with a local synagogue, though Glenn and Sharon regularly attended services at Shalom Park. They were very fond of the rabbi there and Jessica assumed he would handle her father’s funeral. Those plans changed when the rabbi moved out of town. Suddenly there was no rabbi lined up who could perform her father’s funeral.

As Glenn’s condition worsened, the family decided to move him out of the hospital and into hospice care. It was then that Jessica knew she had to find a solution. She asked the hospital chaplain if he knew of a rabbi she could call. She was referred to JFS’s community chaplain, Rabbi Rick Brody. “I was really worried that because my parents were unaffiliated, they would be judged,” she says. “But from that first phone call, Rabbi Brody was warm, welcoming, kind, and compassionate. He was eager to support us in any way possible—without judgment.”

Rabbi Brody and Jessica AllenThe JFS Community Chaplaincy provides direct spiritual care for unaffiliated members of the Jewish community who are ill, in crisis, or near the end of their lives—in hospitals, nursing homes, mental health institutions, correctional facilities, or at home. Whether it’s a funeral, kosher meal, or spiritual counsel, Rabbi Brody is available to anyone in need of pastoral care, but who may not be affiliated with a synagogue.

There is tremendous need for a rabbi to serve our community. There are an estimated 60,000 unaffiliated Jews out of 85,000 people who identify as Jewish in the Denver metro area. When they are facing a crisis, they need somewhere to turn. Many people who have pastoral needs don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a synagogue to which they don’t belong. Rabbis from the various synagogues simply don’t have the capacity to handle all the requests they get from those outside of their congregations. It’s a void that can leave people without spiritual support at a time when they need it most.

Rabbi Brody and Jessica AllenRabbi Brody fills that need, offering prayer, counsel, and empathic pastoral care to those who are ill, facing the end of their lives, or who have lost a loved one. He provides an affirming, listening presence that can help those in crisis connect with their faith. JFS, with the support of JEWISHcolorado, has provided a community chaplain for this purpose for more than 30 years.

“I love being able to enter into people’s lives at those moments of great vulnerability,” says Rabbi Brody. “It’s an honor to be welcomed into delicate situations with people I don’t know and quickly learn their needs. I’m able to listen and guide them toward emotional and spiritual healing.”

For Jessica and her mom, it was very important that they honor Jewish tradition around Glenn’s death, funeral, and burial. When Glenn passed away, Jessica called Rabbi Brody to let him know. She was surprised that he took her call at ten o’clock that night. “He was so warm,” she says. “He was such an incredible source of comfort for us.”

Glenn died the night before the notorious “bomb cyclone” blizzard that dumped six inches of snow in Denver with hurricane-force winds. Rabbi Brody braved the storm to meet with Jessica and Sharon and then spent two hours learning about Glenn’s life. “It was incredible,” says Jessica. “He took the time and effort to really get to know about my father so that he could make the ceremony as meaningful as possible.”

“The city was shut down, yet he dropped everything to be with us—people he had never met—to get to know my mom and learn about my father. I’m very grateful. It was so comforting. He was such a light at a dark time.”

The funeral was graveside and attended by friends and family, including many from out of town. For Jessica and Sharon, it was meaningful and inclusive. “Rabbi Brody did a beautiful job of crafting the story of my father’s life and letting other family members share their own recollections,” Jessica recalls. “He incorporated traditional Jewish prayers, as well as other psalms and readings that were familiar to those in attendance. The ceremony was rich in Jewish tradition, but also inclusive.”

“The funeral was exactly what we wanted,” she says. “I will always remember it and the dignity with which my father was laid to rest.”

“It’s amazing to have this kind of community resource at a time of loss,” says Jessica. “What a mitzvah! There’s so much to do when you lose a family member—death certificate, casket, finances, and notifying family and friends. Having the funeral arrangements covered was truly a gift. I genuinely don’t know what we would have done. We are so grateful to JFS and Rabbi Brody for the support we received at such a difficult time.”

The JFS Community Chaplaincy is available at no cost and is funded by a generous grant from JEWISHcolorado. For more information, contact Rabbi Brody directly at 720.248.4647 or rbrody@jewishfamilyservice.org. Should you or someone in need require immediate pastoral attention, Rabbi Brody is on call and can be reached at his emergency mobile number, at 720.248.7686. To support the JFS Chaplaincy Program, visit jewishfamilyservice.org/donate.


META DESCRIPTION: The Jewish Family Service community rabbi supported Jessica through the difficult process of her father's death and funeral. Learn more about how the JFS Community Chaplaincy program provides spiritual care for unaffiliated members of the Jewish community.