In celebration of the legacy of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, founder of the Jewish Institute of Religion (JIR), the New York campus held the second annual Be Wise Fellowship in Jewish Entrepreneurship, an opportunity for students to explore our history and further Wise's legacy by conceptualizing and carrying out bold and creative initiatives that respond to the needs of contemporary Jewry.
We urged our students, who represent the future religious leadership of Reform and liberal Judaism, to be Wise – to think imaginatively in relation to the needs of our contemporary Jewish community and dare to make real their own vision for liberal Judaism of the twenty-first century. They were challenged to design a project that would promote entrepreneurialism and bring a spirit of innovation and creativity to campus by exploring and experimenting with community-building and outreach techniques. Five projects received seed grants to pursue their work.
Samantha Shabman, a fourth-year rabbinical student, was selected as the winner of the Be Wise Fellowship in Jewish Entrepreneurship. Shabman created a multi-lingual prayer anthology for chaplains to enhance the spiritual and religious well-being of all patients in Israeli hospitals. As language is often a barrier during pastoral care visits, Shabman created a prayer anthology with prayers in Hebrew, English, French, Arabic, Amharic, and Russian to aid in breaking down the language barrier in Israeli hospitals. The anthology is formatted as a decorative box containing large print cards of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim prayers with artistic renderings related to each prayer. The prayers are both traditional and contemporary and can be used throughout life-cycle events – before a surgery, starting treatment, chemotherapy, healing of body/spirit, saying goodbye, and life review.
HUC-JIR sat down with Shabman to learn more about her project:
What inspired you to create a multi-lingual prayer anthology for chaplains?
I spent the summer of 2013 in a Clinical Pastoral Education program at the Maine Medical Center. Throughout my time at Maine Medical Center, I encountered patients who spoke many different languages and were of diverse religious backgrounds. When I met a patient who practiced Islam, I ran to the computer lab to Google and print prayers of healing. And when I met a Russian patient who did not speak English, I printed a paper with Russian prayers. I realized that I did not have the resources I needed to serve the diverse populations in the hospital. I needed a condensed resource.
Immediately after CPE ended, I traveled to Israel. I did a lot of reflecting and realized that chaplaincy and the land of Israel were two of my greatest interests in life and wondered how I could connect my passions. I was introduced to Kashouvot, an organization that facilitates opportunities for patients of all backgrounds to connect with texts, prayers, and rituals of their own faiths, and identify their unique sources of meaning and inner strengths as they cope with the transitions of aging, illness, and grief.
In speaking with Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, the director of Kashouvot, I learned that they too experienced the same issues - with patients speaking Arabic, Amharic, English, Hebrew, and Russian. We realized how impactful it would be to have a beautiful resource with prayers in many languages to enhance the care that we are able to provide as chaplains and decided to create multi-lingual prayer anthology. This project is particularly interesting in Israel because hospitals are some of the rare places in Israel where Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, native Israelis and African refugees, in addition to many other religions, ethnicities, and cultures are forced to talk, work, live, and be together.
How do you envision this anthology will impact chaplains and their patients?
This project illustrates the power of liberal Judaism to meet people where they are - literally, spiritually, and intellectually. These prayers give voices to beliefs and thoughts that patients and hospital employees might hold. It shows that prayer can be useful not only for people who define themselves as religious. It exposes people to the richness of various religious traditions. This prayer anthology can be a starting point for a conversation, a catalyst for a holy moment, or a door to cathartic tears.
What was your process in creating this anthology?
As a Zionist endeavor, one of our main goals of this project was to support Israel. We decided to use all Israeli printers, artists and designers! We reached out to our network of family and friends and we were able to receive contributions to enable the creation of this prayer anthology.
Is this anthology accessible to the public?
We are in the “trial stages” of the project right now. We have been distributing cards to chaplains across the US and Israel and asking for feedback. We plan to make the cards available online and sell them as fundraisers in temple and hospital gift shops. If you or anyone you know are interested in obtaining a prayer card, please contact me at Samantha.Shabman@gmail.com.
What have you learned about Stephen S. Wise through the Be Wise Fellowship in Jewish Entrepreneurship?
Our multi-lingual prayer anthology project aligns with the values of Stephen S. Wise in numerous ways. It is intended to strengthen the people of Israel and foster the Zionist Movement and the US-Israel relationship. This project asserts the mandate of liberal Judaism in showing that our age-old tradition is still relevant and compelling in bridging chasms among diverse groups in Israel.
Samantha Shabman is entering her fourth year as a rabbinical student at the New York campus of HUC-JIR. She graduated from the George Washington University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies. This past year, Shabman served as the student rabbi at the North Fork Reform Synagogue in Southold, NY, and as a summer resident at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York, NY. This year, she will serve as President of the Student Association at HUC-JIR and as a chaplain intern at Mount Sinai Hospital. Shabman will continue to teach in HUC-JIR's Miller High School Honors Program. For questions about her project, please contact her at Samantha.Shabman@gmail.com.