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February 12, 1988 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-02-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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16

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 1988

27260 Haggerty #A9
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Rabbi Eases Alienation
Of Mental Patients

ARTHUR J. MAGIDA

Special to The Jewish News

W

hen the biblical
Jacob, while jour-
neying far from
Israel, dreamed of wrestling
with an angel, he realized
God was always with him.
This was a revelation in an
era when people assumed
that each of their various
gods ruled over discrete
regions. lb wander from one
god's turf, they believed, was
to enter that of another
divinity.
Recently, Rabbi - Gila
Ruskin, the Detroit-born
Jewish chaplain at
Baltimore's Sheppard &
Enoch Pratt psychiatric
hospital, used Jacob's dream
as a metaphor.
Speaking to Jewish pa-
tients after lighting Shabbat
candles, she said they were
always part of the Jewish
community, even in a setting
such as Sheppard-Pratt,
where, Ruskin recently told
The Jewish News, "they
sometimes don't even feel
they are a part of the world."
Since July, Ruskin, a
Reform rabbi, has been the
first staff Jewish chaplain in
the psychiatric facility's
135-year history. She is a
liaison between patients,
their families, hospital staff
an the outside world. Part of
an interdisciplinary team,
she helps coordinate a pa-
tient's medical, psychosocial
and spiritual treatment.
Among her tasks is to
minimize patients' sense of
isolation from themselves,
their family, and the Jewish
world beyond the hospital.
"They are all going to be
reintegrated into the world,"
said Ruskin. "They need to
feel they are still a part of it.
A psychiatrist may focus on
psychiatric dynamics. I offer
a sense of familiarity."
The familiar that Ruskin of-
fers includes Shabbat services
every Friday afternoon,
Passover seders, Chanukah
menorah lightings, Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur
services and services for the
deceased.
"Holidays,- especially Pass-
over, are a very difficult time
for everyone," she said. "Just
as Christmas is a hard time
for Christians, Passover is a
hard time for Jews. It's their
`family holiday'."
She also arranges for
kosher food for patients, pro-
vides yahrzeit candles when
appropriate, and counsels pa-

Rabbi Gila Ruskin: Minimizing isolation.

tients and family from a
Jewish perspective.
"A patient may have
spiritual or existential
issues," said Ruskin. "They
may wonder, for example,
whether their illness is God's
punishment. And the family
may wonder whether their
relative will be reintegrated
into the community, especial-
ly the Jewish community."
For Sheppard-Pratt's staff,
Ruskin provides insights into
patients for which their pro-
fessional training may not
have prepared them.
"We can learn a lot by tak-
ing a patient's religious
history," she said. "If someone
grew up in a Pentacostal
household and believes she
hears God's voice, it's dif-
ferent than if she grew up in
a non-fundamentalist Chris-
tian household. Pentacostals
believe in speaking in
tongues. This would be
similar to an Orthodox
Jewish patient telling the
staff that God commanded
him to do something or balk-
ing at turning on or off his
room lights on Shabbat."
Ordinarily, about 15 to 20
percent of Sheppard-Pratt's
312 patients are Jewish.

Rev. P. Barrett Rudd, the
Presbyterian minister who
heads Sheppard-Pratt's
department of pastoral ser-
vices (which consists of
himself and Ruskin), said the
hospital had been considering
expanding his department for
a while, "but we weren't in a
great rush. We didn't want
just anybody to come. But
Gila had the background and
the experience. Also, her iden-

tity as a woman helped get
across the point that we are
concerned about women's
issues."
The Detroit-born Ruskin,
34, is the daughter of Albert
and Harriet Colman. She at-
tended Southfield High
School and was a congregant
at Temple Beth El.
She attended the Univer-
sity of Michigan and the
University of Maryland,
where she received a
bachelor's degree in social
work and psychology. She
received her rabbinical or-
dination from the Hebrew
Union College in Cincinnati.
Do the patients she
counsels have difficulty accep-
ting her because she is a
woman rabbi, in addition to
being Reform. For most, she
answered, sectarian dif-
ferences "tumble away" as
the facility's Jewish residents
grope for any Jewish mooring.
"If someone is Orthodox
and it is a problem," she add-
ed, "I will contact their
rabbi."
Wanting time to devote to
raising her three children
discouraged Ruskin from pur-
suing a full-time congrega-
tional career.
"Rabbis must be available
to their congregations in the
event that someone dies or is
in the hospital," she said. "I
felt my first commitment
should be to my family."
"What I do is a viable alter-
native for rabbis who do not
want a full-time congrega-
tional position," said Ruskin.

David Holzel contributed to this
article.

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