Newest Village Art Insights Presentation: Sidra Torah Ark at The Skirball Museum
In conversation with Rabbi Shmuel Polin about the ark

I’m pleased to share the release of the newest presentation of Village Art Insights on the newest exhibit at The Skirball Museum. In addition to speaking with Jessica, my collaborator on the Village Art Insights series on the exhibit, a fully rebuilt Torah ark from 18th century Poland, we spoke with both museum director Abby Schwartz, as well as the exhibit’s creator, Rabbi Shmuel Polin for this presentation.

With Jessica

According to an article in the American Israelite, Rabbi Polin’s study of the lost ark and related material resulted in his rabbinic capstone project for graduating Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s rabbinical school. Rabbi Polin’s research coincided with a conservation project on the Polish ark in the Scheuer Chapel on the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR. Used daily by students for prayer, what began as a modest project to make the ark safe for everyday handling turned into analysis of paint and wood, and the discovery of a long-forgotten shipping label affixed to the back of the ark that revealed its specific original location of Schönlanke, Poland.

Skirball Museum director Abby Schwartz discussing the exhibition

New research conducted by Polin indicated that this precious Polish ark, which came to HUC in 1925 as part of the Berlin Judaica Collection of Salli Kirschstein, was made in about 1759. It had previously been dated about 1740. It is one of the few extant Polish arks of the eighteenth century. Soaring 20 feet high, the richly colored and symbolically reconstructed Sidra ark is a feat of imagination, engineering, and artistry.


Beginning to Pull Back From Providing Curated TV Content for Constituents

For the past 10 or 11 months – certainly, the majority of the time that I’ve been in my chaplaincy position, which has been during this global pandemic, I have been utilizing the in-house broadcasting channel to get content to residents. I have found and curated video content from YouTube to broadcast to the residents, especially since most of the pandemic thus far – and certainly the summer, fall, and winter – the residents were largely confined to their rooms and really weren’t able to get out, in accordance with Ohio Department of Health guidelines.

As such, it has been an important service that I provided to my constituents, providing edifying entertainment especially on and around Shabbat, although it also included holidays (Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot were pretty intense). (Yes, as I announced a couple of weeks ago, the archive of this curated content is available here.)

However, now that residents are largely no longer confined to their rooms (at least for the assisted living side of the building; the skilled nursing side is another matter, as the residents have mostly been confined there), I have decided to pull back a little on some of the programming, since the need has lessened (I also have to acknowledge a helpful conversation with a fellow Jewish communal professional that I feel helped provide me with license/encouragement to do so). However, there still remains somewhat of a need, as while the residents have a significantly greater deal of freedom, many still may be in their rooms for some of Shabbat, plus many have become accustomed to the entertainment that I curate and broadcast to them.

Whereas I have at least for the last few months been curating and scheduling programming content on Fridays from around 2pm/3pm through around 9pm, and on Saturdays from 9:30am through the afternoon, often up until around 5pm/6pm. However, I am now pulling back, beginning at 4pm on Friday afternoons and then continuing on until around 9pm, and  on Saturdays, I’ll still continue at 9:30am for the time being and then continue until only about 2pm/3pm. Once we begin holding regular Shabbat morning services, I may begin only starting the content at 11am, then continuing until around 2pm.

So, yes, this is a significant pulling back in this incredibly successful endeavor, but I’m still going to continue to provide the service for the residents in the living facility where I work. When I reflect upon this, I realize that I have probably been leading the way amongst Jewish chaplains in the country. How many others can boast such a lineup of programming for the residents via the in-house broadcasting channel throughout this pandemic? Probably very few and that puts me up – if not at the absolute top, certainly towards the top – of the field in providing this service to the residents. With this deep pride at the success of the work that I have provided to my constituents, I do admit to feeling a certain sense of sadness at stepping away from this success that I have amassed during my first year in this position. Moreover, it has been such a mainstay of my position and the work that I have been providing to the residents, that it seems strange to begin to let go of something with which I have achieved so much success.

Yet, while I am pulling back, beginning with this week’s lineup, providing around 10.5 hours worth of content, as opposed to the 15.5 hours I I have recently been providing, I still remain providing this helpful service to my constituents. I am not cold turkey-quitting this aspect of my job just yet. It will likely be a gradual process of pulling back as we begin to emerge from this pandemic.

Article in This Week’s Issue of The American Israelite on Cedar Village History

An article in this weekend’s issue of The American Israelite covers a published video conversation between Sally Korkin and yours truly. Korkin had worked at Cedar Village since prior to its doors opening and for most of its operation, so it was a great opportunity to speak with her and discover some really neat facts about the building. That conversation is available here:

It is very neat to see this conversation we had receive local media coverage, appearing on pages 3 and 5 of this weekend’s issue of The American Israelite (and available here). What is interesting is that, instead of running a press release that was submitted to the paper, the paper covered it as a story.

For what it’s worth, here is the draft I had crafted to be submitted (on March 19th), although I don’t know what was ultimately submitted to the paper:

For institutions that have been around for nearly a quarter of a century, there can be a lot of history generated. With this in mind, a recent conversation about Cedar Village’s early history provides viewers with a lot of historical context of the institution and its building.

The conversation features Sally Korkin, who had worked at Cedar Village for 19 years, including even prior to its doors opening in March 1997, in dialogue with Rabbi Drew Kaplan, Cedar Village’s Director of Pastoral Care. Throughout the nearly hour presentation, Korkin provides an organized sense of historical context and intriguing insights into Cedar Village’s history.

Amongst the tidbits that she shares are that the Fountain View apartments had originally been Cedar Village’s memory care unit. Korkin also shares the story behind the series of holiday art that was purchased on the first of three Israel trips that Cedar Village made with residents. She also shares about the opening of the building.

Throughout this conversation, not only does Korkin provide interesting insights, but also provides a pride of place to both residents and staff, as well as residents’ families who may choose to view the presentation. The presentation made its debut to residents on the in-house broadcasting channel at Cedar Village on Friday, March 19th, along with encore presentations on Saturday, March 20th and Sunday, March 21st in the building. It will receive encore presentations in the future. It is also available for public viewing on YouTube.

(And, yes, it did, indeed, debut that weekend for the residents.)

What’s amusing to me is that, it seems that the policy of The American Israelite is not to promote or otherwise write anything about online material, so they likely assigned someone to write about the video (without mentioning that it’s a video). In any event, I am grateful that they provided coverage and shared some of Cedar Village’s history to the community.

Unfortunately, as Korkin pointed out to me, there are some errors in the article covering the video, including (but not limited to):

  • Ben Ritter, not Ridder
  • Frank Harkavy asked (not hired) Paul Heiman
  • Added Fountain View (not Oak View)
  • The part about the Jewish Federation is incorrect. It was the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and they funded the pool/aquatic therapy center only. The rest of the renovations were funded by a capital campaign.

Errors aside, I am glad that this history of Cedar Village shared by Korkin is getting attention and can be preserved 🙂

Sharing Resources from My Chaplaincy Position

With the publication of the 50th Shabbat Newsletter at my chaplaincy position, I realized I hadn’t previously made publicly available my archive of Shabbat Newsletters, so I am excited to announce that the newsletters are available here (N.B. the Shabbat Newsletter initiative began with my predecessor, so I am only including those issues that I edited and published).

Additionally, I am also making available all of the video lineups of edifying entertainment I have curated for the residents of the senior living facility where I work. While I began curating lineups in the summer, the archive of video lineups begins in September. The archive is available here. Feel free to use/share.

Huge Changes [Chaplaincy Chronicles]

There are huge changes taking place, which is very on-brand for 2021 (the year of change), although these are affecting my job. These changes have come from both governmental agencies that regulate what can be done at the senior living facility where I serve as a chaplain, as well as the organization that funds my position.

Changes from the Ohio Department of Health
Amidst the global pandemic, one of the aspects that has drastically changed the trajectory of the virus has been the vaccination efforts, not only nationally, but throughout Ohio, including the facility where I work. With almost all of the residents vaccinated against COVID-19 (there are a small number of residents who refused the vaccination) and most of the staff being vaccinated (we did better than the state average), positive cases of COVID-19 in the building have drastically dropped since our vaccination clinics in January.

As such, fortunately, the Ohio Department of Health (henceforth, ODOH) has recognized the power and effectiveness of the vaccinations to permit greater movement of both residents, as well as their visitors in accessing each other. Last week, in a press release, the ODOH has made a number of changes, the highlights of which are

  • Ohio is requiring that visitation be permitted whenever safety protocols can be met. Previously, visitation was permitted, not required.
  • Vaccinated residents may have physical touch with their visitor while wearing a mask. Previously, touch was discouraged.
  • Visits may occur in a resident’s private room, as opposed to the previous requirement of a separate visitation area.
  • 30 minutes should serve as the minimum amount of time for a visit. Previously, 30 minutes was the maximum time to visit.
  • The order also expands the circumstances in which compassionate care visits should be granted.

Excitingly, another highlight is that “the order updates nursing home and assisted living testing requirements to require the facilities to test vaccinated staff once per week and unvaccinated staff twice per week. The previous order made no distinction between vaccinated or unvaccinated staff.” Although I will miss the twice-weekly testing (I actually just got tested for my 58th COVID-19 test today) as I got both of my doses of the vaccine in January, it is a nice move away from the height of the pandemic.

Changes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Another significant change came just weeks ago from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that now, according to updated guidance, whenever there are positive COVID-19 results from staff doesn’t necessarily require a suspension of activities. This is really great news! For many months, our facility has been subject to even just one staff member turning up positive for the virus to prevent activities from taking place, which has been greatly unfortunate, as had recently occurred. However, now, with the new guidance, we are not, as had occurred with a positive case amongst the staff that just happened within the past week (instead, only skilled nursing experienced a suspension of activities, allowing assisted living programming, dining, etc. to continue).

Changes from the Jewish Home of Cincinnati
Another huge change is the updated press release from the Jewish Home of Cincinnati (henceforth, JHC) regarding their shift in mission and vision, as well as the announcement of their new executive director. This press release, which was published by The American Israelite today, is an update from the press release they had initially published five weeks ago, which I had highlighted and discussed previously.

In the updated press release, they announced “plans to expand its footprint in the Greater Cincinnati community as a resource for supporting Greater Cincinnati’s Jewish seniors”. Furthermore, according to the press release, the JHC is “pivoting their strategic direction. Not only will JHC continue to support programs related to Jewish life at Cedar Village, but it will also become a grant-making organization to care for local Jewish seniors in the broader community”. This change is “reflective of seniors’ preferences and trends locally and nationally to age in place in their home versus in communal living.”

For further contextualization of the relationship between the JHC and the senior living facility where I work is articulated as:

Following the sale of Cedar Village, JHC has worked in partnership with the new owners and property manager, CarDon, to assure a smooth transition and ensure that Cedar Village remains a Jewish home. JHC continues to provide support to residents through the Cedar Village Foundation (CVF), the sole supporting arm of JHC. Steve Schwartz, CVF Chair of its Board of Directors noted, “CVF exists to support the well-being of Jewish older adults in Greater Cincinnati in alignment with JHC’s pivot and transformation.” CVF assists JHC as fiduciary stewards for the benefit of the Cedar Village residents with mission related commitments. These include pastoral care, Jewish religious observances, kosher meals freshly prepared on premises, and Jewish cultural and secular programming. The Harkavy/Berg Committee of JHC continues to support creative programming to enrich the lives of Cedar Village residents. Judaica owned by JHC remains on loan at Cedar Village and is displayed throughout the building.

In addition to this pivoting, they also announced the hiring of a new executive director, Nina Perlove. Since having discussed the previous iteration of their press release, I have had the opportunity to connect with her on a couple of Zoom meetings, and I look forward to continuing to connect and work together to serve Jewishly-identifying seniors at the senior living facility where I work.

One further piece of interest from the press is that the JHC will “begin accepting Letters of Inquiry and grant-making requests later this year”, so we should see how that develops.

Synthesizing These Changes
As you can imagine, this avalanche of changes is so incredibly sweeping and profoundly affecting my work. It is also so much to synthesize in such a short time. Moreover, having gotten the hang of this job over the course of my first ten months, it will be quite the transition into this next phase of my work as a Director of Pastoral Care at a senior living facility.

Encouraging Developments Due to Lack of COVID-19 in Building [Chaplaincy Chronicles]

With most of the staff at the senior living facility where I work getting vaccinated against COVID-19, we have seen a significant improvement in our building dealing with COVID-19. So much so that our building administrator published a letter the other day in which he writes, “I am happy to report that Cedar Village has gone 20 days with no resident or staff COVID positive results. This is important because we are now considered out of outbreak status!”

That, in and of itself, is great news! And, due to that great news, he continues, “We will not have to test health care residents on a weekly basis. Also, this allows us in Health Care to re-open the dining rooms so the residents can eat outside of their rooms. We are planning on doing this next week. We will have each resident eat at their own table socially distanced from each other.”

Wonderful news for the health care residents and their staff!

He also wrote that “We are also starting to have small group activities in Health Care restart. In addition, we are also working with P.S. Salon to re-open the campus beauty salons. Finally, with the weather breaking, we are working resuming outdoor family visitations as soon as possible.” I can tell you that these things are all really great and, just as we had seen in August for the few weeks these were open, I expect morale and energy to pick up swiftly!

I can tell you that it is wonderful to see the residents’ spirits picking up due to these activities, in addition to the assisted living dining room having opened up last week.

Unfortunately, since nearly 40% of the staff refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, if even one staff member turns up positive with the virus, then these activities have to go away again (in accordance with Ohio Department of Health regulations). So, I’m hoping that our staff stay safe from the virus.

Art Videos?

If you had asked me before I started my current job as a chaplain at a senior living facility about making art videos, I would have found that to be strange. Yet, here I am, making art videos.

First Video
Of course, it started amidst the pandemic, as no programming could take place, due to the virus. I approached the building’s art specialist and she agreed to do a video with me on the artwork series in the administrative wing, about which I had been quite curious. So we made that video. Yes, we used my cell phone for the video and the lighting was atrocious, and the sound was not so great either.

Sukkah Art Video
The local JCC then had, as they have in years past, albeit smaller due to the pandemic, an art exhibit in their sukkah; however, since our seniors were unable to leave the building, our art specialist and I made a trip out there to bring the exhibit to them, as it were, resulting in this video. And, yet again, with no special lighting, no microphones, and just my phone camera, it turned out decently, yet it could be better.

Grant for Camera Equipment Boosts Production Quality
I then applied for a grant from a local committee to fund camera equipment, which yielded a mirrorless digital camera, microphones, a light, and a tripod. This provided a significant increase in production quality for our subsequent art videos.

Two Videos in the Building
We then shot two videos in the facility, one on a series of art on Jewish holidays, and one on our buildings contribution to the JCC’s artwork exhibits over the years. Both of these featured notably improved production quality due to the fulfilled grant. (If you do plan on watching the videos, I highly recommend watching them in 1080p60 quality.)

Two Videos out of the Building
We then made two further videos outside of the building, the first of which was of an art exhibit that was about to leave the Skirball Museum and the residents would have otherwise been entirely unable to catch any of it, so, just like the limited time engagement of the JCC sukkah art exhibit, we were granted exclusive access to the museum (since it was otherwise closed to the public due to the pandemic), resulting in this video. The other of which was of a series of murals that are part of the Holocaust & Humanity Center’s Cincy Upstander Project, which is available here. (Just as with the previous two videos, if you plan on watching them, I recommend watching them in 1080p60 quality.)

While we have some more lined-up that we plan to create, as we begin to open up, perhaps the need for such videos will decrease. Who knows?

Welcoming My New Boss

In my current position as a chaplain at a senior living facility, I have had the interesting situation of answering, as it were, to two separate bosses: one internal to the facility and one external to the facility. Internal to the facility, I am answerable to the building administrator. External to the facility, I was answerable for the first 4-5 months to the executive director of the Jewish Home of Cincinnati, until he took ill and was out of the picture (he sadly ended up passing away over a month ago), at which point, I began reporting directly to the lay leaders on the board of directors.

However, I was delighted to hear Monday evening that his successor had already begun her first day on the job. And just yesterday, according to a press release, “Jewish Home of Cincinnati, Inc. (JHC) has selected Nina Perlove to serve as its first executive director in their newly-transformed organization as a grant-funder.” Further according to the press release, “Perlove will lead the foundation and her number one priority is to ensure that the foundation’s mission – support greater Cincinnati Jewish seniors by investing in innovative services and programs – is fulfilled through robust and aligned partnerships with greater Cincinnati nonprofits who serve older Jewish adults.”

I am very much looking forward to meeting (whether in real-life or even via Zoom) my new boss, as I am excited to have this fresh surge of energy in our efforts.

The press release quotes her as articulating that she is “looking forward to partnering with many senior service providers to identify and invest in innovative programs that will allow Jewish seniors in our region to live connected, fulfilling lives with dignity, and to enrich the well-being of the elderly through this important mitzvah.”
Of additional interest included within the boiler plate area of the press release is a snippet regarding the “newly-transformed organization as a grant-funder”:

Innovative services, programs, and projects for Jewish seniors in the Cincinnati region will be considered for funding. Specifically, JHC will invest in COVID-19 relief, partnerships/collaborations, innovative start-ups, basic human and mental health needs, and safe delivery of services. Letters of inquiry and grant applications will be accepted twice a year and there will be a 12-month period between awards.

This should be an interesting and exciting new development in my work serving in my current capacity.

Getting Vaccinated Along with Most of the Staff

Most rabbis do not get to receive the opportunity to be amongst the first to receive a vaccination against COVID-19, yet, as a chaplain working at such a facility, I have the wonderful opportunity to receive this vaccination.

Receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 on Thursday

I was very excited on Thursday when I received the first dose of the vaccine, as it is an important first step to not only getting our facility opening up and protecting both my family and me, but also on a much broader scale of opening up society and getting things open again.

I was shocked and deeply disturbed to hear that so many staff have refused the vaccine.  In fact, when we first had sign-ups, less than 40% of the staff had agreed to receive the vaccine. I was deeply shocked that we ultimately had just a little bit over 60% of the staff getting vaccinated on Thursday. However, this is apparently better than the state average, as nearly 60% of staff at such facilities have refused the vaccine (42% of nursing home staff in Ohio have agreed to get vaccinated, according to the numbers shared with me in a letter published to our residents and families by our building administrator).

It is deeply concerning and worrying that so many people have refused to take this important first step in getting out of this pandemic. Clearly, we still have a long road ahead of us….