The Path to Healing in the Face of Bereavement

March 13 – June 12, 2023

2023 National Bikur Cholim Conference:
The Path to Healing in the Face of Bereavement

Now that the pandemic is receding we have to grapple with all of the losses suffered over the past three years.  How do we deal with the losses of lives, relationships, opportunities, and other losses.  What are our own expectations for healing?  How can we be most present and supportive of those who are bereaved?  And what should our expectations be on the path to healing?
This program will bring together some of the leading experts in the area of bereavement, Rabbis, Chaplains and Social Workers who regularly grapple with these issues.

We thank everyone for their heartfelt participation!

Session Descriptions

Speaker Bios

Sponsored by Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains, Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, Jewish Association for Death Education (JADE), Kavod v’Nichum, and Shomer Collective

Conference Program, Online, on Select Mondays (except May 30) March 13 – June 12, 2023 
8:00pm-9:30pm EDT   •   5:00pm-6:30pm PDT

For volunteers, social workers, chaplains and professionals who work
in the field of bikur cholim (visiting the sick) and the general public
$72 for the full conference program for 7 sessions; $36 for 3 sessions; $18 for a single session
— scholarships widely available —
All sessions will be recorded

Program Questions: Contact David Balto at or 202-577-5424
Sponsorship and Registration Questions: Contact

Conference Program

Session Date Session Overview
1 March 13

Dr. Pauline Boss, Professor, University of Minnesota

“False expectations: Ambiguous Loss and the Myth of Closure and Finding the Compassionate Path to Healing”
2 March 27

Rabbi Richard Address, Founder & Director, Jewish Sacred Aging
Rabbi Edythe Mencher, 
Psychotherapist & Consultant in Private Practice, Clinical Social Worker, former Director of the URJ’s Disability Inclusion Initiative


A Discussion of a New Theology of Loss

3 April 3

Rabbi Nadya Gross, CFO, Yerusha, CFO, General Circle, Co-Rabbi, Cong. Pardes Levavotand

Zoe Francesca Goldblatt, Therapeutic Coach for Dementia, End of Life, Relationships & Intimacy Over 50, Board Member, AriYael Jewish Healing Center 

Both are End of Life Doulas

“The Path of the End of Life Doula and How that Guides Providing Comfort to the Bereaved”

4 April 24

Rabbi Judy Beiner, Community Chaplain at Jewish Family and Career Service of Atlanta, GA

Rabbi Shira Stern, Board-Certified Chaplain and Past-President of the Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains

Rabbi Miriam Herscher, Board-Certified Chaplain and a social worker

“Companioning the Bereaved:  Lessons from Bereavement Groups”

5 May 22

Rabbi Melanie Levav, Shomer Collective

“Meaning Making & Loss: Can We Really Turn Mourning Into Dancing?” (Psalm 30)

6 May 30

Rabbinic Pastor Chaya Lerner

“Bereavement in the Face of Disaster, Lessons from Surfside One Year Later”

7 June 5

Dr. Norman Blumenthal, Ohel

“The Long Journey to Recovery:  Covid and Bereavement”

Conference Session Descriptions

March 13, 2023

False expectations:  Ambiguous Loss and the Myth of Closure and Finding the Compassionate Path to Healing”
Dr. Pauline Boss

Dr. Boss, professor at the University of Minnesota, created the field of ambiguous loss and authored  THE MYTH OF CLOSURE: AMBIGUOUS LOSS IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC AND CHANGE, which was featured in The New York Times Magazine. W.W. Norton.

March 27, 2023

A Discussion on a Theology of Loss
Rabbi Richard Address, Founder & Director, Jewish Sacred Aging

Rabbi Edythe Mencher, Psychotherapist & Consultant in Private Practice

In this discussion we hope to examine aspects of loss. Can loss be positive as well as negative?
Is the key how we choose to respond? Is there a deeper meaning behind loss? What of the natural losses we often must deal with as we age? Is there meaning in them? Can there be a deeper spiritual lesson in the losses we encounter?

April 3, 2023

The Path of the Death Doula and How that Guides Providing Comfort to the Bereaved
Rabbi Nadya Gross and Zoe Francesca Goldblatt

End Of Life Doulas are a growing group of grassroots professionals in the End of Life field, bringing to the end of life what Birth Doulas bring to its beginnings. With a range of emotional and spiritual skill sets as well as practical, hands-on support, End of Life Doulas help to normalize death as part of life. We educate families on the dying and grief processes and help maintain an atmosphere in the dying space that is conducive to a peaceful and good death. Doulas’ perspective on grief and loss is unique, in that they practice death acceptance, and Jewish Doulas are now forming a national alliance to support Jewish families with a Jewish lens on grief, loss and death.

Zoe and Nadya will share stories of their personal experiences with families where a loved one is dying, illustrating how the support of an End of Life Doula assists with anticipatory grief and the grief following a loss. They will teach people who practice the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim about ways to enhance their practice coming from a death-positive perspective in which death is not a subject to be feared or avoided. An important benefit of this approach is helping to empower the patient and their loved ones to have agency to ask for information that will help them know all their options and make informed choices that will result in an optimal healing path on the soul level.

April 24, 2023

Companioning the Bereaved: Lessons from Bereavement Groups
Rabbi Judy Beiner
Rabbi Shira Stern
Rabbi Miriam Herscher

How can we best become a caring, present supportive companion for those struggling with grief? Learn the lessons from facilitators of bereavement groups about how to be completely present and supportive.

DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION DOCS: You many download the following helpful documents offered by these rabbis that accompanied their presentations by clicking on their titles.

Rabbi Judy Beiner – BikkurCholimConfPresentation_April 24 (Word)
Rabbi Judy Beiner – Questions to consider for Bereavement Groups (Word)
Rabbi Shira Stern – Bereavement Groups PP (Powerpoint)
Rabbi Miriam Herscher – BereavementPresentation (Word)

May 22, 2023

Meaning Making & Loss: Can We Really Turn Mourning Into Dancing? (Psalm 30)
Rabbi Melanie Levav

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “Life’s ultimate meaning remains obscure unless it is reflected upon in the face of death.”  Bikur Cholim members provide sacred service to those facing matters of life and death regularly. How might Jewish wisdom help us weather the waves of grief following loss? Bring your own wisdom and experience to an interactive text study and conversation focused on the ways we can gain greater meaning in our lives from our proximity to death.

May 30, 2023

Bereavement in the Face of Disaster, Lessons from Surfside Two Years Later
Rabbinic Pastor Chaya Lerner

In June 2021 the Champlain Towers in Miami fell, taking the lives of 98 people and injuring many others. There was a tremendous effort by the Jewish community to provide comfort to the families involved. Reb Chaya Lerner, a social worker and a Rabbinic Pastor who spent weeks providing care will describe how the community dealt with the tragic losses and the tremendous grief and the lessons for community support when there are tragic losses.

June 5, 2023

The Long Journey to Recovery:  Covid and Bereavement
Dr. Norman Blumenthal

There are many ceremonies, commemorations and practices associated with the death of a loved one. Keeping a bedside vigil, having the opportunity to say goodbye, holding a funeral, experiencing mourning rituals and receiving support from family and friends are integral to the coping and comfort of the bereaved. When those practices and rituals are aborted, as they were during the pandemic, the mourning process could be compromised or challenging. In the following workshop, we will explore the purpose of these commemorative events and how a limited implementation, experienced in the backdrop of the crisis of the pandemic, can effectuate long term consequences in the grieving process.

Speaker Biographies

Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min.

Rabbi Richard F. Address is Founder and Director of Jewish Sacred Aging® the web site and the host of the weekly Jewish Sacred Aging® pod cast Seekers of Meaning.   Prior to leaving the URJ he served as Specialist for Caring Community and Family Concerns. In this capacity he consulted and advised synagogues of the Reform movement in creating congregations that are “caring communities” that sought to have as their foundation a “theology of sacred relationships.” Rabbi Address’s work is involved in several major programmatic areas. They include such issues as: the changing faces of the contemporary Jewish family;  challenges to our congregations relating to older adults and the aging of the baby boom generation, their spiritual aging and the challenges of intergenerational care-giving; concerns over self-destructive behaviors, resiliency and the pressures on our youth; issues of inclusiveness and openness for people with disabilities and the impact of emerging medical technology on the choices that confront today’s Reform Jews.

Rabbi Judith Beiner

Rabbi Judith Beiner currently serves as the Community Chaplain at Jewish Family and Career Service of Atlanta, GA. Ordained at the Hebrew Union College in 1993 she has loved being a pastor and teacher for 25 years. Her rabbinate has taken her across the country, serving congregations in Colorado, Kansas and Georgia. She has taught in both formal and informal educational settings for both youth and adults. As a chaplain, Rabbi Beiner provides those encountering illness or crisis support and comfort. She is particularly gratified by the trust placed in her by congregants, patients, colleagues, volunteers and students. In every community where she has lived, Rabbi Beiner has been an active member of the local Rabbinic Association, and a supporter and participant in activities of the Jewish community.

Dr. Norman Blumenthal

Dr. Norman Blumenthal is a licensed clinical psychologist who serves as the Director of Trauma Services for Ohel’s Zachter Family National Trauma Center and Adjunct Professor at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology both of Yeshiva University. In private practice in Cedarhurst, New York, Dr. Blumenthal is also a Dayan/Arbitrator for the Beth Din of American, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Education for CAHAL and a past Vice President of NEFESH.

Rabbi Nadya Gross

An early loss inspired Rabbi Nadya’s deep dive into the meaning of death and an acceptance of her own mortality. Seeking to support others forced to confront their mortality, she facilitated a spiritual support group for people with catastrophic and chronic illness, and was regularly called to support those in final stages of life. Having been a Birth Doula, and recognizing the dying process as the bookend to birth, she developed one of the first training programs for End of Life Doulas in 2004. Later, she and her husband were inspired to contribute to the work of spiritual eldering, founded by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and carried forward by Rabbi Shaya Isenberg and Bahira Sugarman. They developed workshops and trainings focused on confronting one’s mortality, making informed end of life choices, and learning how to have those difficult conversations with family and friends before it’s too late. Today the Sage-ing® Legacy Program is part of their organization, Yerusha, and it continues to inspire elders and professionals in the art of life completion. Nadya also serves on the faculty of the Anamcara Project of the Sacred Art of Living Center. She has been a student and teacher of Jewish mysticism and spiritual practice for four decades, and a believer in all things magical for her entire life.

Zoë Francesca Goldblatt, MFA

Zoë began her career in End of Life as a hospice volunteer and for over 10 years has specialized in working with people experiencing memory loss, and their caregivers, at Z*O*E Activity Therapies. She uses music and art to help connect her clients to their own truths about life and death. Zoë trained with INELDA (International End of Life Doula Association), and co-founded the East Bay End Of Life Doula Network in 2018. In addition, she offers grief counseling and is a Board Member of the AriYael Jewish Healing Center. She is supportive of Palliative Care, Hospice Care and Medical Aid in Dying/Death with Dignity. Zoë has trained in Relationship & Intimacy coaching to address another, often hidden dimension of grief and loss: challenges with intimacy and attachment.

Rabbi Miriam Herscher

Rabbi Miriam Herscher is not only a Rabbi, but also a Board-Certified Chaplain and a social worker.  She works for the Jewish Board focusing on bereavement and mental health support.  She has a social work master’s degree from Columbia University and worked as a social worker for 13 years. After which, she worked at Citigroup for 28 years in a variety of positions, ending as a VP Project manager for technology initiatives. She works in partnership with the Jewish Community Center and do Holiday bereavement programs for Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Chanukah. She does bereavement groups and spousal loss groups, as well as an “Over 80” support group. She also does mental health programming for synagogues, and special programming, as requested. She is part of a community initiative to reduce the stigma of mental health issues.

Rabbinic Pastor Chaya Lerner

Chaya Lerner received smicha from ALEPH Ordination Program in Jan 2021. She is the co-president of the Rabbinic Pastor Association. She has a License in Social Work. She has worked with Older adults particularly elderly Holocaust survivors. She has a private practice and also works with Jewish Community Services. She was has been helping the families and survivors of the Surfside Champlain Towers. 

Rabbi Melanie Levav

Rabbi Melanie Levav is the Executive Director of the Shomer Collective. The mission of Shomer Collective is to improve end-of-life experiences for individuals and their families— inspired by Jewish wisdom, values, and practices—by curating content and resources and building a diverse network of organizational partners. Shomer Collective brings together the existing and emerging initiatives within and adjacent to Jewish communities, and it applies Jewish wisdom to the question of how we want to live as we all approach the end of life.

Previously, Melanie served as Director of PJ Library in New York, a Jewish family literacy and engagement program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Melanie has also served as the Assistant Executive Director, Financial Resource Development, and Director of Pastoral Care at the Edith and Carl Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, a JCC serving the Russian-speaking Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. She has held positions at JCC Association, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and UJA-Federation of New York, in the areas of Jewish education, volunteer management, and fundraising. Melanie was ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary as a Wexner Graduate Fellow, is board certified as a chaplain through Neshama: The National Association of Jewish Chaplains, and is a licensed social worker.

Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher LCSW

Rabbi Mencher currently works as a psychotherapist in private practice. She also consults, writes and speaks on disability rights and inclusion, living with serious illness, mental health and resilience, bereavement, aging and helping adults and children to navigate difficult personal and communal events, drawing upon Jewish and secular sources. She is the co-author of Resilience of the Soul: Developing Emotional and Spiritual Resilience in Adolescents and Their Families and co-developer of the Union for Reform Judaism-Ruderman Foundation Online Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center. She has served at the Union for Reform Judaism as Faculty for Sacred Caring Community, as Director of the URJ Initiative on Disabilities Inclusion and as Associate Director of the Department of Jewish Family Concerns.

Rabbi Mencher is a graduate of and has served on the Faculty at the Westchester Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. Ordained by Hebrew Union College, she has also been a member of the faculty of the Interfaith Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Care Program, where she led seminars on grief and bereavement. She has served as a congregational rabbi at Temple Israel in Westport, CT, as a rabbinic intern at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in NYC and at Congregation Kol Ami in Westchester, NY. She received her Master of Social Work Degree from Hunter College School of Social Work and, before becoming a rabbi, practiced in a variety of social work settings including outpatient and residential treatment at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services and as Lecturer in Psychiatry as well as Social Work Coordinator for the Long Term Division at the Westchester Division of the New York Hospital Department of Psychiatry. Rabbi Mencher maintains residences and practices in both Maryland and New York.

Rabbi Shira Stern

Rabbi Shira Stern was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in 1983 and earned her Doctor of Ministry from HUC-JIR in 2004. She led a congregation in Monroe Township for 13 years. She was the Director of  Community Chaplaincy of Middlesex County, NJ, and was the Director of the Jewish Institute for Pastoral Care, part of the HealthCare Chaplaincy, providing programs for rabbinic and cantorial students, chaplains and clergy in the field. She was trained by the American Red Cross (ARC) to serve on the SAIR team (Spiritual Air Incident Response Team) 2001-present and worked for four months at the Liberty State Park Family Assistance Center in the aftermath of 9/11, the Boston Marathon explosion, Super Storm Sandy, West Virginia, Texas and North Carolina floods as well as local deployments. Rabbi Stern is a Board-Certified Chaplain and is a Past-President of the Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains. She has been both a hospital and hospice chaplain, and has taught on a college and post doctoral level.

Visiting the Sick
Prague ca 1772, Oil on Canvas

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