One Visit at a Time

How One Rabbi Helps Patients Face Terminal Disease

By Roxy Kirshenbaum

Published May 21, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Rabbi Charles Rudansky brings Irving Silver a challah each time he visits. It’s their tradition: Rudansky carries the bread, wrapped in plastic, under his arm as he gets into his red Corolla. Before driving to Silver’s apartment in Manhattan, he lifts the lid of his soup-to-go cup and digs in. The smell of squash fills the car. Lunch.

As Director of Jewish Services at Metropolitan Jewish Hospice in New York City, Rudansky ensures that the hospice provides the best end-of-life care for patients with terminal diseases. As a hospice chaplain, he works with patients and their families to ease psychological and physiological suffering. “Sometimes patients need something to hold on to,” he said.

Click to see the rest of the section, Click for more stories about Aging.

After finishing his soup, Rudansky drives to Silver’s apartment in the East Village, parks on the street and flips through a booklet of patients’ names, addresses and medical conditions. Silver, who is 89, has lung cancer, and he lost his actor son Ron Silver to esophageal cancer in 2009. He has lived in the same neighborhood for 87 years — and in the same apartment for 51 of those. Silver’s wife died unexpectedly two years ago from a stroke. He often tells the rabbi he’s ready to go.

“What am I still doing here?” Silver asked during a recent visit.

Questions like this one help the rabbi to remember that his job is life-affirming. “Yes, people are dying, but we’re trying to bring comfort and ease and positive energy,” he said.

Before visiting patients in their homes, Rudansky visited prisons for over 20 years, counseling and praying with Jewish inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility and Downstate Correctional Facility, both in New York. But the state cared little about rehabilitation, he says, and considered chaplains thorns in its side. Simply gaining access to prisoners came with obstacles. Once, when Rudansky met an inmate in solitary confinement, the man stuck his arm through the bars to shake the rabbi’s hand. Rudansky later received a call from his supervisor claiming he had handed the inmate something. The inmate’s cell was ransacked, but prison officials found nothing.

“He just wanted human touch,” Rudansky said. “After that, I thought, I wanted to do this work but I’d like to stay out of jail.”

He left prison chaplaincy and found his professional and spiritual home in hospice care. “I’ve called him about difficult patients and families because he goes above and beyond to meet their needs,” said Joan Sheehan, 69, a nurse who’s worked with Rudansky for more than a decade. “It’s not always religious; he just touches people’s lives.”

At Silver’s apartment, Rudansky waited in the living room while Silver’s home-care aide explained that it would take a minute for the elderly man to greet him. Clutching his aide’s arm for support, Silver appeared, trembling. He wore black sweatpants and a black t-shirt with a picture of brilliant yellow, green and red frenzied dancers that seemed to barrel across his chest.

“I’m losing my trousers,” he said to Rudansky. “How’s that for an introduction?”

Silver’s aide, a young man in baggy jeans and braids, helped him into a leather chair. Silver stretched his leg out on the ottoman and said he’d been having extreme pain. “He fell about two days ago,” the aide explained. “He was walking to the kitchen and tripped in the hallway.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.