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Life

Everyday Heroes: When no one knows what to say, she’s finding the right words

The Forward asked readers to tell us about the “everyday heroes” in their lives, people extraordinary things in this extraordinary time. If you know someone acting heroically right now, let us know — we’ll be adding to the collection in the coming days.

Name: Rabbi Kara Tav, Manager of Spiritual Care Services, NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn

What she’s doing: An experienced hospital chaplain, Rabbi Tav is no stranger to counseling patients from behind a mask or having tough conversations about end-of-life care. But the particular cruelties of coronavirus have brought new responsibilities for medical clergy: In crowded hospitals where visitors are banned, they may be the only link between patients and loved ones, and the only people able to stay with patients during their final hours. On Facebook, Rabbi Tav has chronicled the crushing solitude in which many coronavirus victims die and the efforts of chaplains to “ensuring every person’s dignity when they’re most vulnerable,” said Rabbi Sarah Friedson, Tav’s former chevruta, or study partner, at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

What she says: Each morning, Tav wrote on Facebook, she makes condolence calls to the families of those who died overnight, before updating relatives of patients still struggling in the hospital. One woman begged Tav to daven, or pray, for her husband, from whom she’d never spent a night apart in 30 years of marriage. On the same day, Tav advised an 18-year-old on explaining her father’s death to her four-year-old sister. She told her to “keep it concrete,” explaining honestly that their father’s “heart doesn’t pump anymore, his eyes don’t see.”

Friedson said that Tav’s forthright personality equipped her well for this kind of work, to which she’d been drawn since her first years of seminary. “She can be blunt, she doesn’t sugarcoat things but she has the kindest heart,” Freidson said. “She’s one of the most real people I’ve met.”

Inspired? Read about more everyday heroes here.

Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

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