Jackie Herzlinger started her Jewish healing career in the Girl Scouts. That is where she learned the importance of community, embraced the concepts of inclusiveness and love of all of mankind, and found an environment in which non-materialistic values were nourished. Few Jewish women of her generation (Jackie grew up in the 1930s), or for that matter, of any American generation, joined the Girl Scouts, and even fewer rose up through the ranks to become professional Scout leaders and consultants. Thus Jackie's path to Jewish healing was an odd one from multiple perspectives: A Jewish Girl Scout leader is almost as much of an anomaly as a Jewish healer (as opposed to Jewish doctors, who are plentiful) has been throughout American Jewish history.
As an undergraduate at Smith College, Jackie prepared to go on to medical school. But the Korean War (her husband was sent overseas and they needed her to bring in an income) and the 'Leave It to Beaver' gender expectations of the 1950s got in the way. Rather than becoming a doctor she became a wife, a teacher, a mother of three and Girl Scout professional. She joined the local first aid squad.
Nearing fifty, Jackie went paramedic training and on to nursing school. She was a home care nurse, became certified in oncology, and then began working in hospice care dealing with dying patients of all religious backgrounds. It was during this time that several Catholic friends invited her to a meeting of parish nurses.
This is how Jackie recalls that meeting: "It hit me so hard that this concept is so Jewish, but Jews aren't doing it. Jews believe you are supposed to take care of your community. I saw that Jewish people were indeed taking care of their elders, but there was no community concept. My goal became to make parish nursing Jewish."
Following training in parish nursing at a Catholic university, Jackie approached rabbinical teachers to ask them for training in Jewish approaches to healing.
During the first years of this decade Jackie brought together three Jewish congregations (orthodox, reform, and conservative) in the town of Springfield, New Jersey. Each congregation chips in and a collaborative Jewish congregational nursing program has taken shape.
Jackie is equally adamant about two facts.
First, "Jewish parish nursing is the same as Catholic parish nursing. Congregational Nursing is Faith Community Nursing and is a recognized and licensed nursing specialty."
Second, "It is our religious obligation, commanded by the Torah, that we be concerned with the health of our people. The body is the container of the soul, and we have a responsibility to take care of the body."
Reconciling these statements, Jackie explains, "The goal of nursing is to help people live with whatever they have. That is not different from what rabbis say."
Much of what Jackie offers community members falls under the general rubric of medical logistics: keeping track of their medications, monitoring for side-effects of multiple medications, acting as an intermediary with physicians and pharmacists, working out exercise and dietary plans. What distinguishes Faith Community Nursing from other nursing specialties is the level of trust that develops at the community level. Synagogue members see Jackie and the nurses who work with her at the delicatessen and the synagogue. They know that she understands their lives. In this way the parish nursing model is the opposite of the recent practice of giving flu shots to the elderly at supermarkets. For faith based nurses, the "patient" is the whole family - the entire circle of people whose lives are enmeshed with that of the patient. "Congregational Nursing is about the ongoing transformation of the faith community into a source of heath and healing for all its members."
Jackie offers to pray with the people she visits, but she is clear about what she prays for: "I don't pray for cure, I pray for strength to deal with what is and healing - emotional wholeness, help with difficult situations. The job of the nurse is to help people function with the health they have. The focus is on healing and caring, not curing."