At Central Synagogue

Caring Conversations at the End of Life

Posted June 6, 2016

<b>Caring Conversations at the End of Life</b>

By Howard F. Sharfstein

What does it mean to be a Jewish community? I believe that at Central Synagogue, it means that each and every one of us is here for the other, being supportive at all times in our life’s journey. This includes end of life, too.

Recently, the topic of end of life planning has been brought to the forefront, perhaps crystallized in Atul Gawande’s powerful book Being Mortal. Gawande discusses the importance of considering and making decisions as to how one wants to live while in the process of dying, and how one wants to die. He focuses on the critical need to then share these thoughts with our loved ones, to provide clarity and to alleviate the burdens placed on families during times of crises.

Our community, Central Synagogue, has started a program called What Matters – Caring Conversations about the End of Life, led by Rabbi Marion Lev-Cohen. A number or our members have been trained under the auspices of the Gunderson Foundation to facilitate conversations on these important matters and to memorialize an individual’s wishes in a document called a Health Care Proxy. Each conversation helps members name a person as their Health Care Proxy to carry out their wishes, and then determine the best way to share their wishes with their Proxy. Even if a member currently has a Health Care Proxy in place, these conversations have served as a unique opportunity to have in-depth discussions with their loved ones about their wishes around death and dying.

Almost 50 congregants have participated in this program, and to a person, they say the conversations are enlightening and meaningful. Each participant has found great solace and equanimity in having made decisions about end of life care, putting them in writing, and making certain that those who should know are properly informed.

Members who have experienced these conversations express their gratitude for bringing clarity to these important matters, helping them focus on what they truly want. Supporting members as they communicate with their Proxy and other family members is seen as a gift to all.

We hope that all our members will avail themselves of this opportunity. These matters affect all of us, regardless of age. For more information or to participate, please contact Director of Member Services Caren Keller at 212-858-5122 x 2003 or via email at

Howard F. Sharfstein and his family have been active members of Central Synagogue for more than 30 years. He served as President of Board of Trustees at Central Synagogue and continues as a member of the Board.