Saturday, February 21, 2009

Palliative Care Leadership Conference at Wurzweiler

On December 5, 2008, Wurzweiler convened a half-day conference on “Social Work in Hospice and Palliative Care: The Emerging Landscape.” One hundred fifty social work practitioners and students joined us for the first New York-region conference dedicated to the growing roles of social workers in palliative care.

Coordinated by Gary Stein, JD, MSW, Associate Professor at Wurzweiler, and Grace Christ, DSW, Professor at Columbia School of Social Work, the program examined this newly developing practice arena for social workers. Panels explored the state-of-the art in practice, highlighted by observations from Frances Heller, MSW and WSSW alumnus, a member of New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center’s palliative care team. Other speakers explored policy developments, such as the new palliative care credential, a joint project of NASW and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; and the recent federal regulations for hospice social work. Researchers focused on innovative findings – challenges faced by family decision-makers and their needs for professional support, cross-cultural concerns, and experiences of caregivers in families with histories of physical or sexual abuse.

The program showcased the new Social Work in Hospice and Palliative Care Network (, a national professional association seeking to advance a social work agenda for palliative care that is led by the conference coordinators. SWHPN is sponsoring a one-day program on March 25, 2009 at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s annual conference in Austin, Texas. Building on the themes from the Wurzweiler meeting, the Austin program will include panels promoting social work leadership, ethical practices, evidence-based approaches, and family conferencing skills. More information on this program can be found at

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

4 WSSW Students Attend Graduate Seminar in Israel

Four Wurzweiler MSW/Jewish Communal Service students joined six other graduate students from Columbia University and NYU on an intensive ten-day seminar to Israel this January. The students were offered a unique study program to learn first-hand about Israel’s social services system and the challenges Israel faces in delivering an array of services to its most vulnerable and embattled populations. The seminar, coordinated by Lyn Light Geller of UJA-Federation and Professor Saul Andron, also delved into the changing roles of the voluntary and government sectors in Israel, evolving models of relationships between Israel and Diaspora communities and the implications of declining Diaspora philanthropy to meet human needs of the Israeli population.

The seminar fell right in the midst of the Gaza War taking place in the south of Israel. Though Jerusalem was quiet, and the group was relatively far from the front, the students met with representatives of key agencies responding to the emergency needs facing the civilian population in the battle zone. Special sessions were arranged with senior professionals of the Israel Trauma Coalition, a coordinating agency launched by the UJA-Federation of New York, which was actively engaged in mobilizing professional and volunteer assistance to the civilian population in the south. Other organizations, such as Yididim, an organization for immigrant at risk children, with service centers in the south, had implemented innovative and creative strategies to continue service to their various client groups. The group also had the privilege to go to the Avi Chai Foundation facility in Jerusalem where a special day of fun activities and a concert with some of Israel’s top music stars, was organized for residents from the south. These children, parents and teachers were bussed to Jerusalem for one precious day to get away from the constant shell fire, the sheer terror and fear of being in a war zone to relax and enjoy, to smile, and to know they were not forsaken.

Seminar participants agreed that this was a particularly poignant and emotional time for them which brought home the horrors of war and constant conflict. Maureen Melcer, Wurzweiler PEP student, remarked that "the unique experiences this trip offered gave me a new appreciation for Israel. Being in Israel during a time of great political unrest and seeing first hand the ways in which this young country mobilizes itself to take care of its people during a crisis is truly inspiring. I walked away from the trip with new friends, colleagues, and a renewed sense of pride for my work in the Jewish community."

During the seminar the students visited many social service and advocacy agencies, interacted with an array of clients, non-profit agency professionals and academic experts, and tackled a plethora of issues and topics facing the not-for-profit sector in Israel today. Site visits to the Jerusalem Battered Women’s Shelter, Jaffa Institute for underprivileged children, Amcha, a support center for Holocaust survivors, numerous programs for youth at risk, and absorption programs targeting young and adult Ethiopian immigrants, helped to enlighten the students about service strategies to meet needs of specific target groups. Seminar sessions, both formal presentations and site visits, exposed the students to the distinct and sometimes overlapping roles and services of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC Israel) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the two funding partner agencies in Israel of North American Jewish federations.

Sessions with knowledgeable and veteran non-profit sector and Jewish community experts were particularly illuminating. These included meetings with Dr. Jack Habib, director of the JDC Myers Brookdale Institute; Dr. Hillel Schmid, director of the Hebrew University Center for the Study of Philanthropy in Israel; Avraham Infeld, former Executive Director of the Chase Family Foundation in Israel and seasoned Jewish/Zionist educator; and Ralph Goldman, outstanding long-time member of the American and International Jewish community and honorary Executive Vice-President of JDC. Their dynamic presentations created a picture of the evolving not-for-profit sector in Israel, the changing dynamics of American and Israeli-based philanthropy, the growing privatization of human services delivery in Israel and the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for Jewish communal professionals.

The seminar to Israel stimulated many questions among participants and challenged them to grapple with issues concerning the connection between Diaspora Jews and Israel, the new challenges of Jewish peoplehood and the changing roles of Jewish communal professionals in relation to Israel. The experience provided insight and guidance into the workings of the Jewish communal field, and especially to social work practice, and how to implement such a knowledge base into our own future work. Matt Dunn, Wurzweiler Concurrent student, remarked that “as a result of the mission, I have a more well rounded knowledge base regarding the social issues within Israeli society. Learning and interacting with other students in Israel is an experience that every student should have.”

Thanks to Jeana Beneson, WSSW student, for authoring this web post.