Rabbi Ron Isaacs has been bringing the joy of music to the “bedside” at the Wilf Campus for Senior Living for over five years. Since joining Stein Hospice in 2015 for their Chords of Comfort program, he has touched the lives of many residents and patients throughout the community, and experienced the power of music in return.
Rabbi Isaacs has been a musician since childhood. Having served at the Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, NJ for over 40 years, he has shared his talents with hundreds of congregates. During this time, he began volunteering at nursing homes and singing to residents, where he developed a love for music therapy. “I find pleasure in watching them smile, moving their hands, singing along, telling me that they enjoy the music,” said Rabbi Isaacs.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has continued his “bedside” music sessions with Stein Hospice, virtually through video-calling. Though at first there was lack of certainty on how this would affect his sessions, Rabbi Isaacs found that this new era of virtual programming has extended his reach even further than before. “I will continue to use virtual music in work even when we are fully allowed back inside places. It can make things easier for everyone and allows family members who may be far away to join in on sessions when they couldn’t before,” Rabbi Isaacs shared. The use of video calling has also found its way into his synagogue work, where he leads virtual services at Beth Judah Temple in Wildwood, NJ.
While it may sound simple enough, there is an interesting process of preparation that Rabbi Isaacs goes through when preparing for his music sessions. Before meeting with a patient or resident, he tries to learn about what type of music each person likes, or something about their background. Whether this information comes from a Stein Hospice nurse, a family member, or through an introductory conversation with the person who he’ll be singing to, Rabbi Isaacs goes the extra mile to make the experience personal and enjoyable.
“I’ll try to learn a song in the person’s native language or sing a song that relates to their faith. Sometimes, the resident will even teach me a song. It’s amazing to see especially for those dealing with memory-related conditions. They might not remember what they had for breakfast that day, but they’ll remember every verse of ‘You Are My Sunshine.'”
Through the Chords of Comfort program, the majority of patients that Rabbi Isaacs works with are terminally ill. Thus, there are times where he is called on when someone is near the end of life. These moments have been extremely powerful for all involved. However, there are many patients who have been long-time listeners of Rabbi Isaac’s music, and request time with him weekly. After learning and hearing more about the popularity and healing capacity of the Chords of Comfort Program, Stein Hospice has extended this program to all residents of Stein Assisted Living who request it, so that they too may reap the benefits during these trying times. Recreation staff at Stein Assisted Living has been instrumental in scheduling and preparing these sessions with residents.
Rabbi Ron Isaacs has found such enjoyment during his time with the Chords of Comfort Program that he wrote a book about his experiences. Released in August of 2020 and currently available for purchase, Chords of Comfort: Unlocking Life’s Lessons of Healing through Music chronicles 20 powerful experiences with 20 different people in five years, who taught him something about healing through music.
The Wilf Campus for Senior Living and Stein Hospice are proud to host this program that has spread joy and healing for many. To learn more about Stein Hospice and its offerings, please visit www.wilfcampus.org/hospice or call 732-227-1212.