Interviewing Harold Koch involved numerous interruptions. He knew nearly everyone passing by our table in the Jewish Community Center lobby. He grew up in Kansas City and says he can find a connection to pretty much anyone here.
Harold K. has a Ph.D. in psychology. He worked for six years at KU Medical Center as a staff psychologist in Family and Child psychiatry. He was a teacher at Penn Valley Community College, and UMKC. He had a private practice as a psychologist on the KC Plaza for 40 years; but, says he most enjoys working with older adults. He can remember making hospital visits as a child with his mother.
Harold has been a Spiritual Care Volunteer for Jewish Family Services Chaplaincy Program for over six years. He visits residents and staff of Village Shalom and patients and families at St. Luke’s South Hospital.
“At an elder care center you build a rapport with patients that you see on a regular basis. Once you get to know a person by visiting them weekly, it is difficult when someone is dying,” says Harold. “When visiting a hospital, you may only see a patient once during a brief stay.
We have a ‘Circle of Healing’ booklet we share with patients and their families. Often the Spiritual Care Volunteers will open it up and sing the ‘Shema’ or ‘Mi Sheberakh,’ sometimes with family, sometimes just with the patient. Hearing these familiar tunes often elicits a response.”
When Harold is not doing his visits, he’s taking classes, attending events, and leads Friday evening services at The Atriums. Harold is actively involved with Kehilath Israel Synagogue.
Harold feels it’s important to show the patients he visits that they’re not alone. “No one should feel alone.”
Harold Schlozman (left) worked as a pharmacist for many years and retired from the VA Medical Center. Herb Simon (right) ran a retail pharmacy and was not happy with the lack of customers. When Herb saw a bus from an elder care center pull up to the neighboring grocery store, he decided to go out and ask them if they’d like their prescriptions delivered to them that week. That was the start of Herb winning many awards for increasing sales at his store. They both grew up in Kansas City and are long-time members of Congregation Beth Shalom. They each have two sons. They are both retired pharmacists and met while in the Army Reserves during Vietnam working with prisoners at Leavenworth.
They have both been Spiritual Care Volunteers for Jewish Family Services Chaplaincy Program for over five years. They like to do their visits together. Their schedule is very full… Monday is family day, Tuesday is an open day right now, and Wednesday is when they make their visits. They alternate each week going to Delmar Gardens of Lenexa and The Atriums. Thursday’s they take a class, “Hot Topics,” at the Jewish Community Center and Friday they often attend an exclusive men’s lunch, ROMEO’s (Retired Old Men Eating Out), where they dine and connect at different restaurants in the area.
When they make their Spiritual Care visits, people often ask, “What are you getting out of this?” People can’t believe they’re making visits without receiving a benefit themselves. When Herb and Harold describe the benefits they do receive, it’s always about the people.
They recall visiting one lady for the first time. When they asked, “What can we do for you?” She answered, “I’d like a deck of cards, a salami sandwich and…” They got a big laugh out of that. There’s one person they visit who had a stroke when she was 40. She was not in a good place and became estranged from her family. They saw her slowly transform. Now that she’s learned to say some words, it makes their day to hear her say, “Hello” with a smile. Another patient, they discovered, was a Holocaust survivor who’d written a book about his life. He was having memory issues, but reading his story helped them to better understand him during their visits. They relayed many other stories. The people they visit become family; and per Herb, “like family, it’s just nice knowing that you can add a little joy to someone’s day.”
What all of the JFS Spiritual Care volunteers have in common can be summed up by the Yiddish word, mensch, which means, ‘a person of strength, integrity, compassion and honor.’ According to Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, Jewish Community Chaplain at JFS, “Our SCV’s (engaged regularly in mitzva of visiting the sick/in need, Bikkur hokum) are the vanguard of community support for so many Jews in our community who are being cared for by some part(s) of the KC healthcare community. Our sincere thanks go to each and every one of these dedicated volunteers. Thanks to their commitment, we are able to cover hospitals and eldercare centers with a breadth and depth that would otherwise not be possible.”