Haverut: The Healing Arts
Music has healed at least since David the shepherd helped King Saul. It was “when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took the harp and played with his hand; so Saul found relief, and it was well with him” (Samuel 16:23). Painting and sculpting, like music, are valued therapies in modern hospitals worldwide.
What is different about Haverut, a program started at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, is that it not only uses the arts to distract or manage patients but also to help them create a new formula for living. Haverut helps develop a mindset of “I am a healthy person, who has cancer” or “My body is failing, but my soul is strong and well.”
“We use the arts to nurture the spirit,” says Jerusalem-born family therapist Rachel Ettun. Ettun is the powerhouse behind Haverut (Hebrew for friendship) and one of its four certified spiritual caregivers or chaplains as well as a certified supervisor in spiritual care. A relatively new secular pastoral profession, spiritual caregiving falls under the auspices of The Spiritual Care Association, supported by UJA Federation of New York. Haverut helps sick people “look at how they understand their illness, their life and God,” Ettun says.
Haverut trains volunteers to engage with patients, under the direction of medical staff and spiritual caregivers. The program is highly flexible. Spiritual caregivers and volunteers take their cues from patients and use whatever tools they think will work—prayer, art, music, a listening ear—to cross boundaries, touch spirit and soul and reach people in their time of need.
Among the volunteers are 14 students from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design who spend several hours each week with patients and their families, painting, sculpting and encouraging creativity. Ettun and her team prepare art students with communication tools and meet with them in monthly study groups. Otherwise, the students are on their own for the sessions that take place in all parts of Hadassah’s Mount Scopus campus.
“It’s a privilege meeting patients with this creative manner,” says Bezalel student Shadi Majlton.
“To see an elderly man who at first refuses to participate and then slowly comes over and starts to paint, work with clay and share stories,” adds Bezalel graduate Udi Asulin, “fills your heart with this amazing sense that we are making a difference.”
Avshalom Eshel and Navot Ben Barak play music in the cardiology and internal medicine departments on Tuesdays, and in oncology on Thursdays. “Where there aren’t words, there’s music,” says Eshel, who performs on the flute.
Last year, the duo held a musical Kabbalat Shabbat in the main lobby at Hadassah’s Ein Kerem hospital. Dozens of patients, visitors and staff gathered to listen to Arab, Jewish and secular music.
“We don’t just say hello and sing a song,” says Ben Barak, who plays the guitar. “We try to adjust ourselves to the needs of each patient, find the chords that will touch them. It’s a kind of musical chaplaincy.”
Volunteers from the local Ramot Zion Congregation, along with a Haverut spiritual caregiver, converge on the Mount Scopus rehabilitation department two afternoons a week for a game club. They set up a chessboard, Rummikub and puzzles, bring Hebrew, Arabic and Russian magazines and give manicures. Ettun meets with these volunteers once a month, training them to engage with the patients. “It’s the volunteers, not the games, that are key,” she says.
An annual spring arts and crafts exhibit in the Mount Scopus hospital entrance lobby showcases Haverut’s work with patients. Last year’s exhibit included a healing mandala, with blessings in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian jointly created by staff, patients and visitors, and a chandelier made from syringes. The chandelier, which still hangs at the hospital entrance, is a symbol of transformation, notes Ettun, and our ability “to transform pain and fear into light and warmth.
“By touching their inner world and rediscovering their spiritual strength,” she adds, “patients become more connected to themselves and the world around, energized to deal with their health challenges. Spiritual wholeness is an inseparable part of physical recovery.”
This approach has rapidly gained traction. In the years since Haverut’s modest 2007 launch at Mount Scopus, Israeli hospitals nationwide have asked Ettun to introduce similar programs on their campuses. Haverut has become a fifth-year elective at the Hebrew University–Hadassah Medical School, and Hadassah oncology nurses are clamoring for Haverut workshops. Professionals from Jerusalem’s Mandel Leadership Institute are helping develop a program for health care professionals rooted in the connections between the spirit, art and healing.
The insights that underpin Haverut are drawn from personal experience. In October 1985, Ettun gave birth to Ruth, the second of her five children. “We didn’t know she was unwell,” says Ettun. “She had a series of what seemed to be colds, she deteriorated and was hospitalized. That was when we learned she had cystic fibrosis.”
Progressive and incurable, cystic fibrosis causes constant accumulation of thick, sticky mucus in the lungs and airways, creating difficulty in breathing and frequent infections. It prevents digestive enzymes from reaching the small intestine, impairing absorption of nutrients. Thirty years ago, life expectancy was only 12 years. By the time Ruth was 8, her sole chance was a lung transplant. Its cost: $1 million.
“We cashed in our assets, accepted gifts from family, friends,” says Ettun, “and went to the children’s hospital in St. Louis—the only place that accepted her. Her body rejected the transplant and she died at home in my arms three years later. Hospitalized so much in her short life, we cared for her at home in her last months. It was the right way to say goodbye—peacefully, quietly and with so much love.”
It is not only Ettun’s 11 years with Ruth, but Ruth herself who informs Haverut. She kept a diary, painted constantly and asked for music as she lay dying. Speaking on a television program about cystic fibrosis at age 7, Ruth said: “Feeling sorry for yourself just makes you sad. I try to think happy thoughts.” A year before her death, she wrote in her diary: “The physical power in my body may be small, but the power in my heart is renewed.”
“She taught me you can die with a healthy soul even as your sick body shuts down,” says Ettun. “This was transformative for me.”
Ten years elapsed between Ruth’s death and the launch of Haverut (whose last syllable echoes Ruth’s Hebrew name, Rut). It was a time, says Ettun, in which she grieved and pondered how she could lighten the burden of those who are ill. “My first idea was grandiose,” she says, smiling at the memory. “A huge campus in the Jerusalem Hills with respite cottages, workshops, lectures, support groups, family therapy and spiritual care.” Ettun consulted her uncle, prominent Jewish educator Seymour Fox. “He helped me refine my vision,” she recalls. She later shared her dream with medical educator Dr. Amitai Ziv. “He urged me to take ‘the harder but better’ path,” she says. “His advice was to work from inside the medical world, not set up an alternative.”
Meanwhile, Ettun went back to school, studying psychotherapy and adding a master’s degree in family therapy and counseling to her first degree in special education, theater and Jewish thought. She consulted the chronically ill, the bereaved and couples and families with children with special needs, emphasizing the family as support system.
Her ideas began attracting attention. She was invited to teach a course in emotional skills at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and opened a spiritual-care program there that she headed for three years. The pluralist beit midrash Kolot, together with the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, asked her to create Aiding and Healing Based on Jewish Texts, a course for senior health care professionals that addresses issues from relaying bad news to dealing with suffering and admitting errors.
“Ten years after Ruth’s death, I felt I’d reached a place where I need not only teach but could also create something new,” she says. Ettun went to Dr. Zvi Stern, then medical director of Hadassah-Mount Scopus, where her 26-year-old son, who also has cystic fibrosis, is treated.
“I understood what she wanted to do,” says Dr. Stern. “I told her: ‘Let’s try it. You have my support. I’ll open the doors.’”
In 2007, Haverut registered as a nonprofit organization, acquired a board and won support from UJA–Federation of New York. With Bezalel also located on Mount Scopus, it was the obvious place to start recruiting volunteers. “Bezalel students bring their passion and their gift and pass it on to the healthy part of the patient,” says Ettun. “They are not art therapists. Their role is caring and connecting the sick and the healthy into one community.”
Music became part of the program when Haverut volunteer and Bezalel student Avshalom Eshel asked to play his flute for Hadassah hospice patients. He was soon joined by Navot Ben Barak.
The third plank of Haverut fell as easily into place as music and art. “One of our goals is for every hospital to have a surrounding community,” says Ettun. This meshed with the beliefs of the Masorti Ramot Zion Congregation in nearby French Hill.
“We wanted to do something to better the lives of people in the broader community,” says United States-born Judy Gray, the congregation’s hesed committee cochair. One volunteer, like Ettun a certified Haverut spiritual caregiver, is leading similar volunteer programs in two hospitals in northern Israel.
Unique both inside Israel and out, “Haverut brings different worlds together, transforming the lives of everyone involved,” says Ettun. “It uses the arts as a pillar of spiritual care, helping patients and their families cope by channeling the creative and spiritual strength that resides inside us all.”