Helping Establish Chayim Aruchim in the United Kingdom

A two day trip to Manchester brought Chayim Aruchim’s expertise to England in an effort to help establish a Chayim Aruchim branch in the United Kingdom.

While much of the groundwork has already been laid for Chayim Aruchim in Manchester, training rabbonim has proven to be difficult, with many area rabbis hesitant to commit because they are unsure of what Chayim Aruchim will entail. Rabbi Eliezer Gewirtzman made a two day visit to Manchester in an effort to help pave the way for this crucial effort that will offer tremendous benefits to the United Kingdom’s Jewish community.

It was immediately apparent to Rabbi Gewirtzman upon his arrival that there are serious obstacles that must be overcome to ensure Chayim Aruchim’s success. Government run hospitals have little interest in customer service and as a cost saving measure, treatment is withdrawn much earlier than in the United States, resulting in disputes with hospitals that could be typically be resolved within days in America dragging on for weeks or even months in England. As a result, hospitals are mistrustful of family members, askanim and rabbonim and, in an effort to prevent lawsuits by disgruntled family members, autopsies are typically standard procedure. A lawsuit against a Bikur Cholim representative who counseled family members not to sign a DNR order for a loved one has strained already tenuous relationships and the fact that there are a limited number of rabbonim in the United Kingdom who are intimately familiar with the intricacies of end of life issues and are capable of paskening difficult shailos adds yet another layer of complication to the matter.

Drawing on the Chayim Aruchim model that is operating successfully here in America, Rabbi Gewirtzman suggested drafting an open letter to all area hospitals signed by local rabbonim indicating that while the Jewish community appreciates all accommodations made for Orthodox patients, certain changes need to be put in place to respect patients’ religious rights. The United Kingdom branch of Chayim Aruchim plans to convene a formal meeting with top hospital officials, and that letter will serve as proof that the Jewish community fully supports Chayim Aruchim, and will further explain the halachic requirements in end of life situations. This meeting will hopefully have a positive impact and sway hospital officials who want to avoid complicated and costly litigation, much as similar get-togethers have in the United States. By working peacefully and respectfully with area hospitals, Rabbi Gewirtzman is optimistic that medical facilities will be willing to accommodate patients’ religious needs and by developing a good working relationship, autopsies will hopefully be avoided.

Rabbi Gewirtzman was called upon to acquire signatures from local rabbonim, both on the aforementioned letter, as well as on a general letter of support for Chayim Aruchim. 18 area rabbonim signed the two letters including Rabbi Eliezer Schneebalg, Dayan Gavriel Kraus, Dayan Osher Yaakov Westheim, the Satmar Dayan, the Belzer Dayan and the Viznitzer Dayan.

Dayan Westheim and the Horodenka Rov were named to head the Manchester branch of Chayim Aruchim in a second meeting. Numerous potential rabbonim who would be trained to help with end of life issues gathered to discuss several concerns that had arisen regarding the formation of Chayim Aruchim. One such question was what to do in cases of questions that cannot be answered locally and the Horodenka Rov responded that issues of this nature would be referred to Chayim Aruchim in America. With their concerns allayed, nine rabbonim agreed to be trained by Chayim Aruchim, although the exact number of rabbonim required has yet to be determined, and Rabbi Gewirtzman emphasized the importance of beginning training as quickly as possible in order to keep the momentum going.

Rabbi Gewirtzman’s visit proved to be extremely productive, with a renewed sense of purpose and energy now evident in Manchester, built on the hope that the American Chayim Aruchim model can succeed in the United Kingdom as well. Rabbi Gewirtzman plans to stay involved with the Manchester rabbonim to provide the necessary chizuk and advice that will be required as this fledgling organization evolves into a vital community institution.

Left to Right: Dayan Osher Yaakov Westheim , Rav Laibish Rabinowitz, Horidanker Rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Gewirtzman, Rav Shlomo Cohen, Rabbi Dovid Kestenbaum