Rabbinic chaplain reaches out to seniors


The congregation Rabbi Laurence Glestein serves is quite possibly the most geographically diverse in the area.

As a rabbinic chaplain for Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Glestein serves elderly clients from all over the St. Louis area — and beyond.


Unlike congregational rabbis who receive congregants at a synagogue, Glestein travels to the people he serves.

“Many people are getting farther out from the Jewish corridor in St. Louis,” Rabbi Glestein said. “We serve people in places I never would have imagined,” Rabbi Glestein said. “For whatever reason, many people are finding themselves living in homes in places like DeSoto, Union, Troy, and Warrenton — places really off the beaten path, where they don’t get a lot of visitors.”

Glestein said he has about 40 sites he visits each month, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and some homebound seniors.

“This program is really a response to aging. It’s a communal response to those among us who are often disconnected and disjointed from the Jewish community, from their former lives,” Glestein said.

In his 11 years of working as a rabbinic chaplain at JF &CS, Glestein said that often his work is less about being a religious figure, and more about being a human connection to seniors who have become isolated.

“Facing a lot of losses, and facing aging, often alone, is isolating,” he said. “I do a lot of listening. Sometimes, it’s just watching TV with them because they can’t communicate.”

“I try to let them know that they’re still cared about and that the community hasn’t forgotten about them.”

“I think a caring presence really makes a difference.”

However, Glestein also provides religious connections for seniors.

“Ritual is a factor that we don’t necessarily push, but that I can share with them,” he said.

Glestein holds a regular Judaic discussion groups and he leads holiday programs for seniors who cannot attend synagogue, which he says often serves to acquaint seniors with other Jews living nearby.

“What’s really astounding is that often a person may not even be aware that ther are other Jewish people in the same building, because they just don’t get out of their room that much. So I bring them together and try to give them something they can relate to, Jewishly,” Glestein said.

Glestein said one client recently expressed that she missed being able to attend temple for services. “I reassured her that you pray where you are. Your home is your temple, your embassy to a spiritual connection,” he said. “That seemed to resonate with her.”

Glestein said working with the elderly was a natural fit for him, both in his work at JF &CS and before that, as a rabbi at a Jewish nursing home in Richmond, Va., for five years.

“I really fell into this,” he said. “I’ve always had an affinity for older people, a reverence and I was brought up to be close to family.”

Glestein said many of the people he visits have become like an extended family.

“That’s the great benefit. You’re welcomed into their world, to face challenges and struggles with them and to relive good times with them,” Glestein said.

“I’ve made just so many amazing relationships through the years…just memorable, magical moments of being alongside people. Those are irreplaceable.”

Glestein is finishing his fourth year of training in clinical pastoral education through an internationally-recognized chaplain certification program through St. Luke’s.

In order to serve as many seniors as often as possible, Glestein oversees a “friendly visitor network” program, which matches up volunteers who visit seniors on a regular basis.

“Our volunteers find it very meaningful,” Glestein said. “It’s a unique experience, and I think people respond to it.”

Glestein is hoping to train a new group of volunteers to pair up with seniors. He said he teaches volunteers ways to approach the elderly and establish a rapport. Often, the volunteers will end up simply visiting and chatting, or playing games with the senior they are matched with.

He said volunteers often find lasting friendships with the seniors they visit. “We’ve got people who have been visiting five or six years now,” he said.

“It’s extremely rewarding to develop a bond with an individual,” Glestein said, noting that it benefits both the volunteer and the senior he or she is matched up with.

“You’re there with no agendas. You don’t have to meet a quota or take vital signs. You just pull up a seat and be open to them,” he said.

To contact Rabbi Glestein or for more information about becoming a volunteer, call 314-812-9394.