Meaningful silence

Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh received a B.A. from Skidmore College and was ordained as a Rabbi from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is fortunate to be involved in so many facets of the community including serving as the chaplain for JF&CS and an instructor for CAJE. This will be her fifth year serving as the visiting Rabbi in Decatur, Ill. She has also served congregations in both Sydney and Perth, Australia. When not writing her weekly BLOGS, she can be found running marathons.

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

I believe that some of the most beautiful and moving pieces of music come during the spaces between the notes. A pause or rest allows us to be open to hearing what is not played, or hearing it again in our minds. The music may reverberate within, allowing a new sound to be heard.

I am learning the same lesson applies when visiting residents, although it is not about music. It is about language. There are times when I am sitting with a resident when he or she becomes very quiet. Maybe we have already talked at length and the visit seems to be coming to a close or the individual is quiet by nature. Sensing it is time to leave, I make an overture to say good-bye. Often the resident tells me I do not need to leave and I should stay. So we continue to sit – quietly.


There was a time when I was uncomfortable in this setting. Shouldn’t we be talking? I should be reading them the Jewish Light, correct? No. There are times a person just wants the company of a caring being to know that he or she is not alone. I find that too many residents are by themselves for too much of the day. I have come to appreciate the importance of the silence in our visits.

There are times when a resident will start to fall asleep then wake up and look at me slightly embarrassed. I always make sure I am looking at him or her and give a big grin and reassure them that I am happy to be here. The silence speaks volumes.