Rabbi Leonard Lewy is here to help – staff chaplain at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Ozaukee | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Rabbi Leonard Lewy is here to help – staff chaplain at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Ozaukee

Rabbi Leonard Lewy knew he wanted a career that would allow him to perpetuate Judaism and the Jewish community. 

His faith and culture were important to him as a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Lewy considered a career as a social worker. He also thought about working as a history professor. 

Lewy instead became a rabbi, but he chose a setting other than a congregation for his workplace. 

His career has included stints working in hospice settings, hospitals and at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. Last year, Lewy became a staff chaplain at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Ozaukee. 

“I think it came in my genes and upbringing,” Lewy said. 

Both of his parents worked in health care or had aspirations to, he said. For himself, Lewy said he enjoys caring for people, and the job includes some aspects of social work, with a substantial amount of listening and helping required. His love of Judaism is part of the equation, and his family’s experience during the Holocaust is also on his mind. 

“I’m able to do something much different for the people that I serve, and giving people honorable experiences, honoring people’s being created in God’s image of whatever faith and caring for them and ensuring that they’re treated with dignity,” Lewy said. 

As a staff chaplain, Lewy said he visits with patients – and their families – of all faiths. In addition to working with them directly, he said he makes referrals to patients’ congregations. He also collaborates with hospital staff on goals they have for patients. 

Lewy also advises employees to help them bring cultural sensitivity to their work with Jewish patients. For instance, he discourages Christological language in prayer and other references while working with patients of a Jewish or other faith background. He also provides education on kosher food and adherence to a kosher diet. 

Lewy added that he has been working with the food service department on improving its kosher options for patients and being prepared with options such as grape juice and challah for Shabbat and the holidays. 

Rev. Traci Houts, Ascension Wisconsin’s spiritual care manager, pointed to Lewy’s work on the kosher options as an example of his impact at the hospital. Lewy, she said, has a gift for hospitality. His work with the food service department shows how Lewy works to make Jewish patients comfortable, as he does with patients of any faith. 

“He has really taken it upon himself … what I would call the ministry of hospitality – of making sure that we are honoring another’s culture,” Houts said.   

As he provides spiritual support, Lewy said he approaches patient interactions with an aim of assessing needs, building rapport and bringing cultural literacy to patients’ time in the hospital. 

“Sometimes people say that I’ve helped them or given them a gift,” Lewy said. “But it’s a gift to me that I keep getting, every time I help and even encounter people of any background. It also includes our staff and volunteers, who are such valuable contributors to our health care team.”