Rabbi Elliot Kukla

Rabbi Elliot Kukla

Rabbi Elliot Kukla is a rabbi at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco providing spiritual care to those struggling with illness, grieving or dying where he also co-directs the Healing Center’s Kol HaNeshama: Jewish End of Life Care volunteer hospice program. His articles are published in numerous magazines and anthologized widely. Elliot has lectured on Jewish perspectives on healing, end of life care and diversity across the US and Canada and his liturgy for new life cycles appear in numerous prayer books. He also has served as adjunct faculty in pastoral care at Starr King School for the Ministry (a part of the Graduate Theological Seminary of UC Berkeley). Elliot was ordained by Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles in 2006 and trained in chaplaincy at UCSF Medical Center in 2007. Elliot can be reached at ekukla@ioaging.org.

Eikev

I recently had the honor of serving as a chaplain to a woman named Maggie in the last weeks of her life. In those long, painful days in the hospital, Maggie was constantly surrounded by her three childhood best friends. One day I asked what it was that has kept them so connected. “Well,” sighed one of her friends, “we are so close now because she broke our hearts many years ago.”

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Beha’alotcha

“I don’t understand why I keep making the same mistakes,” a patient of mine recently told me. He had called for a chaplain in the middle of the night because he felt overwhelmed by remorse. “I have been hospitalized five times now. I’ve lost my girlfriend, my friends, my law practice, all because of drinking… I really want to change, but somehow I just keep doing the same old things over and over again.”

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Emor

Sarah, a member of my congregation, once explained to me why she was proudly a “bad Jew.” She had hated her traditional religious upbringing. As soon as she left home she proudly embraced a fully secular lifestyle. Although she eventually found her way back to Judaism through belonging to a liberal synagogue, Sarah told me that she was a member purely for cultural reasons, because of her connection to Jewish social justice values, and she still eschewed any form of religious observance.

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Ha’azinu

This past July I spent three days at a monastery in Big Sur, California, with Benedictine monks who live as hermits. It is a silent atmosphere, so I spent most of my day in an isolated trailer without phone, traffic, email or conversation. The first day I was there was one of the longest and noisiest of my life. My own mind more than filled up the silence. I fretted endlessly over mistakes I had made in my most precious relationships and in my career. By the second day without speaking, the chatter inside my brain had started to quiet down. I began to get to the more essential concerns that lay below these fears. How can I best give and receive love? What do I truly want to change in the world?

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Beshalach

For most of the past 3,000 years, civilization was shaped by smallpox. The disease decimated entire populations, destroyed cultures, swept across continents and altered the course of human history. Smallpox killed five reigning European monarchs in the 18th century alone. For people born in previous centuries, the disease was a fact of nature, a part of life on this planet that appeared as impossible to prevent as natural disasters. And yet, over the last decades, the facts of nature changed. Widespread vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries worked. The disease was eradicated. In 1979 the World Health Organization certified the end of smallpox.

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Vayigash

In my work as a hospital chaplain, I am often privileged to accompany people in the last days of their lives or the lives of their loved ones. I recently spent a long night with Mark, a middle-aged man who had camped out in the waiting room outside his mother’s hospital room. The doctors had withdrawn artificial forms of life support and she was expected to pass away within hours.

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Masei

This week, we are pleased to welcome guest writer, Dvar Tzedek alumnus Rabbi Elliot Kukla. Can you imagine what it would be like to kill a person by mistake? We hear of these stories nearly every day—a driver is distracted by a cell phone call, a physician overlooks a vital symptom—one small slip that causes …Read More

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Bamidbar

This week, we are pleased to welcome guest writer, Dvar Tzedek alumnus Rabbi Elliot Kukla. Whenever I am on an airplane, the in-flight entertainment makes me cry. Even if what is playing is the most outrageously juvenile comedy or a lengthy infomercial, I find my eyes strangely misty. I used to think I was the …Read More

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Eikev

I recently had the honor of serving as a chaplain to a woman named Maggie in the last weeks of her life. In those long, painful days in the hospital, Maggie was constantly surrounded by her three childhood best friends. One day I asked what it was that has kept them so connected. “Well,” sighed …Read More

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Nitzavim

There are a few lines from a poem by Mary Oliver on a tattered post-it note on my fridge door. “Tell me,” it asks whenever I reach for orange juice or milk with bleary eyes in the morning, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”[1] Parshat Nitzavim contains the …Read More

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