Rabbi Wars at the MPTF

Some people might think the role of a chaplain was to stand in defense of the sick and afflicted in their time of need. That, though, is not the approach being taken by Arthur Rosenberg, the house rabbi at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s soon-to-be-shuttered nursing home where residents, many of them in their 80s and 90s, are in varying states of anxiety about having to move out.

Nursing professionals have a name for their agitation — it’s called transfer trauma, and it is often fatal. But Rosenberg is insisting that everything will be just fine.

“We will all go through changes on our journey through life,” Rosenberg writes soothingly in the latest issue of the MPTF Residents Gazette. “It is my point of view that (a) change always carries a lesson with it, (b) what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and (c) there is always the day after.”

Sadly, the evidence suggests there isn’t always a day after; or that what doesn’t make us stronger may indeed kill. Of the 15 or so residents who have moved since the closures were announced in mid-January, three or four have died, according to reports received by continuing residents, their families and staff members. At least 12 other long-term care residents, and possibly as many as 14, have died on campus, leaving about 110 still in place awaiting the next “change on our journey through life."

While it is impossible to establish a simple cause-and-effect behind these deaths, the figures seem consistent with a transfer trauma attrition rate of about 15 percent cited in the professional literature.

Rabbi Rosenberg’s platitudinous sentiments have unleashed strong emotions among those campaigning against the MPTF’s decision and still hoping to keep the nursing home open. Richard Stellar, whose 91-year-old mother is in the long-term care facility, has accused him to his face of shilling for the administration.

“Ask yourself: What would a pious man who was not beholden to his paycheck do in this circumstance?” Stellar wrote on his campaign website. “I’m calling you out bro — you have f—ing failed us.”

Interestingly, one of Rosenberg’s predecessors as chaplain at the MPTF, Rabbi Jerry Ram Cutler, appears to agree. “I decry the callous decision to close the Home’s long term care facility,” Cutler wrote in an open letter published as an ad in Variety a few weeks ago. “In the name of decency, how can the fate of so many in need be held on the precipice of life by so few who seemingly disregard the elderly and indigent?”

The MPTF rabbi wars have begun.