When it comes to providing comfort for patients and their families facing end-of-life transitions, Skirball Hospice is in a league of its own. Its warmth, professionalism, and compassionate care are renowned nationwide and have been a source of support for so many people across Southern California, including Pearl Tarnor, of blessed memory.
Pearl, who passed away this spring, was, according to Rabbi Karen Bender, Skirball director of spiritual life for the Los Angeles Jewish Home, "an educator's educator." A noted author who penned some of the seminal textbooks on learning biblical and modern Hebrew, Pearl was highly respected as a Hebrew language specialist and head consultant at the L.A. Bureau of Jewish Education.
"Pearl authored a significant body of work that trained generations of students in Hebrew and Judaic studies," says Nili Ziv, a longtime friend and frequent collaborator. "People called her the ‘Eliezer ben Yehuda of Los Angeles,'" a reference to the famous lexicographer and newspaper editor credited with reviving the Hebrew language in the modern era.
Pearl was also a source of inspiration for members of Skirball Hospice's staff. "She was an amazing woman in the Jewish community," notes Hospice Chaplain Amy Altshuld. "When I first met her, I told her I wished I had met her earlier because I would have liked to have had a Hebrew teacher as kind and knowledgeable as she!"
That kindness was on display throughout her time in hospice. "Pearl was truly a beautiful and gentle soul who radiated kindness and love," says Ben Puder, the nurse who helped care for her and who was with her at the end. "I was given one of her Hebrew instruction books a few years back, and it is one of my most prized possessions. She was devoted to Judaism and exemplified selfless service and giving throughout her life, as a teacher, mentor, family member, and friend to countless individuals. It was a profound experience to be at her bedside in her final moments."
Ben says he felt particularly privileged to be able to give back to someone who had given so much to her community. "Knowing Pearl and her life story, I wanted to make her transition as beautiful and meaningful as possible for her. Using my iPhone at the bedside, I played a serene recording of the Sh'ma being chanted. It's surely a prayer Pearl had said with incredible faith countless times in her life. As we listened, a look of serenity came over her face in her last few moments, and she left this world in comfort and peace," Ben recalls. "It was one of the high points of my life, both as a nurse and a human being, to be there for her in this way."
Ben's focus on easing Pearl's passage is illustrative of the empathy, gentleness, and commitment Skirball Hospice employees bring to their work, says James Mackay, Executive Director of the Home's Mark Taper Building. "Our mission is, ‘Excellence in senior care, reflective of Jewish values,'" he points out. "I think Ben's gesture deeply acknowledged Pearl's values. We strive to know the seniors we serve as whole people with rich life histories, personal preferences, and enduring desire to feel purpose in life."
For Cheryl Mazer, Pearl's niece, the care her aunt received at Skirball Hospice was "a beautiful gift." The level of thoughtfulness Ben brought to his time with Pearl, she says, "was an extraordinary recognition of her needs. I am forever grateful that he was able to bring her to a place of peace during the final moments of her life, and the Jewish Home and its wonderful staff will always have a special place in my heart."
Ben says caring for Pearl and other Skirball Hospice patients is an honor for him and his dedicated colleagues. "It's not just a job to us. As nurses, we get to give back and serve those who served us, and to provide comfort to those who comforted us," he says. "At the Jewish Home, we recognize that life is sacred, and we serve our residents with joy and gratitude. That's what makes the Home so remarkable."