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The Power of a Caring Community
September 8, 2011
The Power of a Caring Community

Posted by Sue Spielman

Raising two children helped me understand the true meaning of the phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child.” With the guidance, help, love, and support of my friends, relatives, and community, I’ve raised two wonderful young women.

Now that I am somewhat older, I’ve been experiencing a number of life events, some challenging and some happy, that have made me realize that we not only need community to raise our children, but we also need a caring community as we go through many of life’s challenges.

A number of years ago my father died, somewhat unexpectedly. Like so many others, this was the first significant loss I had experienced and I literally had no idea what to do. However, I had the unique fortune to be working at Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS) with professional colleagues who work with end-of-life issues and bereavement. They were able to help me and my family with practical concerns like how to contact a funeral home, how to “sit shiva,” and what would happen at my father’s funeral. Most importantly, they also helped me feel that I wasn’t alone. This was my first experience of a caring community.

These many years later, it is still hard for me to believe that I am now in the position as the coordinator of the JF&CS Caring Communities Resource Network (CCRN) to help synagogues reach out to those in need in their own communities. As a community, it is incumbent upon us to reach out and help others around us, whether it is to deal with the death of a loved one or the birth of a baby. Many synagogues invite their members to reach out to support those in need, or in turn to be supported, through something that is often called a Hesed Committee or Caring Community.

Our goal in the CCRN is to support synagogue efforts to create and sustain caring communities through community-wide trainings, consultations, workshops, and conferences. One of the significant features of the CCRN is that it is transdenominational, presently representing more than 50 synagogues from Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Jewish Renewal, Orthodox, and non-movement affiliated communities.

While facilitating a workshop at a synagogue recently, I was reminded of the experience of my father’s death and the loving support I received. The congregant described her mother’s unexpected death this last spring and like me, had no idea what to do. In despair she contacted her rabbi for help. Not only did she receive support and assistance from her rabbi but she also received the support she needed from her synagogue’s caring community. A wonderful group of five women and men helped bring her through this tragic event by helping her with the practical needs of the funeral and shiva. But for her what was even more important was the emotional support they provided, from periodic phone calls to check in, to arranging home cooked meals from the synagogue community for her family.

With the support of her synagogue “village” this congregant knew she wasn’t alone. “It is not good for people to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

If you are interested in participating in CCRN community-wide trainings or wish to learn more about individual consultations and trainings for your synagogue, please contact me.

Sue Spielman, MPA, has coordinated the Friendly Visitor Program for several years and, more recently, the Caring Communities Resource Network, both of which are programs of JF&CS Jewish Healing Connections. She received degrees from Harvard University, Wheelock College, and the University of Massachusetts.

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