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September 2, 2015 | 18th Elul 5775

Kehilat Chesed-How Reform Congregations Are Creating Caring Communities

Kehilat Chesed --Caring Community offers the individual members of congregations the opportunity redefine their synagogue culture as a loving community that sustains the spiritual, physical and mental wellness and growth of its members. Caring Community is enacted in many Reform Synagogues all over North America with enormous success. To invigorate your efforts in transforming your synagogue into a Kehilat Chesed, we would love to share with you a few successful ideas from the congregations listed below.

Temple Beth Elohim of Wellesley, MA has prepared a detailed guide of their Caring Community programs.

Temple Beth Emeth of Ann Arbor, Michigan has many programs that fall under the jurisdiction of Caring Community. These programs include:

Opportunities for Service

  • Bikur Cholim —the Jewish tradition of visiting the sick or elderly. Congregants visit TBE members and/or their relatives at home, in the hospital, or the nursing home. Find more resources on the URJ site about creating your own Bikur Cholim group.
  • Caring Community Volunteer Corps (CCVC)—provides support and connection within the TBE community during times of joy and sorrow, offering meals and rides.
  • Mitzvah Match—a program that assists members with grocery shopping or other errands on a bi-monthly or as needed basis. Mitzvah Match goes beyond the call for occasional meals or rides. We assist members who need on-going support in many different ways.
  • Nachamu —Conducts shiva services for fellow congregants. Nachamu has created a comprehensive bereavement guide for the TBE community.
  • Welcoming Services—a program to integrate new members into the TBE community.
  • Women Cancer Survivors Support Group (WCSSG)—offers support to TBE members and organizes donations for the UM Cancer Center.

Spirituality and Community Programs

  • Healing, Spirituality and Meditation—explores Jewish spirituality and meditation and offers classes and retreats that are open to the community
  • Jewish Hikers of Michigan—hiking group offers spiritual, social and physical activities in nature for the Jewish community. Monthly events are planned for both adults and children. The group is open to the community.
  • Women's Rosh Chodesh —a short, monthly service that is followed by a discussion, study session, or special presentation for women celebrating Jewish spirituality. The program is open to the community.

Chavurot Affinity Groups

    • Caregiving Support for Adult Children—two groups meet monthly to support adult children caring for an aging relative.
    • Renaissance Group—for members in the 50+ age group as well as members in their forties without children in the religious school; monthly social, educational, religious and cultural activities coordinated by members.
    • Families with Young Children—provides holiday-related programming for families with young children aged 0-5, such as Tot Shabbat and Tot Chanukah. Open to the community.
    • Twenties and Thirties (TNT—a group of members in their twenties and thirties, TNT offers social, cultural, and social action activities. Open to the community.
    • Interfaith Couples Discussion Group—couples gather monthly for an informal discussion on the issues of intermarriage. Free childcare is provided.
    • Twice Blessed—a group committed to meeting the unique needs of the Jewish Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender community. Provides educational & social opportunities focused on the experience of being both Jewish and gay. Open to the community. Visit the URJ's LGBT website on how to become a more inclusive congregation.
Temple B'rith Kodesh of Rochester, NY has produced a congregational survey that was designed to:
    1. Promote congregational conversation
    2. Obtain a cross sectional snapshot of who and what the "congregation" is
    3. Determine how to better serve the needs of the congregation

Members were encouraged to fill out the survey and submit them in various drop boxes in the synagogue.

Congregation Emanuel of Houston, TX has produced a proposal for an Interfaith Gathering Place program open to the entire community. The program can be adapted to suit the needs of your congregation to offer respite care and support to caregivers of older adults, the disabled and children of single parent homes.

Congregants may become the Trained Volunteers, who provide three 30 minute sessions, full of stimulation and interaction, for the care partners(patients)in order to provide the caregivers with some respite.Visit the Interfaith CarePartners website for more information.

San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El has innovated with a new idea to increase awareness and grow new Caring Community volunteers.

With these cards shown below, Emanu-El's Caring Community members are handing out cards to congregants, including them with Shabbat dinners, new baby bags, condolence notes, etc.

Cong Emanu El Caring Community business card

The Chair of Congregation Emanu-El's Caring Community: "I want to add that several of our volunteers were once recipients of our notes, visits, dinners, etc. and having once received, they now want to "give back." The handing out of cards adds a personal touch to our quest for volunteers. We have been posting so called "ads" for volunteers in several temple publications for months and have had only minimal success. We feel the cards will be handed out and given to recipients in a more one-on-one manner and will hopefully recruit more actual volunteers."


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