For many individuals, the experience of sickness, loss or mourning can raise questions of faith and meaning, both existential and spiritual. Often these prompt the beginnings of a journey into tradition and community. Others with established connections to Judaism often discover their own community lacks the resources to offer meaningful support during these moments, leaving the individual feeling the paradox of isolation within community. The Elisha’s Gate of Wholeness and Healing* seeks to reach out to individuals and families during these critical moments.
Capturing the opportunity before these challenges set in to consider one’s relationship to faith and tradition and the legacy one hopes to pass down to children and grandchildren is another focus of this unique Gate. Our programs and services seek to provide opportunities for people to craft their personal Jewish narratives and teachings in a way that can be meaningfully transmitted to loved ones, friends and colleagues.
Consistent with the mission of Sha’ar Communities to provide many and varied portals into Jewish life and community, our Gate of Wholeness and Healing will offer people approaching their twilight years or confronting illness or loss a portal into Jewish life and community through creative ritual, spiritual fellowship and innovative, arts-infused programming. Once having entered the Gate of Wholeness and Healing, opportunities present naturally to participate in Sha’ar’s other Gates, or to simply derive fulfillment from participation in this single, critical connection to Judaism and Jewish life.
Sha’ar’s Gate of Wholeness and Healing will offer the following programs:
1.The Siddur Project
Throughout generations, a Jew’s personal prayer book (“siddur”) was cherished like an intimate companion through daily meditations and festivals, joy and struggle. While many modern Jews lack familiarity or comfort with a traditional siddur, the idea of someone having a personal collection of prayers and reflections, particularly for someone facing illness, can be as current and compelling today as it ever was.
In an effort to give the support network – family, friends, colleagues, neighbors – of someone facing illness an opportunity to extend emotional and spiritual fellowship, this project, an initiative of Jewish Milestones (www.jewishmilestones.org), brings people together for a guided session focused on creating a personalized siddur. Using superior quality materials and carefully selected prayers and poetry this one-of-a-kind book is gifted to the recipient. Personal, private messages are incorporated as well, creating a compendium of classical and modern Jewish and individualized reflections to accompany the person who is ill throughout their process. Each individual session is opened and closed with creative ritual to ground the experience in Jewish tradition.
Using materials and resources prepared by Jewish Milestones, Sha’ar Communities will guide people through this unique experience as well as train Jewish educators and social service professionals to implement it in their own settings.
Several applications of this Siddur project are possible including a Chemotherapy Siddur, a Chronic Illness Siddur, a Caregiver’s Siddur and a Child’s Siddur, among others.
2. Rituals for Mourning and Loss
The experience of loss and grief is a frequent catalyst for self-reflection and searching. There can be moments of deep loneliness and isolation from family and community. These vulnerable moments can also stir the need for establishing connection and crossing thresholds into deeper Jewish spiritual life. Numerous creative Jewish rituals exist that address the emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions of these experiences, and can be offered as effective outreach to those outside of formal Jewish life, and even to those within who feel alone in these moments.
The lifecycle events this program will address include, but will not be limited to: Miscarriage, Abortion, Stillbirth, Mastectomy, Divorce, and Bereavement.
3.The Virtual Gate
This initiative of the Gate of Wholeness and Healing seeks to bring the richness of Jewish tradition in the form of music-filled and spiritually compelling prayer services, thoughtful teachings and presentations, and spirited holiday rituals to those who are physically unable to participate in communal gatherings. Using professional recording equipment and web-based technologies, this project will enable hospitals, assisted-living and nursing homes and rehabilitation centers to purchase and then provide their patients/residents access to Sha’ar Communities programs and services via internal telecasts. Homebound individuals will also benefit from accessing these resources.
Audio/visual podcasts of inspirational and healing Jewish music, teachings and reflections for patients to listen/view while undergoing treatments
4. The Legacy Project
This initiative will bring people together to consider the personal and Jewish legacies they wish to bequeath to their children and grandchildren and to their friends and communities. Using such techniques and media as creative writing, material arts, Torah study and music, participants will craft a unique and personal spiritual inheritance that will enrich their families and communities, and will serve as an anchor while life, with its myriad challenges, continues to change and blessings continue to unfold.
*This gate is called Elisha’s Gate of Wholeness and Healing in memory of Sha’ar Communities Program Director Andy Arenson’s sister Elyse Jacobson, z”l, whose Hebrew name was Elisha, which is also the name of the prophet who performed acts of healing in the Bible. Sha’ar Communities is a network of small Jewish communities connected by a broad vision of Jewish renaissance and offers diverse opportunities for engagement in Jewish tradition. The network currently includes groups who gather for prayer, study, travel, Bnai Mitzvah spiritual preparation, and outreach to the intermarried.