The National Center for Jewish Healing

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Jewish Healing Programs and Services

Jewish Healing Programs: Best Practices... Download examples of programs that work from our national network. (Updated annually)

Programs and services are evolving out of the creative use of traditional Jewish resources, psychological insights, mind/body wellness practices and an understanding of the healing power of community. They are designed to fortify coping, nurture hope and foster connection and can be offered through local Jewish healing centers or in a variety of other communal settings.

Use our directory of local Jewish healing centers to find services being offered in your area, or contact us to find out how the National Center for Jewish Healing can help your group begin these types of services. Below are descriptions of frequently offered programs.

Common Program Types:
Bikur Cholim
Jewish Spiritual Support Groups (JSSGs)
Jewish Spiritual Counseling (JSC)
Jewish Healing Holiday Programs and Services
Jewish Healing Services/Circles
Information, Referral and Resource Library
Wellness Programming
Educational Programming
Conferences, Workshops and Training Programs

Best Practices
This document is a compilation of Best Practices and New and Interesting Programs 2008 contributed by organizations that are part of a national network of Jewish Healing/Spiritual Care Centers and Programs. Many of these programs are in Jewish Family Service agencies throughout the USA. [PDF Download]

The topics covered are:

  • Professional/Interdisciplinary Development and Support
  • Visiting and Supporting The Visitors
  • Aging and Elderly
  • Programs Addressing Serious Illness and End-Of-Life
  • Spiritual Growth and Support Groups
  • Chemical Dependency
  • Outreach and Education

Bikur Cholim
The mitzvah (commandment) to visit the ill is incumbent upon all Jews, not only clergy. Many congregations and communities form a "Caring Committee" (chesed) or "Bikur Cholim Committee" so that volunteers can participate in offering physical support (meals, transportation to appointments, caring for children, etc.) and spiritual care (hospital or home visits, healing services, prayer circles, etc) to those in need.

Training programs and ongoing support for volunteers can be provided to help these committees become and remain effective. Training sessions or workshops can offer models for organizing a committee, ways to recruit volunteers, and strategies for transforming communal culture so it is easier for those who are ill to reach out to others. Volunteers can also learn to develop quality listening skills, explore their own personal reactions to the experience of illness, learn to use Jewish healing tools in their visits, and discover their own special ways or relating to those they support. Training manuals and resources materials are available. [See Jewish Connections Programs Publications]

More information is available from the Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council (www.bikurcholimcc.org)

Jewish Spiritual Support Groups (JSSGs)
Jewish Spiritual Support Groups are opportunities for groups of Jews who share a life-challenge or experience to draw support from one another and from the Jewish tradition. JSSGs can be organized for Jews who have a serious illness, for bereaved Jews, for family caregivers and for health care professionals. Other groups help Jews who are wrestling with infertility, are estranged from adult children or survivors of abusive relationships.

JSSGs are generally led by a mental health professional and/or a rabbi, cantor or Jewish educator with training in working with groups. The goal is to ensure that the "whole person" is addressed, integrating social, psychological, emotional, religious, cultural, and spiritual dimensions. All JSSGs have in common the active conviction that Jewish healing stems from reaching out to other Jews, reaching up to our shared tradition, and reaching in to one's own unique gifts and inner blessings.

  • MAGGID — A Personal Journey — Personal reflection by Ellen Schecter, writer and participant in a Jewish spiritual support group
  • Use of Prayer for Healing — An essay by Carol Hausman, PhD, Coordinator of the Washington Jewish Healing Network, on use of prayer in Jewish spiritual support groups
  • Caregiver Support Group — Psalms used in a Jewish Spiritual Support Groups for Caregivers by Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, LMSW

Jewish Spiritual Counseling (JSC)
Drawing on models of pastoral care, brief psychotherapy and supportive counseling, Jewish spiritual counseling seeks to help Jewish individuals and family groups dealing with illness, loss and other significant life challenges. In several sessions, the individual's particular questions and challenges are explored, with reference to helpful resources from the vast and diverse Jewish "library" — from Talmudic lore to medieval folktales to Hassidic parables, ethical treatises to daily blessings, traditional songs to wordless chants (niggunim), Biblical psalms to contemporary Jewish secular and religious literature.

Together with the clients, a "Spiritual Treatment Plan," is designed which integrates personal spiritual practice with communal involvement, rituals and social action. This generally includes a connection to programs in the community — at synagogues, JCC's, schools, etc. — as well as to rabbis, chaplains, and other Jewish teachers and spiritual guides, and may include a tailored course of study and prayer.

Jewish Spiritual Counseling complements, and often strengthens, medical treatment and psychological counseling, addressing questions and struggles that are religious and/or spiritual in nature. Clients are viewed as fellow travelers on a journey, who have reached a difficult and yet empowering crossroads. Jewish community and tradition are integrated/expanded with the person's individual voice and approaches, with the goal of deepening meaning, connection, solace, comfort, hope... according to the client's spiritual needs and aspirations.

Jewish Healing Holiday Programs and Services
Spiritual support and healing may be gained from participation in the cycle of the Jewish year. Jewish holidays and other calendrical markers embody important values and lessons, and offer texts, rituals, and ideas that can support those who are facing significant life challenges. Many examples of creative Jewish healing program draw on the Jewish year for its powerful resources of memory, experience and hope.

[See also Tools and Resources Related to Holiday Programs]

Jewish Healing Services/Circles
Since the early 1990s, the Jewish community has been developing innovative liturgies and finding ways of opening up traditional prayer services so that the needs of Jews who are ill and those who care for them are more openly and effectively addressed. In some communities, these services are free-standing — e.g., a creative healing service on a regular night of the month — and elsewhere, the existing, set prayer is "expanded" or "deepened" by integrating special melodies, readings, focussed meditations, and the like. In still other settings, they have taken the form of Psalm Fellowships, groups of Jews who gather regularly to read or chant the biblical Book of Psalms, which are further developed into supportive networks for prayer, discussion and community.

Jewish healing services/circles can also be created by clergy or concerned friends and family to meet the needs of individuals facing serious illness, those preparing for surgery or other invasive medical procedures, those who may be beginning a series of difficult treatments, or those facing a difficult life transition.

  • Healing Circles: A Manual for Integrating Spirituality into the Workplace by Marjorie Sokoll, BSW, M.Ed. — A "how to" manual providing a roadmap for offering Healing Circles in various workplace settings. Healing Circles created especially for the workplace were an outgrowth of Jewish Healing Connections at JF&CS of Greater Boston. Since many of us face difficult challenges professionally and personally regarding illness or loss, Healing Circles are an innovative tool to provide support in the workplace. Healing Circles are essentially a gathering time for staff to experience shared support, connection and self-renewal.
  • Modes of Praying for Healing A Leader’s Guide to Services and Prayers of Healing — An introduction by Rabbi Nancy Flam and Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin to a booklet on services of Jewish healing published in 1994
  • Is Jewish Healing Kosher — An article prepared in 1995 by Rabbi Joseph S. Ozarowski for the Outstretched Arm on Jewish healing and healing circles

Information, Referral and Resource Library
When people are confronting significant life challenges they often find that they need to mobilize a number of resources and may not know where to find them within their community. A good information and referral service helps connect people with the best individuals who can help them address practical, concrete needs as well as spiritual, emotional and communal supports. Often these resources are woven through the fabric of one’s community. The goal is to help people make the right connection.

This type of service may also include a comprehensive Jewish healing resource library (books, articles, music, videos, etc.) which can provide relevant resources to both consumers and professionals.

(See our bibliographies and related referral Web links.)

Wellness Programming
While all programs of Jewish healing promote wellness, programs that utilize meditation and the arts-music, movement, writing and visual arts - are included under this broad category of wellness programming. All these programs integrate Jewish teaching with some type of experiential activity.

Meditation has been a part of the Jewish tradition for many centuries and music, visual arts and writing programs that explore Jewish symbols, sacred texts and wisdom are all creating opportunities for people to explore healing resources within their Jewish tradition and experience community.

Educational Programming
Most communities regularly offer ongoing adult education, special conferences and Shabbat learning experiences for lifelong Jewish learning. Increasingly, themes addressing Jewish resources and approaches to living with illness, loss and other significant life challenges are being included. Topics such as Jewish Views on Death and the Afterlife, Exploring Spiritual Care for the Ill, Services and Prayers for Healing, and Caregiving: Sustaining the Spirit, can open new doors of learning about spiritual resources for all. It can also provide a safe, welcoming environment for people who may be isolated and afraid to reach out and a way for people to hear about other Jewish healing programs being offered locally.

Educational programming can take place in a variety of settings and can be co-sponsored with a range of partners, including non-sectarian organizations that are illness or program specific, such as agencies that serve people with cancer, Alzheimers disease, mental illness, etc. Non-Jewish organizations providing nursing home care, assisted living and hospice services to a Jewish population may also be interested in educational programs which teach staff about Jewish culture, holidays and rituals.

Conferences, Workshops and Training Programs
This type of programming can offer professionals, lay leaders, and volunteers opportunities to deepen their skills and knowledge base in Jewish healing principles and practices. Conferences for professionals may also address issues and methods for integrating spiritual care into various professional disciplines as well as spiritual self-care for practitioners. Opportunities for networking and time for renewing personal resources are important components of these types of programs as well. [See also Training and Learning Opportunities]

Jewish Connections Programs

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