Creating Caring Communities in Israel

Beyond the trauma of war, there’s a whole realm of challenging situations that Israelis, like everyone else, face during the course of their lives. And now in Israel, whether it’s the loss that comes from unemployment, the stress of caring for a child with special needs, or another life challenge, there’s a new level of Jewish spiritual care to help Israelis cope in their communities.

Israeli Society

Woman works on a creative project at a Jewish spiritual care retreat for mothers and daughters in Israel. Photo by Asya Babuchkina courtesy of Life's Door-Tishkofet

An innovative initiative, Kehillot Shel Arevut-Creating Caring Communities, supported by UJA-Federation of New York, expands Jewish spiritual care from its traditional focus in hospital settings on people with serious illness, trauma, or end-of-life issues to the ongoing life trials that Israelis encounter in their everyday lives.

The initiative is bringing Jewish spiritual care into local communal settings that not only offer comfort and support for an individual, but also develop a sense of connection that strengthens the community.

“Jewish spiritual care in Israel is the practice of supporting individuals and families in crisis by using diverse Jewish spiritual resources — including Jewish texts, midrash, kabbalah, Israeli literature and poetry — to find meaning in their lives,” explains Dvora Corn, co-chair of the Israel Spiritual Care Network and co-founder of Life’s Door-Tishkofet.

Sigalit Breslev-Goldstein, who lives in Ramat Gan, discovered the benefits this past year.

Breslev-Goldstein is the mother of an eight-year-old son on the autism spectrum who is also diagnosed with Klippel-Feil syndrome, a rare disorder that is a congenital fusion of the neck vertebrae. She welcomed the call she received from another parent who had received training in spiritual care from Kesher, a support center for families of children with special needs. Kesher is part of the Creating Caring Communities initiative.

“I met the parent who was trained in Jewish spiritual care,” Breslev-Goldstein says. “She gave me texts to read, meditated, asked questions and helped me to get quiet, to remember who I am. We had 12 meetings, one-on-one, over about eight months.”

She credits the Jewish spiritual care she received with changing her life.

“Before, I never took time for myself, it was tense, I never rested,” Breslev-Goldstein says. “Now I am delighted to wake up in the morning. It became easier to accept my situation. I have a better perspective and I want to help other parents.”

She is now taking the spiritual care training course so she can assist other parents in need.

Tapping into Emerging Spiritual Communities

Creating Caring Communities is also expanding the scope of emerging spiritual communities, which, in recent years, have developed creative ways to celebrate Judaism and explore Jewish texts in study groups.

The Emerging Spiritual Communities Network, supported by UJA-Federation of New York, includes more than 40 emerging spiritual communities in Israel and is currently taking steps to bring Jewish spiritual care to address life challenges their members face on a day-to-day basis.

“Until now, a big part of emerging spiritual communities has focused on Shabbat and Jewish holidays,” says Moti Zeira, CEO of HaMidrasha, Educational Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Israel. “Now we’re training leaders to care for members of their community in their daily lives. We’re extending the scope of spiritual care to help parents who need support when their child leaves for the army, or helping a mother of a newborn, or someone who has just lost their job.”

As part of the Creating Caring Communities initiative, HaMidrasha, which runs a two-year leadership-training program, began to include training in Jewish spiritual care as part of its curriculum this past fall.

“Now spiritual care practice includes the idea of social responsibility, for caring for the community as people face struggles in their daily lives,” Zeira adds.

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