Like other synagogues, Congregation Gesher L’Torah struggles to keep members engaged once their youngest reaches b’nai mitzvah age. Ritual Vice President Ofir Kaidar-Heafetz came up with a way to involve members of all ages and genders with an inspirational program that includes both lectures and hands-on activities over a weeklong period.
Gesher L’Torah’s Health & Wellness Week will be held March 4 through 10 with four activities: workshops on stress and on the use of mind, body and spirit; a healing Shabbat; and a community action project.
When designing the weekend, Kaidar-Heafetz thought a day or two of programs would have been disconnected. But a week allows members to pick and choose options they like and still feel a part of a larger community. “A week of events is a vehicle to provide different opportunities for engagement, so that each participant can find at least one event, if not more, that is relevant and meaningful,” Kaidar-Heafetz said.
During the Shabbat service, members will share their experiences of recovery from illness and caretaking.
“Everyone knows someone who died or got sick and had a long recovery,” Kaidar-Heafetz said about the focus of the week.
The stories of survival will be interwoven into the service, he said. The purpose of the service is to show the role the community can play in the healing process, he said.
“There’s a tendency of people to isolate themselves. They don’t want to infect others,” he said. “There is always some element of isolation. It’s counterproductive. Having a support system” is helpful to healing, he said, “even just to know others are praying for you, thinking of you.
“There’s a lot of benefit to being part of a community. I do not think that’s being leveraged enough. It’s more than paying dues and attending high holiday services,” he said. “You need to invest in that when you are healthy so you can use it when you are not healthy.”
From 7 to 9 p.m. March 5, counselor Mariah Dantzler will present “Mind, Body, Spirit and the Connection to Everyday Life.” Liat Philipson, owner of YogaMa, will lead a stress relief and meditation workshop 7 to 8:30 p.m. March 7, and a congregation mitzvah project will take place 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. March 10. Families can assemble care packages for the residents of No Longer Bound, an addiction recovery program for men. The “graduation” transition kits will include such items as suitcases, shampoo, towels, notebooks and gift cards. Families can also make greeting cards with positive messages of encouragement, Kaidar-Heafetz said.
“I know the people who participate in the program. When they leave the program, they are so desperate. They leave with the clothes on their back they came with. We have gotten a wish list. People can donate or bring something from the wish list.”
Kaidar-Heafetz said if the event is successful, he already has others in mind that could be set up in a similar way: four different activities with a fresh theme. “We’ve had mitzvah projects, services dedicated to a topic, guest speakers, but not so close together. I am excited with what more we can do with this format, to bring members in and understand the value they can get from the community.”