Treating old problems with new approaches

Synagogues will use group counselors during service tonight

September 01, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

In her 10 years as a rabbi, Susan Grossman noticed that she was always busiest around the time of the Jewish High Holidays and not just because she had services to plan.

As summer faded into fall, and Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur approached, people would come to her, year after year, feeling especially lonely, lost and sad over the loss of family members and friends.

This year, Grossman, rabbi of the Conservative Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, decided to do something about it. She came up with the idea for tonight's"Evening of Support and Healing from Loss," which will take place at the Beth Shalom building on Harriet Tubman Lane and include a group counseling session followed by a service of prayer and song.

Three Jewish congregations in Columbia have joined with Jewish Family Services of Baltimore to hold the event, which begins at 7: 30 p.m. with a counseling session led by two licensed social workers. The worship service is scheduled from 8: 30 p.m. to 9: 30 p.m.

"Judaism and the Jewish community was there to provide support in these times of need," Grossman said. "There is a religious avenue, a ritual avenue, to find wholeness. And healing doesn't necessarily mean that there is a cure. There often isn't. But there can be a sense of support and comfort."

Grossman said she has noticed that fewer young people are coming to synagogue, and she worries that they are not aware of what Judaism has to offer. In part, she planned the service to educate Jews about their religion and the ways it can help people who are struggling with grief as the High Holidays, the most sacred in the Jewish calendar, approach.

"These kinds of services provide an avenue for meaningful connection to our faith, to our tradition, in a very untraditional way," Grossman said. "It's using tradition in a way that was not envisioned."

Jessica Rowe, coordinator of Jewish Family Services in Howard County, is helping lead tonight's support group. She said she plans to lead a discussion about grief and educate people about Judaism. About 15 people have signed up, but she expects more.

"The Jewish calendar provides over the course of the year many opportunities to remember people who have died," she said. She plans to end the hour by asking people to talk about what has helped them through grieving.

"We have gotten lots of calls actually from people who are seeking grief counseling," Rowe said. Jewish Family Services in Howard County plans to follow up with a healing support group in October after the holidays end.

Grossman also plans to continue emphasizing healing in her congregation. She said she plans to hold several healing services in her congregation in the near future, including one open to grieving women and another for the general population.

Although a first for Howard County, the healing service is part of a broader movement within the Jewish community. Nationally, untold numbers of Jewish congregations and organizations have begun to offer healing services around the holidays and throughout the year. In 1992, a Jewish healing center opened in San Francisco, followed by a National Jewish Healing Center in New York and similar centers in Washington, Baltimore and other cities.

"It's really possible to say there is a Jewish healing movement over the past seven years," said Amy Eilberg, co-founder of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco. "There's been a remarkable blossoming of interest."

Carol Hausman, coordinator of the Washington Jewish Healing Network, said the healing movement is not unique to Judaism.

"I think it's part of the general trend in all faiths, a return to spirituality," she said. "It's part of that, and it's part of the search for meaning. That's true in all faiths, and Judaism is certainly part of that whole trend."

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