By Stacey Lefever
I grew up in a town with few Jewish families and so being Jewish made me feel alienated, like an outsider. While my friends celebrated Christmas, I received socks and gelt from my parents, because, as my mother pointed out, Hanukkah was not an important Jewish holiday. While my friends sat down for meals of ham and mashed potatoes at Easter, my family and I ate stale cracker matzoh and horseradish for Passover. I did my best to hide my Jewish identity, often pretending to be Christian like everybody else. When I was out of school for the High Holy Days, I would tell my classmates I had been ill. I attended Hebrew School twice a week, kicking and screaming all the way, and eventually was Bat Mitzvahed, but after the pomp and circumstance, I disappeared from synagogue.
After college, I moved to New York City, and there I met a young woman who had grown up in a largely Jewish town in New Jersey. Her take on being Jewish was radically different than my own. For her, Judaism was not simply a religion, but a culture. She began taking me to friends’ houses for Shabbat dinners and we explored the eclectic variety of synagogues in the city; Reform, Reconstructionist, Modern Orthodox, and Conservative. The choices seemed endless. I began to see what she saw in her Jewish faith, a vibrant living legacy that was part of her greater identity. I began to get a sense of the Jewish community, which was far greater and more diverse than either of us.
As I grew older and moved from New York to Pittsburgh, I began to seek out the larger meaning of being Jewish for myself. I began holding a giant Hanukkah celebration at my house for all of my friends, Jewish and gentile. I spent three days in the kitchen making a huge Passover dinner and invited my whole family. I began to see that, whether we were Ashkenazi or Sephardic, Israeli or Diaspora, Ethiopian or Russian, all of the Jewish people spoke the same language, not Hebrew; but a language of being different, unique, persecuted, stubborn and steadfast. A language filled with both celebration and suffering. A language of our own.
I see Judaism as a giant, ancient tree; with many branches, going in many different directions. Temple Sinai is one of those branches. When I began working at Sinai in March, I felt both a strong connection to the Temple community and a sense of purpose in my profession as a social worker. Whether it was discussing psychology with Rabbi Goldwasser, kibitzing with Dottie at the front desk between therapy sessions, joking around with Rabbi Sol during Hebrew School, shoveling in bagels at Shabbat breakfast, or sharing dessert with the folks in the Kosher Café; I continually felt supported in my mission to help others. I heard that wonderful passionate language of the Jewish faith spoken here. Instead of feeling alienated, I began to see that being different actually made me fit in. Sinai embraced me, and I embraced it. I began to feel myself growing into a small leaf on the strong branch of the Sinai community.
And so, it is with great sadness that I must tell you that I am leaving Temple Sinai and my work as a Kesher Social Worker. I am moving on to a full-time position at another agency in Connecticut, a decision which was incredibly difficult to make. Not every day was easy in my work at Sinai, some days were extremely challenging, but I always felt a sense of purpose and dedication in both my professional and spiritual life. I have felt the love you have for one another, and the strong sense of faith, social justice, and passion for mitzvot that Sinai members share. Rhode Island is a small state, and the Jewish community is even smaller, so I believe I will see many of you as time goes on, crossing paths on our respective journeys. I hope that in, however a limited way, whether directly or indirectly, I have made a difference in the Temple Sinai community. I can sincerely say that all of you have made a difference in mine. Thank you for allowing me to be only a small leaf on this beautiful big tree.
Stacey Lefever, LCSW, is the Kesher social worker at Temple Sinai. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Collective Services of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Sinai, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. She can be reached at email@example.com or 401-428-4084.
If would like to contact Stacey, her last day will be Tuesday, September 18th at the Kol Nidre service. She will be available at both her email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (401) 428-4084 until then. Please contact her supervisor, Rose Murrin, at Jewish Collective Services, (401) 331-1244 or email@example.com with any questions or concerns after that date.
By Tara Watkins, LICSW
Many of us would like nothing more than to relax in the great outdoors by ourselves or with loved ones this time of year-soaking up the warmth and sunshine of the summer days. However, all too often we may find ourselves putting this enjoyment on the back burner to prioritize other responsibilities. Perhaps our kids have an extracurricular activity we must bring them to, or our parents need a little extra help, work asks us to put in over-time again, and let’s not forget that lengthy lists of “things to do” around the house. With all that each day brings (and I’m sure each of us can think of many other tasks that I have not written here) it may seem all too easy to de-prioritize taking time for ourselves.
A recent study found that many parents and caregivers work an average of 98 hours per week, surviving with an average of only 17 minutes of free time each day. (Sadly, I bet for some readers this is even on the low side for work hours.)
How many times do we find ourselves shaving off hours of sleep, skipping meals, exercise or other activities that promote personal wellness only to find ourselves more lethargic, less clear thinking, and/or developing mood changes such as becoming more irritable or depressed. Simply put, we cannot be there fully for our jobs or loved ones if we do not also take time to be there more fully for ourselves.
To live well requires learning to balance the scale. When the scale is weighed more towards giving to others than nurturing and restoring ourselves symptoms of burnout begin to surface. When we have reached a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion (often caused by prolonged stress) burnout has occurred. Burnout involves feeling overwhelmed and/or emotionally drained to the extent that our ability to function on day to day basis is impacted.
However, burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It is more of a gradual process. Taking time for a little TLC, or self-care is vital to a healthy life and preventing burnout.
It is not uncommon to feel a little awkward or guilty when we begin to practice better self-care. However, learning to provide more care for ourselves does not mean we are selfish or self-centered. Quite the opposite! Taking time to nurture ourselves deepens our ability to care for others. It also helps us to recharge and be more present with those around us both in our professional and personal lives.
Over the course of our lives we experience periods of calmness when everything seems to be going well and crisis seems at a low. However, we may also experience times when we feel bombarded with multiple emotionally charged events or difficult decisions all at once. If we have not been practicing self-care during the periods of calm these periods of intense tension or stress are liable to have more negative impacts on our lives and health.
Self-care simply put Is doing something we find meaningful that helps recharge us body, mind and spirit. True self-care includes caring for the whole person.
Below are just a few self-care tips to get you started.
The list of options goes on and on.
Practicing self-care nurtures and supports our whole being allowing us to return to that “list of things to do” with renewed energy, focus and alertness. Wishing everyone a summer full of activities that engage and rejuvenate you- body, mind and spirit!
(If you think you might be on the road to burnout and/or are struggling with how to make self-care more of a reality in your life the Kesher social worker at your temple is available to help. This free supportive service is available to all congregants and their families.)
Front. Psychol., 09 February 2017 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00163
Tara Watkins, LICSW, is the Kesher social worker at Temple Emanu-El. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and private donors. The Kesher program is currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Sinai, Temple Emanu-El, and Congregation Beth Sholom. Tara may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-527-7772.
By Stacey Lefever
Many of us have heard the news on television or in print about the ongoing opioid epidemic. Yet, many people don't realize that they can make a difference in confronting the crisis. Your fellowship and friendship are the best ways of reaching someone with addiction, and can help an addict recover from the disease. By showing support and love, not judgment and indifference, faith communities can be a source of inspiration and hope to people on their journey to recovery. Addiction creates isolation for many, and stigma perpetuates this cycle. A supportive, loving community, open to listening and learning, eases the move toward healing, and it also invaluable to families who have a loved one with addiction.
The statistics are staggering. Nearly 1 in 8 Americans have addiction, and more than 100 die each day from overdoses. Yet stigma against those with addiction has led many to believe that addiction cannot and will not happen to them or those they love. When I began my career in social work, I was living in Pittsburgh and working at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. I had limited knowledge of addiction prior to beginning this work, so I immediately set about trying to “change” the addict, oblivious that they were more than just their addiction. I realized quickly that addiction effects every demographic, age, and culture; including those in the Jewish community. In fact, 70% percent of people who use drugs are employed; and they live in your community, go to your temple, or even live in your home.
It took several years working in the field to begin to understand the addictive process and learn that addiction was not something I could “change” for my clients. So, I began to listen, as opposed to lecturing about all the things I had learned in my studies. I also began to see the transformative effect that faith had on those with addiction. Twelve Step programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) have integrated faith and spirituality into their programs, and it is easy to understand why. It works. However, I also began to understand that recovery is a unique journey for every individual affected, including the loved ones of those with addiction, and so I became intensely interested in the ways the faith community itself can help those with addiction, and how it was particularly suited to combat stigma.
One of the most important changes in addiction treatment in recent years has been the integration of resources in addiction treatment. This includes law enforcement, the government, and faith communities and establishments. These institutions all have a role to play in helping those with addiction recover from their disease. Kevin Hoffman, who studies the effect of addiction in the faith communities in Ohio, has explained that is it “important to remember that addiction (and recovery) are shaped by the environment, they do not occur in a vacuum.” In his home state, which has been devastated by the opioid crisis, they are taking dramatic steps to counteract drug abuse. He emphasizes that it is important for the faith community to be trained in recognizing the signs of addiction. Temples are resources for those in the faith community, and having addiction resources and referral sources available to those seeking help is an essential tool in combatting the addiction cycle. Every synagogue should consider having pamphlets for rehabilitation centers and addiction doctors, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting lists. Faith communities are unique in that they offer redemption and reflection to those who seek it. Offering an ear to listen, as well as knowledgeable advice, is so important to those looking for help.
Many of those who suffer are simply looking for someone to walk with them on their journey. It is not important that we live this journey with them, but rather that we “meet them where they are” in their recovery. Monty Burks, who works with the faith communities in his home State of Tennessee to battle addiction, points out that we need to “move beyond the language of moral failing.” In other words, understanding that addiction is not a choice, but a disease, and that those who are addicted are not bad people, but rather people who have an illness. Most important, we must recognize that addiction is a treatable disease, but like many diseases, it may require more than one go around of treatment before someone is well.
If you have any feedback or suggestions, feel free to contact me via email or phone. I also would like to have a “Recovery Day” celebration at Sinai. If you are interested in participating or sponsoring this event, please let me know. Thank you!
Stacey Lefever, LCSW, is the Kesher social worker at Temple Sinai. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. She can be reached at email@example.com or 401-428-4084.