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Caregiver's Day Out

Two years ago, while helping care for her cousin who had Alzheimer’s disease, Temple Shalom, Dallas congregant Barbara Glazer had an idea. Knowing from the inside out how difficult it was for family caregivers of dementia patients to have time for themselves, she thought: Why can’t our congregation organize a Caregiver’s Day Out?

She approached Rabbi Andrew Marc Paley, who loved the idea and offered the temple’s learning center as a venue. The Dallas Alzheimer’s Association trained the volunteer caregivers. Glazer then publicized the initiative through temple channels, asking for volunteers who would be open to caring for early stage Alzheimer’s or dementia patients for four hours twice a month. Fifteen people aged 40–75, male and female, Jewish and non-Jewish, signed up.

These days, two Thursdays a month, from 10:30am to 2:30pm, 15 volunteers spend time with up to 10 individuals with dementia—one volunteer being a friend for each participant, with “floater” volunteers on hand as needed.

Glazer explains that “The experience begins with everyone visiting together around a large table having coffee and a snack, looking at books and old Life magazines, and spelling words with Scrabble tiles. Next up is a fun exercise class: We sit in a circle and laugh as a professional trainer leads us in exercise, ending with the passing of two balls around a circle—one color in one direction and another color in the opposite direction—which is challenging for the volunteers, too. Then we walk around the temple, talking about the artwork in the halls and ‘window shopping’ in the gift shop. At noon the Corner Bakery delivers a delicious lunch free to the participants (volunteers bring their own). Afterwards, we do hands-on art projects with tactile materials such as feathers, leaves, and lace, which trigger memories that participants and volunteers share with one another. Next, a Therapy Dog visits; most participants have had or still have a dog at home, and the energy and love between the visiting dog and the participant is palpable. Then everyone sings old songs and shares memories. At least once a month, volunteer professional musicians—pianists, saxophonists, guitarists, harpists—put on a concert. We finish our day playing Bingo, with chocolate candy prizes.”

Glazer notes that “Music touches people with memory issues like nothing else. One participant, a Holocaust survivor, sometimes ‘zones out.’ One day when he was ‘off somewhere,’ a pianist began playing ‘Yerushalayim Shel Zahav’—and he immediately joined in, singing loudly and beautifully. There was not a dry eye in the room.”

“This program is a win-win,” says Temple Shalom Executive Director Steve Lewis. “It is a fabulous experience for the people with dementia, in many cases the only time they leave their home. Equally important, it is a blessing to give overworked caregivers a block of time to do what they need and want to do for themselves. They are always telling the volunteers how appreciative they are.”

Glazer adds that “My greatest joy would be for there to be a program like ours in every temple in North America. The need is that great.”

A Vision in Verse

…And so we must construct a space
that holds and fits, that grows and yearns
that obviates our base concerns
where we can choose to stand and face
the immanence we seek. Our days
are short. Our time here all too brief
though elevated by belief
in love and justice, hope and praise….

…We must become the sages 
    of Long Beach,
Collect our debris, build our Genizah,
Create our littoral home.
We must become messengers 
    of hill and berm,
Shore and sandbar, current,
Tide, sediment, surf and seawall.
We are such fertile loam.

—two excerpts from “A Poem for a Temple Reborn” by Patty Seyburn

Rabbi Steven Moskowitz, a lover of great literature, wanted to do something uniquely meaningful to mark the successful completion of Temple Israel in Long Beach, CA's year-long, $5.8 million renovation.

He believed the new synagogue would be a “house for dreaming…because,” he says, “in Judaism, dreaming is not a retreat from reality. It’s one of the building blocks for a better, more sacred reality.” And, he explained, “The very notion of rededication, which has to do with this lovely tension of embracing and honoring the past and also innovating ourselves for the present…seems to require a language that is full of motion rather than one that is static. To me, that is the language of poetry.”

The rabbi also wanted the re-dedication to acknowledge the “textured and multidimensional” people in the 500-family congregation who would hopefully be living their dreams in the new building. And so, he helped create a monthly, year-long series of rededication ceremonies, each month’s program focusing on a different theme—the arts, spirituality, parenting, education, Israel, and more. Program highlights included a puppet show by Mallory Lewis (daughter of Lamb Chop creator Shari Lewis), a parenting session with psychologist and author Wendy Mogel, performances by popular musician Josh Nelson and the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale—and two extraordinary poetry events.

Earlier in the year, the temple commissioned the award-winning poet Patty Seyburn (a member of Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach) to write “A Poem for a Temple Reborn.” This serious work intermixes three different poetic forms—a rhyming quatrain (four-line stanza), free verse, and psalm-style (inspired by these poems of praise)—the three forms representing the three times the synagogue has been reconfigured on that site (1941, 1965, 2013).

Meanwhile, Rabbi Moskowitz had spearheaded the creation of a congregation-wide collective poem under the direction of Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, a congregant, poet, and public radio education reporter—“to remind us,” the rabbi says, “that we have poetry residing within us, if someone will only help it to emerge.” Using prompts such as “We are…” and “Our shul….,” Guzman-Lopez engaged a very eclectic group of 200 members of all ages, adults and children, in articulating in verse what their spiritual home means to them. One such verse reads:

Awesome Rabbi, Cantor, educators.
Children and parents,
siblings, people kindness and compassion.
Sadness, free choice, free country, good times.
Fear, failure, rebirth, teshuvah, 

    rest, peace Torah, awe,
and latkes.

During the concluding festivities, both the commissioned and collective poems were presented, printed in a chapbook, and distributed to everyone in attendance.

“The entire process helped us become more aware of who we are as a community,” Rabbi Moskowitz says. “And, in so doing, we have been able to embrace two seemingly paradoxical aspects of our new congregational identity: expansion and intimacy. Our new building enables us to accommodate more people, and the rededication events modeled for us how connection, responsiveness, and community can define the encounters for all who enter the new building.” Rabbi Moskowitz notes that the congregation has now created a NFTY chapter in response to its teens’ enthusiastic request, and is bringing citizens from across the city together to discuss issues concerning the future of their Long Beach community.

“As was the case with the Mishkan in the wilderness, the congregation’s goal was never primarily about the building of a physical structure,” he says “The goal was about the renewed construction of a sacred community, and I believe we are achieving that.”

Yom Kippur in the Woods

This past Yom Kippur, 165 members of Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco gathered in the beautiful, woodsy setting of URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California to worship, build community, and renew themselves.

They began with apples, honey, and wine under the sky, followed by Kol Nidre services. Rabbi Yoni Jaffe then took about 60 parents and 40 kids on a night hike to an overlook, where he spoke about Moses ascending Sinai and then, on Yom Kippur, descending the mountain with the tablets.

In the morning, 30 kids took a yoga class rooted in the motif “Adonai sefatai tiftach,” with “sfatayim in this context representing edges or borders,” Rabbi Jaffe says. “The idea was to stretch to the point that their souls reached out of their borders.” During the morning service that followed, 150 congregants, young and old, spread out all over the camp to offer silent prayer amidst nature.

After services, congregants hiked for three miles and began developing new friendships, heeding the rabbi’s direction to get to know at least two other congregants during the experience by talking to them about their year. “I heard a wonderful conversation about forgiving one’s parents, especially as they age,” Rabbi Jaffe says. “Others spoke about how to mete out autonomy to children without leaving them open for major mistakes.”

Many of the young children participated in a whale-shaped “Jonah obstacle course” of balance beams, trampolines, tunnels, and landings. “We asked the kids what skills—such as jumping, ducking, and balancing—they needed to use in the whale and how they needed those skills to be a good person in everyday life,” Rabbi Jaffe says. “We also had the kids close their eyes, pretending it was dark inside the whale, and connected this to closing our eyes when we pray. Why do we shut out this sense and how does it allow us to focus on what we’re doing?”

Group text study of the Isaiah haftarah followed. By this time, Rabbi Jaffe says, “Our experience felt like a perfect metaphor for the prophet Isaiah’s messages of not over-emphasizing rituals and thereby excludingkavannah [sacred intention], of not focusing on dressing one’s finest, but rather on personal assessment. Wearing casual clothes, we could focus on separating Yom Kippur from the built-up pomp of modern custom and on returning the holy day to its roots.”

Before the concluding Neilah service, all 165 participants joined together for a group art project: creating saran-wrapped “foot” sculptures affixed to black board “roads,” upon which families wrote where they hoped to head in the coming year. “Kids wrote goals such as ‘learning to swim’ and ‘doing a somersault,’ and more serious ones like ‘tell the truth’ and ‘when I do something bad, say I am sorry,’” Rabbi Jaffe says. “Some parents were surprised to hear what was on their kids’ minds.”

Afterwards, families celebrated havdalah with their arms around one another, enjoyed a break-the-fast dinner, and ended the evening with s’mores and singing song after song by the campfire.

Rabbi Jaffe notes that “Many congregants have expressed gratitude for this novel approach to celebrating the High Holy Days.” For example, one participant later wrote: “Usually my wife and I have to negotiate all sorts of things with our kids—e.g. dressing up for temple, and which services everyone will attend. In fact, before this year’s holiday, my youngest son asked for clarification: ‘Is Yom Kippur the time where we argue and fight?’ Sad, but accurate, I suppose. This retreat made it possible for both us and the kids to be more participatory in the holiday—and to appreciate and enjoy it.”