How to Organize a Bikur Cholim Group...
Starting a new bikur cholim group can be a challenging process... one we're experienced at supporting. Feel free to contact us if we can be of any assistance. Below are outlined the nine main steps involved.
Step 1: Determine Leadership Find a Partner
Step 1: Determine LeadershipFind a Partner
A key element is to try to have at least two energetic and committed people to share the task, and assume the leadership to organize a bikur cholim group. If you are the first with the idea, ask the Rabbi for help getting another congregant involved. The administration of a bikur cholim committee needs to be thought through. All members of the committee and leadership of the congregation need to be clear about how the bikur cholim committee will operate. Whatever your steps, always keep the Rabbi informed and involved.
Step 2: Decide the Scope of the Project
It is necessary for the organizations leadership and the individual who has agreed to organize a bikur cholim group to decide what the scope and nature of the activities deleted BC will be, specifically:
Think About Your Synagogue Culture
In some communities, an average congregant may only be interested in a pastoral visit from the rabbi or cantor; lay visits might be unwelcome. In other synagogues membership might expect and be open to a visit from a fellow congregant. Clergy and lay visits are not mutually exclusive; each offers something that the other does not.
Educate your community towards a greater openness to making and receiving lay visits. To do this, a shift in the culture of the congregation is often necessary. Such shifts in attitude may take time. Be realistic in your expectations, and sensitive in knowing the history of your congregations culture around such matters.
Confidentiality a "Sacred Trust" Reemphasized
The issue of confidentiality is central and needs to be discussed, explained, and emphasized to the entire community. Those who are being visited need to know that those who visit them will keep the content of their meetings confidential.
When the visitor speaks to others at meetings with either his or her buddy or with the clinical chairperson, the identity of the person visited should remain confidential. In the case that a visitor is concerned about the safety or well-being of the one who is ill, he or she will communicate the information to the rabbi, whose responsibility it will be to provide follow up.
Step 3: Recruit Others
Recruit visitors from among the members of the congregation or organization. Start with a small nucleus or a large group. In inviting volunteers, among the qualities to look for are:
Remember, there are tasks for every kind of responsibility and skill.
Inform the community about the creation (or revitalization) of the group.
Raise awareness of the concept of bikur cholim through a high holiday sermon or a Bikur Cholim Shabbat Vaera to sensitize the community of the importance of bikur cholim. Themes might include: Judaism and Healing, Loving Our Neighbor As Ourselves, or The Importance of Mitzvot of Compassion.
The rabbi, cantor, educator, congregation president, and/or members of the community may want to devote one of their bulletin columns to the issue of bikur cholim, and remind people about the opportunity to serve on the bikur cholim committee or as a visitor.
In any publicity, be clear about who to contact for those who are interested in taking part in bikur cholim.
B. Screening/ Levels of Participation
The committee chair will help each individual determine an appropriate level of participation based on interest, talent and availability. The issue of screening individuals for the committee is sensitive, requiring judgment based upon both objective data and subjective intuition. The person in charge of screening might best be someone who has had practice in interviewing people.
C. Levels of Participation/There is a job for everyone
Offer participants the opportunity to be part of the bikur cholim effort at a number of different levels. Some may want to visit weekly, others may want to cook a meal every month or so. Others may prefer running errands for those who cannot get out of the house, while still others may help with some daily task such as opening mail or responding to phone calls. Each member may fill out a personalized job description indicating preferred populations to visit, interests, availability, etc. This allows each person to participate at a level that is comfortable for them, with room to grow into other areas.
Although there are no hard and fast rules here there may be some individuals whom the committee chair and/or rabbi consider to be unqualified or not ready to be representatives of the community in visiting the ill. Such individuals should be encouraged to participate in the mitzvah by cooking food, delivering meals, or otherwise helping the ill in non-direct ways.
For instance, a person who has lost a close relative within the past year and is in the midst of the initial stages of grief may find it difficult to stay present for others who are wrestling with serious illness. It is typically better for such a person to wait to join the committee as a visitor the following year.
Others struggling with family issues or mental illness may be unreliable as a supportive presence to the ill (though we are not suggesting that someone with a mental illness should automatically be disqualified from joining the committee and providing care to others).
E. Designing Your Outreach Campaign
Assess the unique potential within your own community. Remember students may be eager for volunteer positions as a way to gain experience and academic credit for community service; retirees may be seeking outlets for their skills: newcomers may be happy to take on a responsibility that will make them part of their new community. Working people may be looking for opportunities to interact with people in less-competitive, more-meaningful ways. All these individuals may never have considered the possibility of participating in bikur cholim, but once informed, they may find an unexpected opportunity for spiritual growth and fulfillment.
Your publicity should appeal to those you are seeking to attract:
When positive responses to recruiting calls are received:
Respond to them quickly and appropriately. Have job descriptions available so the volunteer can choose possible assignments at that time. Provide an overview of the whole program. The recruitment process is successful when the new volunteers are fully oriented into their roles, and when new and old volunteers have a chance to meet each other.
Assignments should wait until the group coordinator speaks with the newcomer. Every applicant can be encouraged to participate in some episodic, relatively undemanding, position. These might include planning and preparing patients holiday celebrations, writing or editing bikur cholim bulletin articles, and organizing fundraising parties or volunteer-recognition events.
Visiting for teens can be a meaningful experience when feeling useful, accepted, appreciated and connected is important. Teenagers are especially welcome visitors in nursing homes. In addition to person-to-person visiting, many young volunteers enjoy assisting with arts and crafts, conducting such group games as Bingo, and aiding individuals who cannot physically participate in these activities without help. Teens particularly enjoy drawing up genealogies and taping personal histories, activities which give residents the chance to enjoy sharing their experiences.
Step 4: Training Program
Kind intentions and a willing attitude is most important, but training may give you information and skills so that you might be most effective in your visiting effort.
Training can include establishing interpersonal relationships; understanding the limitations of the role of the bikur cholim visitor; knowing how to make a visit at home, in the hospital and/or nursing home what to say and what to do and how to terminate the visit. Training can be provided by professionals within the congregation or outside consultant from the JFS agency. Contact us for more information about the training offered by our staff.
In hospitals and/or nursing homes, the training includes an orientation to the specific hospital and/or nursing home by the director of volunteers to familiarize the bikur cholim visitor with pertinent policies and regulations and other institutional requirements.
Seek out opportunities to hone your skills with educational workshops offered in the community. Training and orientation is most effective with group discussions, interactive role playing, audiovisual presentations and other participatory methods which draw on the life experiences of the people doing the visit.
Step 5: Community Resources and Referrals
Obtain or compile a directory of agencies and services available in the community to assist the bikur cholim volunteers to obtain services for those visited.
In many Jewish communities directories have already been developed by agencies, federations or councils. Such directories are often available on request and can be useful.
Step 6: Finding People to be Visited
With all the people in need today, it may be a surprise to find that recruiting people to visit can be a slow process. Often people feel hesitant and embarrassed to ask for help. Counter these feelings with a recruitment that entails outreach and publicity and education. Get the word out about what your group does, and communicate to members that illness and wellness are normative events in our lifecycle. This knowledge can influence the larger synagogue/organizational culture by giving people permission to ask for help: knowing that their illness is a part of life and something we all face at one time or another. Sometimes it is the time to ask for assistance and sometimes is the time to be the helper.
Continue to underline the message of bikur cholim as a reciprocal relationship using Jewish stories, text studies and life cycle workshops to bring home the message that bikur cholim involves a partnership between those able to help at this moment and those asking for help without shame or self consciences. This involves a slow, steady re-education of the congregation.
Step 7: Delegate Responsibilities/Committee Chairs
Two co-chairs with two discrete job descriptions works well. One chairperson acts as the administrative chair, an the other as the clinical chair (or, the administrative chairperson may be the sole chairperson, but there is a clearly appointed person on the committee who is in charge of clinical oversight).
The administrative chairperson is in charge of knowing each committee members availability; he/she will keep a file of each members personalized job description. Requests for visits will be made to this chairperson. He or she will then match a committee member to someone who needs visiting, contacting the committee member, and then making sure that the visit was completed.
The clinical chairperson is available for support to members as they encounter difficulty, tension or lack of clarity in their visits, may be called before or after a visit to support the visitor, facilitate periodic support meetings for the group s a whole, and/or arrange for other professionals from the community to offer wisdom and skills for committee members ongoing growth. Because much of the work of bikur cholim takes place one-on-one, it is important to bring the group together to discuss experiences (confidentially) and to gain strength and insight from one another.
Committee members may want to match up with a buddy within the committee for greater contact and support before and after visits.
Elements of Effective Meetings
When starting a Bikur Cholim Group, the coordinator may have to take an active role at first to set the tone.
Key group leadership skills needed for this position include:
Guidelines for Running a Meeting
Step 8: Support for those Giving Support
Those who regularly do the mitzvah of bikur cholim need to have regular support. Much of the work takes place one-on-one, and therefore runs the risk of taking place in isolation. People need to be recharged from time to time. We suggest monthly meetings for support and further training, if so desired. If monthly meetings are not possible, we suggest that your group meet quarterly. As you assess the needs and availability of your particular community, remember that support is essential so that people do not experience burn-out.
In addition, each bikur cholim committee member should have a buddy who can offer peer support before and after particular visits as well as whenever additional support is needed.
Step 9: Up & Running
System Logistics: Everyone needs to know how it works
The way in which information flows needs to be clear to the entire congregation. Congregants need to know whom to call in the case that someone is ill and in need of lay support; this information may be listed in the synagogue bulletin, posted in the entry way to the building, mentioned from the bimah, etc. Each time the congregation is reminded whom to call in the case of illness they are reminded that lay visitation is something to expect from a synagogue community.
The initial contact person (whether the rabbi, the synagogue administrator, the bikur cholim committee chair person or another designated individual) then needs to give the information of a congregants illness to other people who should be informed (unless otherwise noted). Typically, someone who requests lay support will also want the congregational clergy to be informed about his or her need; key support does not replace rabbinic and/or cantorial support, nor does clerical support obviate the need for lay support.
After the administrative chairperson has matched a committee member with someone in need, the chairperson needs to make sure that the visit was completed; this can be accomplished either in writing or by phone.
The Next Step: Sustaining a group