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Bikur Cholim 101: Building Synagogue Visiting from the Ground Up
This presentation is from The 15th Annual Bikur Cholim Conference: "In the Company of Hope: Lifting the Spirits through Bikur Cholim" on November 10, 2002.
Presented by Susan J. Rosenthal, LMSW, Co-Coordinator, National Center for Jewish Healing of the JBFCS. Formerly the JBFCS Social Work Consultant to Congregation Bnai Jeshurun, a congregation of 3,000+ members in NYC.
While there is nothing more powerful and beautiful than the individual act of bikur cholim, visiting an ill person, a synagogue community needs a structure through which it can potentiate, hold and channel all the good intentions of its members. Like the building guidelines for the Mishkan, found in our Torah, each community can benefit from developing a structure tailored to its specific needs. Participants are encouraged to explore the basic components of this structure, the tailoring process, different approaches communities have used and ways of addressing obstacles. Bring your experience, obstacles and accomplishments.
A. Components To Consider In Developing The Building Plan
- Culture: Within the Synagogue Community
- Collaboration: Between Rabbis and Lay Leaders/Members
- Core: The Bikur Cholim Leadership Committee
- Pillars and Posts: Divide and Manage
CULTURE Visiting (reaching out) depends on knowing that someone in the community is ill.
- Do members know what Bikur Cholim is?
- Do members Call Out of Help? Do they declare themselves ill?
- Do ill members know whom to inform and how to do this? Do they contact the Rabbinic Office or other member of the community? Do they know what to expect as a response?
- Do members act as the Eyes and Ears for the rabbis and Bikur Cholim Committee? Do members know who to tell when they learn someone needs help?
- To what extent does a helping response happen naturally in your community? How can this be strengthened? Are certain sub-groups more in the loop than others?
- Do members expect the Rabbis and members to be mind readers, know they are ill, and then get disappointed when they dont get an adequate response?
- What vehicles exist to support/ increase awareness of the mitzvah?
COLLABORATION Between Rabbis and Lay Leaders
- How does the Rabbi(s) / Rabbinic Office respond to the needs of its members who are ill? What is the range of responses?
- What constraints do the Rabbi(s) wrestle with in addressing this mitzvah?
- How do they involve lay members in meeting the needs of those who are ill? Which aspects of this system are formalized? What about the informal system?
- What do the Rabbi(s) see as the down side to involving lay leaders in responding to the needs of the ill?
- What do the Rabbi(s) see as the up side to involving lay leaders?
- Are lay leaders committed to decentralizing (involving as many members as possible) in the mitzvah? What are the barriers here?
- What are the ways a common vision and progressive partnership can be built between Rabbinate and Lay Leaders?
CORE Building the Bikur Cholim Leadership Committee
- What is the purpose/mission of the Leadership Committee?
- What are the respective role(s) of the Committee Chairs/ Co-Chairs, Team Leaders (see Pillars and Posts), Rabbinic Liaison and Staff Liaison?
- Ideally, what are the core skills that each need to get the Committee working effectively?
- How would the Leadership Committee function? How often would it meet as a whole, in sub-committee (Teams) and for what purpose?
- What are the ways you can identify and recruit members onto the Leadership Committee?
- What are some of the promoters and barriers to recruiting members into leadership positions?
- When should Chairs start planning for a transition in committee leadership? What are the important components in this process?
- Who attends to the recognition, acknowledgements and Thank yous for the time and effort put in by all?
- How do you evaluate the effectiveness of the mitzvahs being done?
PILLARS AND POST Identify, Divide and Manage Key "Buckets of Work"
- What are the key "buckets" of bikur cholim work that need to get done in your synagogue? Include as many components as possible. Review you list and see what is missing.
- How might these buckets be grouped together to form discrete team functions?
- What are the teams and the buckets or tasks that fall under each team?
- List the teams in the order of their importance to the Committees mission.
- How does Leadership decide how much they can take on?
- What skills do the different Team Leaders need? What would their job description look like? Which teams could benefit from Co-Leaders?
- How do you recruit Team Leaders and Team Members?
- How do the Team Leaders work with Chairs, Staff and the Rabbinic Office?
- How do Team Leaders develop objectives and a timeline to meet the goal of their Team?
- Where do leaders and members turn when they experience problems?
- How do you add or subtract and buckets?
B. Questions to Consider In Preparation for a Visioning Process
(Taken from the work of Susan Kippur, Co-Chair, Bnai Jeshurun Bikur Cholim Committee)
- What do you feel is the single-most important thing that the Bikur Cholim Leadership Committee needs to accomplish in the coming year in order to build a foundation for continuing impact?
- To support this important accomplishment, what are key "buckets" of work that need to get done?
- What do you think the ideal role(s) of the leadership committee co-chairs should be?
- What do you think the ideal role(s) of the congregation staff liaison should be?
- What do you think the ideal role(s) of the bikur cholim leadership committee members should be?
- Given these roles and the buckets of work that you've identified, what, if any, sub-committees or small groups should we consider establishing?
- What do you really like about the way in which the leadership committee has worked together so far, from a process perspective?
- Going forward, what would you like to do differently in terms of our process?
- What obstacles do you think we will face as a group in the coming year (either from a content or process perspective), and what ideas do you have for how we might overcome these?
C. Accomplishments From One Case Study: Outcomes of Bikur Cholim Visioning Sessions Target The Coming Year
- Establish bikur cholim as an integral part of community life well understood as a concrete practice; well known, well leveraged continual, consistent, visible
- Create a structure that facilitates the above and addresses buckets of work that need to get done Sharpen our vision (lend help/support to members of the community who have needs arising from illness that is primarily, but not exclusively, severe and acute; heighten the mitzvah)
- Align leadership committee members with specific leadership tasks
Key Buckets of Work/Functions To Support Our Target Accomplishments
- Handling initial communication with ill person to coordinate needs connection, analysis, mobilization
- Making visits to hospital/home
- Making phone calls
- Providing food
- Providing transportation
- Organizing healing/prayer services
- Serving as a gateway for pastoral counseling and social work support
- Providing ongoing support (potentially by illness type)
- Offering education (to the community at large, leadership committee, volunteers)
- Communicating about bikur cholim (media outreach, awareness)
- Coordinating special mitzvah opportunities/events
- Communicating the MiSheberach List (communication to/from staff and leadership committee)
- Providing support to caregivers (family, volunteers)
- Providing support to frail elderly/homebound???
- Orienting and mentoring new volunteers
- Providing Support for Ill Persons (3 leaders)
Education and Communication (2 leaders)
Special Events/Special Needs (2 leaders)
Outreach: Mi Shebarakh List/ People with Long-Term Needs (2 leaders)
Outreach: Frail Elderly (2 leaders)
- Phone calls
Frequency of meetings
- Reasons for meeting (e.g. decision making that has to be done by the whole group, periodic updates, etc.)
- Co-chairs will divide work, collaborating on all aspects and touching base at least weekly (more frequently when required)
Staff Liaison, Rabbinic Liaison, and Co-chairs will meet frequently until teams are established and functioning thereafter, meetings will be held as needed
Specific teams will meet with or without Co-chairs and members of other teams based on project requirements
Once all teams are established, Leadership Committee will meet roughly 4 times per year:
- Each Co-chair will serve as a primary point person for half of the teams.
- In October for re-energizing and study
- In January/February for a Kiddush
- In March for reflection and planning for upcoming year
- In May/June for an all-volunteer recognition/study event
- Primary Rabbi responsible for bikur cholim activity
- Rabbinic resource to leadership committee
- One avenue (in addition to Staff Liaison) for receiving, analyzing, and delivering to Co-chairs requests for service, and where appropriate for recommending service to be provided (In cases where confidentiality or other sensitivities are at issue, may handle service requests independently without turning them over to co-chairs for mobilization.)
- Consultant to, adviser to, problem solver with Co-chairs
- Liaison to bring bigger congregation issues to committee and from committee to congregation staff
- One avenue (in addition to Rabbinic Liaison) for receiving, analyzing, and delivering to Co-chairs requests for service, and where appropriate for recommending service to be provided
- Mobilizer of Leadership Committee teams to respond to needs as analyzed
- Mentor to and monitor of Leadership Committee members to help develop their expertise and enhance their spiritual development
- Communicator to Staff and Rabbinic Liaisons of additional needs that surface in the support community members who are ill, their families/caregivers
- Recruiting people to the Leadership Committee, as appropriate, with input from Liaisons and Committee Members
Leadership Committee Members
- Leaders of bikur cholim volunteer teams responsible for providing service/meeting needs of ill persons and their families/caregivers (as team leaders, responsible for orienting and mentoring new volunteers)
- Communicators to Co-Chairs of additional needs that surface in providing support
- Resources for leading/executing special projects (e.g. communication efforts, special mitzvah opportunities, educational initiatives) undertaken by Bikur Cholim Leadership Committee