It’s a cruel irony. At an unprecedented time and in an environment when many of us crave companionship and emotional support more than ever, the coronavirus pandemic demands that we practice social distancing and self-quarantining.

That irony isn’t lost on Beth Gansky, executive director of ACHARAI: The Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Leadership Institute, and Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, a longtime educator, spiritual leader and founder of Rey’im/Companions, a new synagogue-based program set to launch in May.

“Social distancing is really physical distancing, and in this moment we need to create emotional closeness,” says Rabbi Cardin. “People are doing this in amazing ways when they’re not physically together. In Italy, we see the videos of people singing together from their balconies, while quarantined residents in Spain are doing calisthenics from their balconies.

“How do we create those moments?”

Rabbi Cardin and Gansky came up with an idea. Starting this Tuesday, Mar. 24, the two veteran Jewish communal professionals will pilot a free, three-week online program to train community members to “serve as spiritual companions who can ‘walk with’ friends as they navigate the normal hard times of life,” says the rabbi.

Participants will learn techniques for “offering support, companionship, and a warm and comforting virtual presence,” she said.

Gansky and Cardin hope the training will give participants the confidence and skills to help others. In the process, they hope trainees will feel supported and nurtured as well.

“The very aspect of learning coping skills together is emotionally bonding,” says Rabbi Cardin. “We will be teaching people to use the internet to create social hubs that will make us feel connected.”

Although the pilot program is full, Rabbi Cardin says that the training is expected to become available to the public during the first week of April. More information about the program will be provided as the program evolves.