Just before noon on Tuesday, Mar. 24, I joined 33 people on Zoom for the inaugural meeting of Rey’im, a three-day training session led by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, a veteran educator and spiritual leader, and Beth Gansky, executive director of ACHARAI: The Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Leadership Institute.
The objective of Rey’im is to train participants to become “companions” to others as we cope with the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
“At a time like this, we all need each other,” said Rabbi Cardin, who led Rey’im Session I. She said the training would teach us coping skills to help ourselves and others during these difficult times.
Participants will be taught to “connect better, hear better, ask better questions, be more alert to our own and others’ needs, and to be social hubs for our friends and families,” Rabbi Cardin said. “No one is an expert. We have never experienced this before. We are all figuring it out. The good news is that we can all contribute. To the best of our abilities, we can all be agents of our own destiny, not victims of the time.
“This is biblical!” she said of the pandemic. “People are going to study us and wonder how we got through it.”
Rabbi Cardin said there are four ways in which we are likely to respond to the challenges of the coronavirus:
Inevitably, there will be times of stress and fear as we worry about loved ones; figure out how to safeguard the health of ourselves and our families; adjust to family members living and working in close quarters, and more.
At other times, we may feel that we’re “doing fine. We’re getting through.”
This period presents unique opportunities for growth and self-discovery. “With all the frenzy, there are things we are learning about ourselves. The coronavirus unmasks our deep personalities.”
“We will be in a place of growth and security that will enable us to help others.”
Rabbi Cardin stressed that people will experience “peaks and valleys.” Our moods and mental states will vacillate throughout the course of the pandemic. The situation is bound to affect even the most resilient among us, she said.
“Before we can help others, we must do an assessment of who we are and how we’re doing,” Rabbi Cardin said. She encouraged participants to take their emotional temperatures each day.
“Ask yourself, ‘What do I need today? What can I give today?’ As we reach out to others we need to know where they are,” she said.
Rabbi Cardin offered six guiding principles for coping:
“There is so much we don’t know. ‘How long will it last? How will we change? How will America change? What might we do to make changes we’ve wanted to make but haven’t made in the past?’ We have to move forward.”
2. Forgiveness and Gentleness
The rabbi said being forgiving and gentle will be critical as society enters uncharted territory. “We are all struggling for equilibrium,” she said.
3. Take a Long View of the Situation
“View this from a long perspective. History will look back on us. Humanity has been through this before, and it will happen again. Can we use this to help others?”
4. Be Creative
“We are more than victims of the moment, but agents in charge of our days and lives. What are the behaviors and attitudes that can help get all of us through [the pandemic]?” For example, said Rabbi Cardin, “We saw people [in Italy and Spain] on their balconies singing and exercising together; clothing companies making masks and breweries making hand sanitizer.”
5. Be Mindful
“Details matter, especially if we are living with others. Our smallest actions — [not] leaving dishes in the sink, leaving messes in the house, or saying a kind word — goes a long way.”
We will get through this difficult time and may even gain strength and resilience, said the rabbi.
The meeting ended with a text study, including a passage from Exodus: 25 on the tabernacle (mishkan), a portable sanctuary carried by the Israelites as they wandered through the desert.
“That’s the kind of space we need to create now,” said Rabbi Cardin. “The Shekhinah, the presence of God, moves wherever it needs to be. When you have your virtual dinners with friends, your happy hours, the mishkan moves with us.”
The next Rey’im meeting will be held today, Mar. 25. Session II will be led by Gansky, who said participants will learn about coping strategies and resources, as well as share their experiences and feelings.
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