“This is an anxious time with many unknowns,” said Beth Gansky. “No matter what you’re feeling, it’s OK.”
Gansky, executive director of Acharai: The Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Leadership Institute, began the second meeting of Rey’im yesterday, Mar. 25, with those words of reassurance and comfort.
Rey’im is a three-day virtual program to train participants to become “companions” to others during the coronavirus pandemic. The workshop was founded by Gansky and Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, a local spiritual leader, educator and author.
Gansky encouraged group members to constantly practice “acts of self-care.” As an example, she led the group in a breathing exercise. She also introduced her nephew, who performed a song intended to help “ground” participants.
Gansky asked group members to share their responses to prompts that she gave at the end of Rey’im’s Session I:
1. Reach out to someone with whom you have not spoken since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak.
2. Do something kind for yourself.
3. Identify a project to do while you are based at home.
Participants shared examples of how the prompts inspired them. One person sent a link of an orchestra performing Beethoven to her elderly parents; another said the prompt made her realize that she needed to reach out to people, particularly to loved ones in New York.
Someone else mentioned that she has felt nurtured by taking part in the many virtual communal programs sponsored by Beth El Congregation’s Soul Center. She has also been helping an elderly friend to learn to use Zoom so that he can participate in synagogue activities.
Several people talked about how platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime have allowed for family get-togethers and happy hours that have provided support and pleasure.
“The term ‘social distancing’ is a misnomer,” said Gansky. “I prefer the term ‘physical distancing.’ We need to stay close using technology. It’s not our natural go-to, but we need to shift.”
On the other hand, an old fashioned but effective method of staying connected is sending postcards to loved ones, said Gansky.
Gansky prompted group members to make lists of the roles they play, as parents, children, siblings, colleagues, etc. Given the challenges presented by the pandemic, Gansky pointed out that people must “make intentional choices about supporting ourselves in these roles. We may not have the energy to perform all of our roles with the same energy we normally have.”
She also noted the importance of maintaining a daily routine and having “intentional conversations” with family members sharing living space to maintain harmony at home.
Gansky asked participants to consider the different communities to which they belong and “what can you give most to and what can you get most from?” One participant said she has enjoyed catching up with a group of high school friends, while another has received a great deal of satisfaction from making phone calls to raise money for medical supplies. She pointed out that many groups are looking for help on social media.
After a virtual happy hour with mothers from a Jewish Community Center playgroup she was part of more than 20 years ago, one member said she felt “physically different after the call. It’s important to practice social distancing, but keep interacting.”
Rev. Caroline R. Stewart, an Episcopal priest who directs the Center for Wellbeing at the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore, attended the Rey’im meeting. She spoke of the activities that her congregants have undertaken to support each other during the pandemic.
“One parishioner emailed that she’s finding if she literally puts a grin on her face, she feels so much better,” said Rev. Stewart, who also spoke about the importance of music, art, humor, and regular phones and emails.
Gansky provided additional suggestions for raising spirits: cooking, doing jigsaw puzzles, walking, appreciating the arrival of spring, keeping a journal and meditation.
She asked participants to consider the following:
1. What am I choosing in this moment?
2. How am I being asked to grow here?
3. How is the situation outside of me a catalyst for my own development?
4. Who am I becoming in this moment?
5. How might I shift my inner state to be a resource for myself, loved ones, colleagues and communities right now?