The synagogue can, and should, play a role in the difficult issues faced by congregants, said Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld, religious leader of Cong. Beth Am in Teaneck and a trained social worker.
Calling upon his skills in both areas, Rosenfeld who spends about ‘0 percent of his time counseling those who are ill will soon launch a biweekly support program for people who suffer from chronic illness and foster discussions on how they can sustain their spirits.
Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld
Besides encouraging attendees to share stories about confronting their respective challenges whether pain, fear, or anxiety Rosenfeld will also offer members some specifically Jewish guidance.
"When you add the power of Torah study to group participation, it creates a dynamic enabling people to grow and mature," said the rabbi, who recently served as a social worker at the Cheshire Home, a care facility for disabled adults in Florham Park.
Speaking to the value of bringing people together who are experiencing similar problems, Rosenfeld noted the success of support groups offered by organizations such as Jewish Family Service, Cancer Care, and Gilda’s Club. In combining this group approach with Torah study, said Rosenfeld, "as a rabbi, I can make a contribution to the social dynamic."
Rosenfeld said he will introduce material from the Book of Psalms. Many psalms deal with some kind of struggle, whether for survival, faith, or assurance.
"When you struggle with chronic illness, you’re engaged in a battle to maintain your self-worth and dignity," he said. Even though the psalms use different language and describe different circumstances, they nevertheless focus on the "struggle in searching for meaning. They can become a springboard for looking into ourselves," said Rosenfeld, who noted that he will also introduce study material from midrash as well as from modern literature.
The rabbi said he thinks it will be helpful for group members to see how others are dealing with problems they experience themselves. And if the literature is helpful, if those with an illness can find a "source outside of oneself," he said, so much the better.
Rosenfeld, a licensed social worker in New Jersey and New York, received a master of social work degree from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University in May ‘006. In addition, he holds a certificate in pastoral counseling from the Post-Graduate Center for Mental Health, an independent institution whose pastoral counseling program is affiliated with the doctor of ministry program at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion..
The group, "Sustaining Our Spirits: A Torah Study and Support Group for Individuals with Chronic Illnesses," will meet on Wednesday evenings beginning Feb. ‘0 at Cong. Beth Am, 510 Claremont Ave., Teaneck. It is open to members and non-members of the congregation.
For additional information, call ’01-836-575′.