What is “Spiritual Healing?” A Days of Awe Message
By Rabbi Michael Goldman
As the Director of the WJCS Jewish Spiritual Healing Center, I ask myself that question a lot. And I don’t have a dictionary-worthy answer for you. For one, “spiritual” seems to have as many definitions as there are people. And “healing?” Show me the spiritually “healed,” and I could show you a self-deluded person. So, what are we even talking about?
Although I struggle to define the two middle words in my own job title, I know spiritual healing when I see it. Since I see it happening all over WJCS, I asked my colleagues for stories of their clients (we didn’t share names) who experienced spiritual healing and renewal through our agency’s programs and services. Here are three stories they shared.
• A longtime member of one of our Dementia-Caregivers Support Groups, whose husband died after many years of illness, recounted to my colleague how during the last few years, without the group, she would not have survived. The support she received from the group gave her the fortitude to share her experience with others in a High Holiday sermon.
• A survivor of domestic violence who, after receiving therapy and peer-counseling at a WJCS clinic, got a job in our agency helping others living who had experienced abuse.
• Two widowed people met in one of our Spouse-Loss Bereavement Groups. Several years later, they got married.
Don’t let the dazzling ending of that last vignette distract you; all these stories are about loss—profound loss—whether it be loss of a loved one or of a sense of self-worth. Every time that newly-wed couple retells the story about how they met, they remember the spouse whom they outlived. So, where’s the “healing?”
Let’s look deeper at what these stories have in common. For one, all three tell of people who found strength in sharing their experience with someone else, whether it was individuals in their support group, a therapist, congregational peers, or with a partner-in-grief. And that act of sharing benefitted those who heard.
We are hard wired in such a way that we are not merely to survive loss but to continue to live, a person must seek out others who have lost, and share that experience with them. So, if you need to know what I think spiritual healing is, I’d say: people helping other people integrate their personal losses into their lives, and by doing so, helping themselves to do the same.
When we gather during the upcoming Days of Awe, we essentially will be demonstrating our commitment to this kind of collective meaning-making around loss. This year, if you go to Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur services, look around the room. Not one of the throngs of people there has lived without loss, alienation, or other spiritual maladies requiring—okay, I’ll say it—spiritual healing. Our very presence signifies our need for this thing, and demonstrates our intuition that we can get in the presence of others. Even if we can’t really define spiritual healing, I’m glad to be working for an organization where, once the holidays are over, people can find it.
L’shanah tovah umetukah!
A sweet and good New Year!
Westchester Jewish Community Services offers a wide range of supportive, educational, cultural, and spiritual programs and human services. Please go to www.wjcs.com to learn more.