Rabbi Joe Blair
December 24, 2007
I meet with numerous congregants privately to discuss concerns or issues in their lives, ranging over issues of
personal matters, finances, health concerns, relationships, and issues of faith,
loss, personal stress, relationships, employment, child rearing, marital issues, communal concerns, and interfaith issues. I am extremely careful and seek to maintain the confidentiality of what I am privileged to hear and learn. In short, I have provided pastoral counseling as needed, when asked (and occasionally when I see a need I will offer), to the limit of my ability and training. I have referred congregants to experts for those things beyond my skills and knowledge as I recognize that to be the case.
The call for this seems to be steady through the year, and increasing periodically for a period of time. This has proven to be a frequently requested service, and a significant focus in my rabbinate.
Related to this area, I was delighted to work with congregants from both congregations to initiate the Chevrah Kadishah (holy society) group this year. This group now exists, and stands prepared to work with the funeral directors in the area to provide the service of Taharah (ritual washing and dressing of the deceased). If possible, we may at some point choose to expand to also provide the service of Shmirat Haguf (watching or guarding the body), as well as Leviyat Hametim (accompanying the deceased). These services are a deeply meaningful and important gift that can be offered to those who have passed on and their families by our community. More work and preparation needs to be done for this group to be fully trained, for the instruction books to be completed, and to determine what and how and under which conditions we can take on these various responsibilities, but our community is fortunate to have people who wish to fulfill this mitzvah (obligation) on our behalf.Interfaith:
I continue as a member of the Harrisonburg Interfaith Association, though I have been prevented from attending the last several of the monthly meetings by scheduling conflicts.
I have been working to build up my network of members of the clergy in Staunton and Augusta County. I am doing so by working with groups such as the Community Health Forum and Augusta Medical Center, where I can meet these persons, and build connections and rapport, so we can work together on specific projects at some point in the future. This is part of how I am establishing contacts for the Shorty youth group to follow up, and creating avenues to invite our larger community members to join us for such events as the Community Awareness Shabbat and Holocaust Education programs. I think that the turnout for the last Community Awareness Shabbat would lead to the conclusion that this approach is worth pursuing.
I conducted an abbreviated version of the Open Doors, Open Minds program from URJ. I engaged the pastor and members from the Otterbein United Methodist Church, and a like number of congregants from both THOI and Beth El, gave presentations from the curriculum developed by URJ, showed the prepared videos, and facilitated the discussions. I felt that it was a dynamic, exciting, interesting, informative, and provocative dialogue. I think that all who attended felt it was a useful and informative experience, and very much worth the energy and effort expended. The group participating wanted to continue to meet after the scheduled sessions were concluded. This seems to be a program that would be worth repeating in future with another religious institution as our partner.