In response to the pandemic, Etz Chaim synagogue has created a new buddy system to build a pioneering network of support within its membership.
The key lesson that the Etz Chaim leadership learned from the pandemic was the importance of being in contact with their members to provide necessary support in times of need. COVID saw new vulnerable groups that had never been considered – or considered themselves – vulnerable; from those who live alone, single parent families, families with young children struggling with home-schooling, front line workers, those who lost employment, those that had to shield because they were over 70 or had an underlying health condition, teens who were unable to socialise, and those that couldn’t be with loved ones because of the restrictions in nursing homes and hospitals.
“In order to help these vulnerable members we needed to know who they were,” says Etz Chaim’s Rabbi Kupperman. “Very soon we realised that we didn’t have the full picture. This led to phoning every single member of the congregation. It was not an easy task to accomplish, but the amazing positive feedback that we received from our members lead us to think that this is an opportunity that we had not considered before. One can say that we rediscovered the telephone.”
In a bid to get to know all their members better, they will soon be launching a new initiative based around the values of relational Judaism, which Jewish scholar Dr Ron Wolfson describes as: “using the power of relationships to transform the Jewish community.”
The aim of the project is to develop a supportive ethos and turn the entire congregation of Etz Chaim into a group of Chaverim – a fellowship where friends connect. Members will be using their phones to get to know others better, listening to each other’s stories and building genuine relationships. If one member is facing challenging times, their buddy will be able to signpost them to the most appropriate service where they can find the right support. Importantly, the project is assisted by Leeds Jewish Welfare Board, which will provide specialist training and the necessary policies and support.
“This is a fantastic project for our shul and hopefully the first of many of this nature to come,” says Etz Chaim president, Paul Gross. “A huge thank you to the team that has helped put this together: Dayan Kupperman, Rabbi Gilbert, Hilton Lorie, Liz Bradbury, Tracy Bickler, Claudie Ineson, Scott Stalbow and Susie Gordon.”
If you are a member of Etz Chaim, or you would like to become a member, and would like to know more about becoming a Chaverim buddy, please contact Rabbi Kupperman on 07875 423 946 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.