Synagogues brainstorm how to care for their own

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Caring for the elderly, helping with shiva, delivering meals and following up with those who have long-term illnesses were among the topics discussed in Northern Virginia Sunday during a program about how congregations take care of their members.

Held at Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, the event is part of the Conservative synagogue’s centennial celebration. Newly hired Rabbi Steven Rein was joined on a panel by Rabbi Brett Isserow of Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, and Rev. Larry Hayward of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria.

“We each carry the responsibility to reach out to members of the community during their moments of greatest need and isolation,” Rein said.

“As a new rabbi coming in, it makes me feel even more welcome and excited knowing how enthusiastic congregant members are to improve existing systems,” he continued. “The goal of the presentation is not just learning from Isserow and Hayward, but having dialogues in public and not behind closed doors.”

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Isserow focused his talk on HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
“HIPPA created a huge amount of confidentiality,” he said. “In the olden days the hospital used to call us and let us know who was in the hospital and why. Now more and more often I hear five days after the fact that someone was ill and in hospital,” Isserow said.

One solution to this problem is a system called Hineynu. “It allows us to enter in a person’s name and allows congregation leaders to be alerted about it,” Isserow said. “It is an incredibly effective tool. It covers all bases for us, it allows us to enter deaths, illness and distinguish between short-term and long-term care.”

Hayward’s presence symbolized the interfaith efforts locally and decades-long relationship between Westminster Presbyterian and Agudas Achim.

After the panel discussion, the attendees moved into another room to brainstorm changes for the congregation. They discussed outreach for disabilities, elder care, and resources for adults with aging parents, senior facilities and getting kosher food.

“The enthusiasm at the tables were incredible,” Agudas Achim member Tracy Soforenko said. “Everyone was really excited about tackling these problems together – to be even better at supporting our members and learning different approaches to support systems.”

“What was different about this was that the congregants were willing to take ownership of their community,” Rein said. “Many other communities will say this needs to be done and delegate the task to everyone else.”

Rein ended the event saying, “It is my hope that these dialogues clearly demonstrate that caring communities are not sustained through committees behind closed doors, but by publicly declaring that this is a priority for each and every one of us.”

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