Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Making the Journey from Memory to Blessing

On Sunday, February 22, 2015, the Jewish Home’s Skirball Hospice held its annual memorial for the families of patients who had received services during the past year. Nearly one-hundred people were in attendance at the lovely setting of the Skirball Cultural Center.

The spiritual care staff presented a program of music, readings, and a moving ritual of building a matzevah, or altar of stones, to represent the individuals being remembered. As each name was read, a stone was placed in their memory. Participants were then invited to share a few words about their loved one. Some were recalled with happy memories, others with tears…and all of them with love. Many people expressed their appreciation for the care they had received from Skirball Hospice, both during their loved one’s final illness and while receiving bereavement support.

The memorial was also an opportunity for families to reconnect with hospice staff who had been such an important part of their lives, as well as to meet staff who work behind the scenes to administer the program. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed kosher refreshments and the chance to talk and share their stories with others.

For many, the event was an occasion to mark another step in their grief journey - to realize they are finding ways to make peace with their loved ones’ passing.

Skirball Hospice offers bereavement support to family members for thirteen months after a death in the form of letters, calls, and counseling visits as needed. This annual memorial program is part of that support which provides a bridge from memory to blessing.

For more information about the services of the Jewish Home’s Skirball Hospice, please call 818-774-3040 or visit our website at http://skirballhospice.org/

Torah Study Shines a Light

You shall teach [it] to your children and
speak its words when you sit in your house,
when you walk on the way, when you lie down
and when you rise. ~ Deuteronomy

The word Torah means to guide or teach; its teachings shine a light on life and show us which way to go. Given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai, the Torah is the basic text of Judaism and consists of the five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  It contains the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, of which the study of Torah is one.

At the Jewish Home’s Eisenberg Village campus, Rabbi Robert Bonem, currently serving as interim rabbi, leads a new class focused on Torah study.  Rabbi Rob, as he is known to one and all, has the synagogue set up Yeshiva style, meaning the resident students sit facing one another across the table.  The format lends itself to eye contact, a sense of sharing, and the feeling of an informal group.  This helps everyone feel comfortable about asking questions and expressing their thoughts. 

“When we study Torah, we can’t just read it,” says Rabbi Rob.  “We have to ask questions and try to understand. By asking broad questions and discussing as a group, we hear different perspectives and learn from each other.”

The group is studying Genesis, Chapter 1, verses 1-6: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth… Attention is paid to the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, bet, which is the first letter of the first book of the Torah, Bereshit.  Rabbi Rob asks the group some interesting questions about the Hebrew letters:  Were they created intentionally by man or by God to teach us something?  Were they created with meanings in mind, or were they interpreted later?  A mystical point of view is the letters came from God and are holy.

In Genesis, we learn that “God said ‘let there be light’ and there was light, and God saw that it was good.”  This implies that God created with speech.  The students are openly sharing their thought-provoking ideas and posing questions.  Who was he speaking to? Of course the light was good….it was created by God, so why wouldn’t it be? 

“In this class, Torah is the springboard to talk about life,” explains Rabbi Rob.  “My goal is for people to learn and discuss, to connect to each other, and to maybe become clearer on some things.  The beauty is many of us have questions we carry around inside of us….Here we ask the questions.” 

Resident Suzanne May is an active participant in the Torah Talk class.  “I’m always looking for inspiration and a feeling of calmness,” she explains.  “When we discuss the Torah, I feel a connection to God, much like I do when I meditate.  I’m very happy the Home and Rabbi Rob are making this class available to us.” 

One of the questions most asked of Rabbi Rob is Why is there evil in the world?  When we look read the news or turn on our TVs, one can easily understand why this question is so often asked.  In a future class, Rabbi Rob will focus on this question.  Perhaps through the study of Torah we can reach a better understanding of each other and the world around us.

Urban Zen: Caring For Others By Caring For Yourself

Urban Zen: Caring For Others By Caring For Yourself
For the Jewish Home, helping to maintain employee health and wellness is a priority. This encompasses wellness of the body, mind, and spirit. Urban Zen, a program recently added to the many healthy activities offered by the Home for employees, is quickly gaining popularity.

Urban Zen was created by visionary designer Donna Karan. As her husband, Stephen, battled lung cancer, he was very aware that his caregivers — doctors, nurses, other medical staff, and family members — seemed to be even more stressed than he was. He asked Donna to do something for caregivers. "The hope was that, by helping caregivers, it would create a ripple effect that would benefit patients as well," explains Susan Jefferson, a certified Urban Zen therapist at YogaWorks and facilitator of sessions at the Jewish Home. "Seeing your caregiver crumble can create a great deal of stress in someone who is ill."

Stephen's request led to the conceptualization of Urban Zen, a holistic healthcare practice created to give people another option for treating pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, constipation, and exhaustion. This practice combines five techniques — yoga, Reiki, essential oils, nutrition and contemplative care, such as meditation — and is often used as a supplement to conventional care. Urban Zen uses movement, reflection, visualization, and sensory stimulation as tools to help participants achieve a state of Zen, or calmness.

Urban Zen incorporates some of the basics of yoga, in particular focus on breath and use of restorative movements. "As we begin each session, we evaluate three main components: the levels of pain, anxiety, and insomnia the employees may be dealing with at that time," says Susan. Based on need, essential oils are recommended to help alleviate those problems, followed by some gentle movements and a body scan, which helps you to become more mindful of your body and how it feels. 

The benefits of Urban Zen can be experienced at any age. "Everyone's body, whether young or old, recuperates and restores better when there is balance between the body, mind, and spirit," Susan explains. "Healthcare workers put the concerns of others first, often without taking time to focus on their own needs." Urban Zen can provide the time, space, and tools to slow down and look inside.

Sharon Ginchansky, vice president of human resources, explains why it was important to bring Urban Zen to the Home's employees: "We want to help our employees be healthy and happy. A big part of promoting employee wellness is lessening their stress levels, and Urban Zen is an excellent way to do this." She adds, "Taking a few minutes out of our day to focus on our own well-being can help us recommit to the work at hand and bring a sense of inner peace. Urban Zen is a great de-stressing practice because it can be as simple as inhaling fragrant oil or focusing on breathing."

Through ongoing research surveys, people who participate in Urban Zen classes report greater relaxation, a renewed sense of peace and calm, reduction of aches and pains, clearer thinking, and better sleep and digestion. "The best part is you can take what you learn in a session and use the techniques on your own to help prevent symptoms from recurring," says Susan.

"Urban Zen provides a wonderful break from my work stressors," says Debbie Fishel, a regular member of the Grancell Village employee group. "The relaxation techniques I've learned help get me through the rest of the week." Dr. Rick Smith notes that sometimes it's difficult to make time to attend, "but I'm always glad I did."

Beautifying the Dining Room

Beautifying the  Dining Room
On Monday, January 12th, Jewish Home residents Evelyn Selbert, Beatrice Hoffman, Jan Crane, Grace Peshkin, and Ida Garber assembled in the Eisenberg Village Boardroom to be part of a brand new activity — Flower Arranging.

Equipped with wire cutters, scissors, vases, red and white silk roses, and an assortment of artificial grass and sprigs, the five women had everything they needed to start their project.
As the group grew quiet and began to focus on the task at hand, activities director Caryl Geiger explained, "We have enough supplies to create 72 arrangements — one centerpiece for each table in the dining room. So be sure to make each and every bouquet as beautiful as possible." And with that, the room began to buzz as the women grew excited at the thought of their artistry being exhibited in such a public place.
Energized by the collaborative environment, the project was successfully completed within the hour. The beginner florists then gathered the collection of completed arrangements and took a moment to admire their handiwork. Beatrice Hoffman commented, "We're all novices here. None of us have taken any lessons on how to arrange flowers. To see completed arrangements all together is simply gorgeous. What a wonderful experience."
In reflection of the activity, Caryl commented, "By displaying the hand-arranged floral centerpieces in the dining room, we are able to enhance our seniors' dining experience while showcasing the excellent work done by our new florists."
The program was an incredible success and the group of budding florists are looking forward to meeting again in a few months to create new arrangements for the spring season.
"You know what's funny?" Evelyn asked. "I've never arranged a bouquet in my life. I don't even consider myself a flower person." To which Caryl replied, "But now you are, darling!"

Friends Can Rekindle Our Inner Spirit

Friends Can Rekindle Our Inner Spirit
It is a well-documented fact our health is influenced by factors that include our social well-being. Studies demonstrate a direct link between the number of significant relationships in our lives and a reduced risk for disease, mental illness, and early death. It turns out that feeling cared-for, valued, and part of a community make a profound difference in the quality and duration of our lives.

"People with social support have fewer cardiovascular problems and immune problems, and lower levels of cortisol — a stress hormone," says Tasha R. Howe, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Humboldt State University. "Why? The evolutionary argument maintains that humans are social animals, and we have evolved to be in groups. We have always needed others for our survival. It's in our genes. Therefore, people with social connections feel more relaxed and at peace, which is related to better health." 
Relationships are an essential part of health. What's more, they help keep our brains from getting rusty, especially when augmented by a healthy lifestyle, a nutritious diet, and regular physical activity.
As study after study notes, friends are a key asset. They help us face adverse events, provide concrete assistance if we need it, offer emotional support and information that can help us deal with the stress in our lives. Friends can encourage us to take better care of ourselves.
People with wider social networks are also typically higher in self-esteem, and feel they have more control over their lives. On the whole, people with extensive networks of good friends and confidantes outlive those with the fewest friends. Conversely, isolation and loneliness create responses in the body similar to those of stress.
The body functions best when we are connected to other people. Activity is crucial to our happiness. Doing something fun and new expands our repertoire of experiences, and lets us see ourselves in new ways. Individuals who continue to maintain close friendships and find other ways to interact socially live longer than those who become isolated.
Social workers at the Jewish Home understand how important friendships are for our residents. Through exciting activities such as arts and crafts, exercise classes, field trips, movie nights, concerts, and discussions, our seniors can gather, interact, and play. "We believe that, however you may feel, get up, dress up, and show up," says Devorah Small-Teyer, director of social services for JEKMC. "You'll feel better with friends."