Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

What makes a community? — Letter from the Rabbi

There are moments when I see something so simple, so everyday – but yet so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes. Like noticing a nursing assistant gently combing a resident’s hair; or an activities person stroking an anxious resident’s arm; or a physical therapist walking with someone who is uncertain of her steps, gently encouraging her, while chatting away to keep her calm. At our regular memorial services for residents who have passed away, one of the staff may talk of a resident we have lost with such tenderness that her voice breaks.

And then there are those times when residents express wholehearted appreciation for staff, like when someone at a residents’ council meeting says that, say, Housekeeping or Maintenance or Activities are “wonderful” – and lots of other people agree. Around Thanksgiving, I asked in various groups what residents were thankful for. Top of the list for so many people was the Jewish Home!

It’s interesting to think what this means. We could look at the Home as distinct groups of people, each with their own separate role: those who live here (or receive the Home’s services in other ways); and those who are employed here; those who volunteer their time and energy and skills, and those who donate financially. Yes that’s one way of looking at the Home, but in fact it is much richer than that.

I have been asking myself the question: what makes a community? I believe it is much more than, say, a group of people who live in the same place; or a group of people who work in the same place. A community (just like a family) is held together by invisible bonds – they may be bonds of love and caring; or, just as important, bonds of obligation.

Then we may look at the common purpose that brings a group of people together. The purpose of the Home is to bring the highest standards of care to seniors, in keeping with Jewish values. All efforts are aimed at giving the best to residents and to others who receive the Home’s services. In this way, the Jewish Home is an organization with a purpose. It meets that purpose to a pretty high standard – which is a prime reason residents are so thankful for it.

But the Home is not just an organization; it is also a community. Certainly it is there for the residents, but it also plays an important role in the lives of staff and volunteers and donors (and let’s include those who give their time to serve on the Home’s governing bodies).

All have the potential to give to others, and all have the potential to have their lives enriched by the web of relationships, the obligations and the caring, the warmth and the friendship, the sense of belonging that membership of a community like this can bring.

Some of the employees have been with the Home for 20 or 30 or more years. Some stay in the same jobs over the years, while others take advantage of the opportunity the Home offers to move up to more satisfying or senior roles. Those who work here enjoy their relationships with each other and with the residents; and many experience a fulfillment that comes from being able to contribute to the life and wellbeing of others. And I know how much most of our residents enjoy their connections with the staff and appreciate what they do.

I have just had the privilege of participating in events that gave me a new sense of this Jewish Home family. On the days before Thanksgiving, Rabbi Rita and I co-hosted interfaith services on both campuses for employees of the Home, alongside a Catholic Priest and a Protestant Pastor. I found this coming together of staff members and clergy from different backgrounds very moving.

Here at the Home, people fill different roles – residents, nurses, dietary or maintenance staff, administrators, and many more – and come from many backgrounds and traditions. What I have come to see more clearly than ever before, is that there is so much more that unites us than divides us. Together, we are a community, and I am thankful to be part of it.

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman is the Skirball Director of Spiritual Life at the Jewish Home and also serves as Rabbi of the Home's Grancell Village campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

Labels: , , ,