Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Temple Isaiah (Los Angeles)
In past generations, people often lived in neighborhoods where everyone knew each other’s names, spent time together and looked out for one another. This is the inspiration for ChaiVillageLA.
ChaiVillageLA is part of the rapidly growing Village Movement (http://vtvnetwork.clubexpress.com), an old/new social venture of neighbors helping neighbors to age-in-place.
A pioneering initiative by Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Isaiah to create the first synagogue-based village in the country, ChaiVillageLA is a self-governing community of mutual support, where members provide the programs, services and resources which enable them to live healthier and more engaged lives as they get older.
ChaiVillageLA is the first synagogue-based village in the country, a bold partnership of two cutting-edge Reform synagogues – Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Isaiah – to challenge their congregants to rethink our paradigms of aging and empower them to use their accumulated experience, talents, skills, wisdom and creativity to build a community of mutual respect, support, caring and concern. As a synagogue-based village, ChaiVillageLA bases its goals, governance, programs and services on values that emerge out of the Jewish experience, including:
• Gemilut Hasadim – compassionate action. Being of service to others is a way of giving back for all the kindness we have received in our lives.
• Limmud (or Talmud Torah) – lifelong learning. “Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone.” As a community, we open ourselves to learn from one another and from what we each have to teach.
• Tikkun Olam – healing a broken world. The borders of the community do not isolate or insulate us from the larger world around us. By modeling and consulting, we hope to help others create the healthy environments they need for living and aging in America.
• Tzedakah – economic justice. No one is denied the services of ChaiVillageLA because of lack of money; and every member is encouraged to contribute to the health of the larger society.
• Bikkur Holim – visiting those in need of healing. One of the cornerstones of a Jewish community is attending to those who are ill. Attentive companionship helps speed the healing process.
• Kehillah – being part of a self-governing community. All ChaiVillageLA members are asked to contribute to the life of the community by providing services to other members or assisting in village governance or programming.
• Bri’ut – health and wellbeing. One of the greatest ills of aging is isolation. ChaiVillageLA helps promote physical and mental health by expanding members’ social capital.
• B’tzelem Elohim – empathy with others. Everyone is created in the image of God; everyone deserves dignity and respect.
• Bayit – home. Aging in one’s home means more than “aging-in-place.” It means living in a caring, multi-generational community that knows something about who you are and where you have come from.
• M’chadesh b’chol yom – the process of continuous renewal. Human creativity is a renewable resource.
The lay and rabbinic leaders of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Isaiah have created ChaiVillageLA to demonstrate that a synagogue is not just a House of Prayer, visited primarily on the High Holidays, or House of Study, attended primarily by children from nursery school through bar/bat mitzvah… but first and foremost, a House of Community, where congregants of every age can both give and receive support for their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual well-being.
The very idea of a synagogue-based village communicates to the members and others that being part of a Jewish community impacts on all aspects of a person’s life and that it is the responsibility of every member to contribute to the health of the community. ChaiVillageLA is a “Caring Community,” not just a “Caring Committee,” because every member has a responsibility to every other member. Every member of ChaiVillageLA is expected to contribute at least four hours a month/twelve hours a quarter to help build the community, whether by organizing programs, providing support services or assisting in Village administration. The Village challenges the binary view that we are either dependent or independent, but rather claims and celebrates the truth that Judaism teaches: we are all interdependent, Kol Yisrael arevim zeh le-zeh. This demonstrates the values of Kehillah, Gemilut Hasadim, Bikkur Holim and Tikkun Olam in action.
The clergy from both synagogues, particularly Rabbi Zoe Klein, Senior Rabbi of Temple Isaiah, and Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi Emerita of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, are deeply committed to the Village and are working closely with the Village leadership to bring Jewish wisdom, values and experience into all aspects of ChaiVillageLA programs and services. As but one example, the weekly “Walk with a Rabbi” not only begins with a word of Torah reflecting on the contemporary relevance of the weekly Torah portion, but, more importantly, provides members with the all-too-rare opportunity to have casual and informal conversations with these rabbinical leaders and to benefit from their wisdom and perspective. Programmatically, the celebration of Jewish holidays together; the participation in classes and lectures on Jewish texts, subjects and issues; and the engagement in volunteer opportunities in Jewish communal organizations creates strong connections to meaningful Jewish experience and other institutions of Jewish life. All this demonstrates the values of Limmud, Tzedakah, and Tikkun Olam in action.
Ultimately ChaiVillageLA supports the Jewish value of M’chadesh B’chol Yom, that just as God renews creation, human beings are capable of reimagining themselves. We are never too old to stop learning. Growing older does not have to be feared, but rather can be celebrated as the opportunity for new adventures. Baby Boomers, so used to being masterful and having an impact on popular culture, can continue to give back and to make a difference in the lives of other people and the larger community. And, with the echo of the High Holy Day piyyut “Al Tashlichenu,” no one will have to be afraid that they will be “cast off when they get old,” because they will be part of a Village that cares about them and the people they love.
While ChaiVillageLA has only recently launched, after over a year of planning and organizing, it is already clear that Village members are reaping significant benefits. In the intensive series of house meetings that Temple Emanuel conducted among Baby Boomers a couple of years ago, one of the greatest fears expressed was loneliness. When asked why they are joining ChaiVillageLA, many people have noted that they are lonely and want more friends. “Everyone needs a minyan,” as Rabbi Geller describes it, not necessarily a group of people to pray with, but to count on in so many aspects of living. Anecdotally, at this point, several Village members have expressed how working on creating the Village with others in their age and social cohort has renewed their “social capital.” And a number of members in their 80s and 90s, who no longer drive, are relieved to be offered rides to programs they would otherwise be unable to participate in. And we are finding that the expectation of four hours of service to the community per month, rather than being seen as a burden, is being seen as a form of meaningful engagement and purposeful action.
Already in the short period that ChaiVillageLA has been in existence, we have learned a number of important lessons about applied Jewish wisdom:
1. Kehillah. Being part of a Jewish community/synagogue is not about fee for service. It is fundamentally not a transactional experience. It is about giving back, as much as getting. This is something that many (most?) non-Orthodox religious communities have lost or have forgotten. The expectation of contributing time and energy to the community is essential in forming a deep bond with the community. Even though a large part of the rationale for creating ChaiVillageLA was to provide services to members to enable them to continue living in their own homes as they got older, the expectation of members to contribute to the ongoing building of the community is proving to be even more important.
2. Limmud. Although the clergy of the two synagogues are important teachers and resources for ChaiVillageLA, an important principle of the Village is that all members have wisdom and knowledge that would be of value for others. One of our members, who is an art historian, conducts a bi-weekly art salon, filled to capacity. One of our members leads a monthly Backyard Gardening Group, where members share their expertise and experience with each other, e.g. repotting orchids, building a compost heap, or growing medicinal herbs. While not all the learning is Jewish text, it is all in a Jewish context.
3. Tikkun Olam. Some prospective members were concerned that our expectation of community service was only for service provided within the community. They argued that their volunteering at PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) or Bet Tzedek (Jewish Legal Aid) was as important a form of “giving back” as driving one of our members to the doctor. In fact, they went further to propose that ChaiVillageLA, as a community, had an obligation to contribute to the welfare of the broader community, however large someone might want to draw the circle. We are hoping to expand our service area accordingly, once we get fully operational.
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