Friday, February 10, 2012

Bay Area JHC Kol Haneshama – Class 2

By Susan Esther Barnes

Thursday night, I attended the second evening of the Kol Haneshama class series given by the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center. The purpose of the class is to train volunteers to work at the Jewish Home in San Francisco with people who are approaching the end of life. The class is also open to people like me who don’t live in San Francisco, and who will be using what we learn in our own community.

I arrived early, and used the time to walk the labyrinth on the grounds of the Mercy Center where the meeting was being held. I had never walked a labyrinth before, and I was curious what it would be like. This particular labyrinth is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by bushes and trees, as well as chairs and benches. Unfortunately, it is a little too close to a road and parking lot, which led to traffic noise interfering with an otherwise idyllic setting.

I found the experience of walking the labyrinth to be a bit distracting. On some of the longer stretches I found myself thinking about one thing or another, but then I felt interrupted every time I had to make a U-turn to continue to follow the path. As a result, I didn’t find the experience to be either restful or helpful. I found myself thinking I would have preferred to just sit on one of the benches to think.

When I walked into the gathering area for the class, I realized that, when I arrived for the first class, I had felt like an individual walking into a room with a bunch of other individuals. Walking in the second evening, I felt like a person walking into a group of people of which I am a member. This tells me the trainers did something right the first time, to help us to feel like a group.

After dinner, one of the trainers talked for a while about silence, and then gave us an opportunity to just sit in silence for a while. This allowed me to experience what I had found myself wishing for when I had been in the labyrinth earlier.

Next, we were asked to think about an experience that we found to be spiritual, to write down what the experience was, and to write what was spiritual about it. Everyone then shared what we wrote, and we discussed spirituality in general, as well as how diverse our experiences were. One thing we had in common, though, was a sense of awe.

We were reminded that what is spiritual for one person may not be for another, and that even if two people say the same activity is spiritual, each one may find different aspects of that experience to be spiritual. For example, what I find spiritual about Chanukah may be lighting the candles with my husband, while for someone else it might be the smell and taste of latkes.

Toward the end of the evening, we broke up into small groups to discuss what the class experience has been like for us so far. One person asked whether it was intentional that we weren’t asked to introduce ourselves to the class, and weren’t asked to tell each other what brought us there.

I let her know I found the experience refreshing to allow people to form a picture of who I am based on what I say and do, rather than what labels I may put on myself if I were asked to introduce myself formally.

The trainer said it was intentional, and is done that way partly because, when we walk into a room as a volunteer, we may know very little, if anything, about that person or their background. We need to be able to do our work despite this lack of knowledge, knowing that in some cases, even the person we are visiting may not be capable (due to language, physical or mental reasons) of telling us about themselves.

Next up will be two full days – Saturday and Sunday – with the class. I was pleased to learn that Saturday morning will include a prayer service, as well as Havdalah at the end. I’m sure the weekend will be tiring, but I’m hoping it will be energizing, as well.


  1. I felt a bit intrusive, to be posting here for a Haveil Havalim blog submission. But that caused me (due to Mama's good upbringing) to read this post, which I might otherwise have missed. So there is some wisdom to this approach. Thank you for reminding us that the spiritual and the mundane intersect. It helps us to understand "the other"; and it helps those of us who do kiruv to relate somewhat better to what our brother or sister might be experiencing. Kol hakavod!

    Now, to selfish pursuits: Could you look over my son's beautiful post for the next edition of HH? It's rather long; but if you've ever wanted to know what if feels like to fall out of a plane, he will take you there. :-)

    Thank you for your efforts on behalf of HH!

  2. <-- This might be helpful.