My Community Has Helped Me to Continue to Choose Life

by A.G.

Inclusion has always permeated my entire relationship with my temple, Congregation Kol Ami.  My very first conversation with Rabbi Shira Milgrom was about inclusion.  Twenty-one years ago, I was faced with a dilemma.  How could my ten-year-old son become a bar mitzvah if as a single working parent I could barely pay the rent, no less pay dues?   I posed the question to Rabbi Shira.  Her reply was simple.  “Just because you are poor, is not a reason that should prevent you from being part of a Jewish community.”  And so it began.

Jeff attended Hebrew school and I started to go to the “Spiritual Lift”, a Saturday morning Sabbath service held in the Chapel in the Woods.  Years of social isolation began to fade, as I was welcomed into the congregation, a devoted group of fifty to one hundred Jews that eventually became an extended family.  It was there that I reconnected with a sense of spirituality.

In the summer of 1993, after years of struggling with an undiagnosed mental illness, I became suicidal and I had to be hospitalized.  Saturday mornings at Kol Ami had become an important touchstone for me. The “Spiritual Lift” became a piece of my recovery.  Every Saturday morning at 11:45, I knew my name was being announced during mi shebeirach.  I received get-well cards, had a “pen pal” and spoke with the rabbi every Sabbath afternoon.  Although we were separated by hundreds of miles for a month, I still was included in the life of Kol Ami as if I was physically present.  It was a powerful relationship.  I was released from the hospital on erev Rosh Hashanah.  The next day I celebrated the New Year at Kol Ami fully aware that it was not just a new year, but also the start of a healthy healing time of my life.

In January 1994, my son became a bar mitzvah.  The service was held in the Chapel in the Woods during the “Spiritual Lift” where four generations of my family gathered as well as my extended family, the congregation.  The ceremony was all I hoped it would be and the potluck luncheon that followed was the generous gift of the congregation.  Initially, I felt ashamed that I lacked the means to throw a big celebration.  However, many congregants expressed their gratitude that they played a part in making the day special for us.  Once again I felt that great sense of inclusion.

After two years of study with a group of adults, 2001 became the year I experienced my own bat mitzvah. It was a rite that was not offered to me when I was thirteen.  Becoming bat mitzvah was a milestone in my life and it marked another step in my full inclusion in the Jewish community.

It’s been over twenty-one years since I became a congregant at Congregation Kol Ami. Today, I continue to attend the “Spiritual Lift” and I have become a regular at the study preceding the service.  I share my views and it is frequently as a person who happens to have a mental illness.  There is no stigma here.  As always, Congregation Kol Ami embraces me fully.  Here is a place of total inclusion.

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2 Responses to “My Community Has Helped Me to Continue to Choose Life”

  1. avatar

    As a member of your “birth” family, I have enjoyed many moments in which I felt deep pride that I am your relative – Jeff’s Bar Mitzvah, your Bat Mitzvah, your graduation at long last from college and this blog.

    Your struggle to live successfully with a mental illness has been one of deep commitment and great courage. Having been part of that struggle has been my honor. But it has also been the cause of deep heartache for you and all those who love you.

    We have always been grateful for the role that your synagogue family played in your life. They and your Rabbi have stood firm with you even when those closest to you could only stand back and wonder what would happen. I congratulate and thank them from the bottom of my heart for their part in your recovery. I hope your story will be a beacon to other congregations to understand how important they can be in a single person’s life. Congregation Kol Ami is clearly helping to “save the world.”

  2. avatar

    As a member of your “other extended family”, i want to take this opportunity to say how deeply moved I was reading your blog. I know how hard you’ve worked over the years at your recovery and it was very enlightening to me to read how much the Congregation played a part in that process. You have been so instrumental in keeping our little family going over all these years and I want to thank you for that. I now know where you get your inspiration. I am so grateful to them…and to you.

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