In KabbalahThe tradition of Jewish mystical interpretation of sacred texts. The foundational kabbalistic text is the Zohar., the current month on the Hebrew calendar, Iyar, is the month of healing. Its spelling—aleph, yud, yud, resh—corresponds to the first letters of the words “Ani Yud-Yud Rofecha,” “I am G-d your Healer.” As I prepare for the Jewish Healing Circle I lead each month at my synagogue, I am struck by what a powerful healing tool it has become.
When I started this project a year ago, I was aware of a lot of suffering among our congregants—loss, illness, fears about IsraelLit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel. and concern about the planet. I had led a Rosh ChodeshThe new moon, which marks the beginning of the Jewish month. According to tradition, because women did not participate in the sin of the golden calf, they were given the holiday of Rosh Chodesh. It is customary for women not to work on Rosh Chodesh. group for many years and loved the spiritual aspects of sitting in a circle and sharing a meditative, open-hearted evening.
When I broached the subject of starting a healing circle to my rabbi, he was fully supportive. My last quest was to find a spiritually minded guitarist. Music is a vital part of the process, a catalyst for the emotions; a wonderful musician and song leader from our Renewal havurahLit. Group of friends Commonly has come to mean an alternative prayer community. In the 1970’s, havurot (plural) developed as an alternative to large syngagogues. Some havurot pray together; others study, socialize, or engage in some alternative activity. agreed to be my co-facilitator.
The announcement of the healing circle in the synagogue generated questions about whether this was a bereavement group and whether you had to be ill to come. I reassured people that the focus was on healing ourselves and the planet, and that it is part of our tradition to pray for healing for others. I created a script for the program and felt like a hostess giving a party, wondering who would come. Our initial gathering included the curious, those who just loved to sing, and those who enjoyed my Jewish movement workshop, Moving Through the Tree of Life.
We started with our intention of creating a healing community and grounded ourselves in our bodies. We shared texts, prayers and songs. The unexpected highlight of the evening was the candle-lighting and misheberakh for cholim (prayer for those who are ill). People were invited to kindle a tea light from the pillar candle in the center of the room and recite the names of those for whom they were praying. Those who didn’t want to speak could just light a candle, and those who didn’t want to come up could speak the names from their seats or silently to themselves. As participants lit candles and spoke the names and their relationship to the recipients of their prayers, the stillness deepened and sobs could be heard.
When all who wanted to were finished lighting, we sang Ana El Na R’fa Na La. We continued the program, ending with the song Unending Love and prayer Oseh Shalom. As we shared refreshments, participants comforted each other and connected in a meaningful way. We were launched!
There are many resources available for those wanting to start a Jewish Healing Circle. The National Center of Jewish Healing has wonderful materials and sample scripts, and I have provided one here at Ritualwell. There are also many different ways to run such a group. Some healing circles are services and include liturgy; some include participant sharing in diverse ways; some are more meditative, others more interactive. What’s most important is that the facilitators be comfortable with the process.
I wish you much healing in the month of Iyar. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com or 561 997-2119 with questions about forming a group or feedback on your process. I encourage you to bring this to your community. It can be a healing experience for all involved.
Sue Gurland runs Jewish healing circles in Boca Raton, and is the creator of Moving Through the Tree of Life. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Yale University, a Master of Acupuncture degree from the Traditional Acupuncture Institute, and a Certificate of Completion in Jewish Spiritual Direction from the Lev Shomea Institute. A sample script for conducting a Jewish healing circle, by Sue Gurland, is available here.