Posted by Jon Federman

“Bruchim haba’im. . . It means a blessing on those who have come to the group,” explains Barbara Sternfield, JF&CS Jewish Healing Connections (JHC) bereavement group facilitator and program specialist. “I start each session with these words. Even though we are non-sectarian, people who are consumed with grieving and suffering do not typically take time for themselves and this ritual acknowledges that they are not alone.”

With more than 30 years experience in bereavement support, Barbara started the first JF&CS Jewish Healing Connections group in 2000 at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton. “We began the bereavement group because there were no Jewish culturally sensitive bereavement groups in the area. Although our group is welcoming and open to the entire community, it is a place where participants can also feel comfortable using words like ‘shiva’ or ‘unveiling’ and address issues that arise around the Jewish holidays,” says JF&CS Director of Spirituality and Aging, Marjie Sokoll. “There is a great need [for these groups] because we live in a culture that does not always affirm that death is a part of life and many bereaved people can feel very isolated. By being with others in a group, their feelings are validated and normalized.”

When Susan* lost her twin sister, she called several bereavement groups but all were geared towards people dealing with spousal losses. She found the JHC group and fit right in. “I do not know what I would do without this group,” she says. “It is so helpful, so kind, so structured in a seemingly non-structured way. It is so soothing – the fact that there is a sameness between the members. I loved it from the first minute I was there.”

When Marilyn’s* husband died, a friend suggested a bereavement group and she contacted JF&CS. “My group had and still has a very strong connection,” explains Marilyn, “and we kept our group running longer than scheduled. Barbara made it a safe place for us.”

“All of us feel blessed to be in this group,” Marilyn adds. “It has been life-changing. We learned that when you are in a funk it’s okay – it will pass, maybe in five minutes, or maybe it will take a whole day. But then you can move on.”

“Our groups empower people who are in pain and suffering,” says group leader Barbara. “They come together randomly into a safe and confidential place where everyone gets it and they do not have to explain.

“People are concerned that if they move forward, it may mean they are forgetting the person who died. In our groups, people receive permission to hold both joy and grief at the same time,” she adds. “For me, it is a gift and a privilege to accompany these people on their journeys through grief and to let them know that their emotions are normal and that their experiences are real. The group experience enables people to support one another and find healing in community.”

JF&CS Bereavement Services are made possible through the generosity of the George and Beatrice Sherman Family Charitable Trust, offering support groups and individual spiritual support for people dealing with loss. Bi-monthly daytime drop-in groups are held at the Leventhal-Sidman JCC in Newton and 8-week long night groups are held at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham. For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

Jon Federman is the JF&CS Staff Writer. A practicing attorney for more than 15 years, he is thrilled to bring his legal and persuasive writing skills to the JF&CS Marketing Communications department. Jon has a BA from Tufts University and a JD from Boston College Law School. In his spare time he is an exhibiting photographer and an award-winning cartoonist. Jon lived in London, England for five years before returning to Boston in 2011.

Originally published on the JF&CS blog.