Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Saying Good-Bye

Dear Congregation Beth Sholom, 

It is bittersweet to write this last “article” to you. I am leaving JCS (formerly JFS) at the end of October and will no longer be with the Kesher program. This is not an easy decision to make, but is the right one for myself and family at this time. JFS has been a wonderful place to work and grow as a social worker. I am very grateful for my time there.

I want you to know that it has been such an honor to be with you at CBS over the past 5 years. Your warmth and openness with each other has been an inspiration to witness. Your commitment to your congregation and wider community are palpable. That you have extended that same welcome to me has been so meaningful. It has made my time a pleasure and a joy. 

I also want to thank you for allowing me to be a part of so many of your lives. You allowed me to walk beside you in joyful and difficult times, through galas and crises. It is not easy to ask for a listening ear, for resources, or help- it takes a great deal of strength to do so. I will think of each of you as I move on and will be sending my warmest wishes along the way. 

A new Kesher social worker will join you in the near future. Whomever it is will be lucky to be entering such a community. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to me for anything you need through October. As of November, you can contact JC Roussel, Director of Clinical and Community Services at 401-331-1244 for any questions or concerns. 


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Addiction and Recovery: How can the Faith Community Help?

Addiction and Recovery: How can the Faith Community Help?
by Stacey Lefever, LCSW 

Many of us have heard the news on television or in print about the ongoing opioid epidemic. Nearly 1 in 8 Americans have addiction, and more than 100 die each day from overdoses. These statistics are staggering, and yet stigma against those with addiction has led many to believe that addiction cannot and will not happen to them or those they love. When I began my career in social work, I was living in Pittsburgh and working at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. I had limited knowledge of addiction prior to beginning this work, so I immediately set about trying to “change” the addict, oblivious that they were more than just their addiction. I realized quickly that addiction effects every demographic, age, and culture; including those in the Jewish community. In fact, 70% percent of people who use drugs are employed; and they live in your community, go to your temple, or even live in your home.
It took several years working in the field to begin to understand the addictive process and learn that addiction was not something I could “change” for my clients. So, I began to listen, as opposed to lecturing about all the things I had learned in my studies. I also began to see the transformative effect that faith had on those with addiction. Twelve Step programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) have integrated faith and spirituality into their programs, and it is easy to understand why. It works. However, I also began to understand that recovery is a unique journey for each and every individual affected, including the loved ones of those with addiction, and so I became intensely interested in the ways the faith community itself can help those with addiction, and how it was particularly suited to combat stigma.
One of the most important changes in addiction treatment in recent years has been the integration of resources in addiction treatment. This includes law enforcement, the government, and faith communities and establishments. These institutions all have a role to play in helping those with addiction recover from their disease. Kevin Hoffman, who studies the effect of addiction in the faith communities in Ohio, has explained that is it “important to remember that addiction (and recovery) are shaped by the environment, they do not occur in a vacuum.” In his home state, which has been devastated by the opioid crisis, they are taking dramatic steps to counteract drug abuse. He emphasizes that it is important for the faith community to be trained in recognizing the signs of addiction. Temples are resources for those in the faith community, and having addiction resources and referral sources available to those seeking help, is an essential tool in combatting the addiction cycle. Every synagogue should consider having pamphlets for rehabilitation centers and addiction doctors, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting lists. Faith communities are unique in that they offer redemption and reflection to those who seek it. Offering an ear to listen, as well as knowledgeable advice, is so important to those looking for help.
It is also helpful to understand that fellowship and friendship are the best ways of reaching someone with addiction, and can help an addict recover from their disease. Many of those who suffer are simply looking for someone to walk with them on their journey. It is not important that we live this journey with them, but rather that we “meet them where they are” in their recovery. Monty Burks, who works with the faith communities in his home State of Tennessee to battle addiction, points out that we need to “move beyond the language of moral failing.” In other words, understanding that addiction is not a choice, but a disease, and that those who are addicted are not bad people, but rather people who have an illness. Most important, we must recognize that addiction is a treatable disease, but like many diseases, it may require more than one go around of treatment before someone is well. Being a supportive, loving community helps the addict, and it also helps families who have a loved one with addiction. The most important thing that a faith community can do, is show support, not judgement, and be a source of inspiration and hope to people on their journey to recovery and those that love them.

Rose Murrin, LICSW, is the Kesher social worker at Congregation Beth Sholom.  Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Sinai, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom.  She can be reached at or 401-331-1244.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Connecting when Dementia is Getting in the Way.

Written by Amy Small, LICSW

As our population ages, the number of adults struggling with diseases of the older years increases as well.  One such disease is Alzheimer’s Disease.  The chances that we will come into contact with someone who is struggling with this disease are, unfortunately, steadily increasing.
When we do come into contact with someone struggling with this disease, it can be difficult to know how to connect with them.  The types of conversations we had previously may no longer be possible due to changes in memory or information processing abilities.  If you are a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease, that can bring communication challenges to the forefront of your everyday lives, greatly impacting your relationship with your loved one.  In this article, I’d like to give an overview of some communication strategies and tips to support you in connecting with people struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease in the community or in your own life.  For further information, I recommend the Alzheimer’s Association website at
It is important to remember that, while the ability of a person with Alzheimer’s Disease to communicate is greatly impacted, they maintain their sense of self throughout their experience with the disease.  Their ability to express themselves through language and to understand language may change, but you can still connect to the essence of who they are.      
            Alzheimer’s Disease affects each person differently.  In the early stages, it may shift the person’s ability to communicate and they may have troubling finding the word they want to express.  It can be helpful to ask whether they want to be helped with words or not, for example, “How would you like to be helped with words?  Would you rather I jump in with a word that you may be looking for, or wait and allow some time for you to find it on your own?”1  While it can help to use short sentences to aid in communication, it is important to not “talk down” to the person. 1  Make sure to include them in the conversation and speak directly with them even if their language seems limited.  Their ability to understand may be more intact than their ability to express themselves. 2  Communication challenges and worries about making mistakes may lead a person with Alzheimer’s Disease to withdraw from conversations.  Including them and being sensitive to these feelings can help them engage and feel connected to you.       
            As the disease progresses, the person may have further problems with language such as increased difficulties finding words, repeating familiar words, inventing words, losing their train of thought, and difficulties following conversations. 1  Connecting through ways other than language becomes more and more important.  Paying attention to your tone of voice, facial expression, and body language help support the feeling of safety and connection in a conversation. 1  While a person with Alzheimer’s may struggle to understand your words, they will understand the feeling behind your words.  Your frustration and tension will come through just as will your patience and presence.  Taking your time in conversations and taking care to notice your own emotions will support a meaningful connection. 
            The person struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease may also communicate more through behaviors or gestures.  It can become important to respond to the emotions that seem to be expressed through the behavior rather than the behavior itself. 1  This can require you to understand and join their reality in that moment.  The facts are less important than the feelings.  For example, rather than “Calm down, I am sure your keys aren’t really lost”, you might say “I hear how upset you are about the keys not being where they usually are.  It is so frustrating when that happens!  Can I look for them?” 1  This type of attention takes patience and insight.  Give yourself time and self-care to be able to provide this type of listening and response.
Some other tools that can support a feeling of safety in communication are approaching the person gently, from the front, and at eye level, as well as calling them by name and identifying yourself and your relationship to them. 1  Gentle touch can also feel grounding and caring.  As processing information becomes more difficult, it can be helpful to utilize questions that offer choices rather than open ended questions such as “Would you like tea or water?” rather than “What would you like to drink?”. 1  
            In later stages of the disease, communicating in ways other than language may become primary.  Using our five senses together can support connection, such as listening to music, looking at photographs, spending time outdoors, and noticing smells, tastes, or sensations together. 1  The most important thing to remember at any stage of the disease is that it is okay if you don’t know what to do or say. 1  Your reassuring presence, respect, and caring connection are the most important to anyone in your life, including your friend or family member struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Rose Murrin, LICSW, is the Kesher social worker at the synagogue.  Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Emanu-El, Temple Sinai  and Congregation Beth Sholom. Rose may be reached at or 401-331-1244.


1Effective Communication Strategies. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2018, from

2Coste, J. K. (2004). Learning to speak Alzheimers: A groundbreaking approach for everyone dealing with the disease. Milsons Point, N.S.W.: Transworld Publishing.