“Rabbi,” my congregant asked me on the phone, “I have a favour to ask. I feel so terribly distraught. Can we please organize a healing circle?”
Toward the beginning of November, we heard the news that Sammy Sommer, the 8-year old son of Rabbis Michael and Phyllis Sommer had relapsed. He had Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The news was devastating: 520 days after diagnosis and months of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant there was no longer any cure. No hope. The end would soon be near. Sammy died on December 14th.
This news shook my congregation to its very core. It sent them reeling and we are still not back on even ground.
Sammy’s father Michael had served as one of the rabbis at our congregation for two years. He developed strong and meaningful relationships. Sammy’s mother, Phyllis, is a beloved Associate Rabbi at another congregation nearby. They have been chronicling Sammy’s illness and their family’s journey through “the land of the sick” with a blog that has reached thousands across the world: supermansamuel.blogspot.com
My congregants needed a way to deal with the devastating news as a community. They knew they could not change the situation or the outcome. But they wanted to find an appropriate communal outlet for their grief and anguish. They needed an opportunity to find healing and strength through prayer, reflection and music. They knew that solace would be found by joining together.
We came together in our beautiful room that overlooks the lake. The floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around the entire length of the space and surround you with the serenity of nature: majestic trees, endless sky, calming waters.
We sat in a circle – a circle of healing – in the room with dimmed lights.
“Please listen to my call – help me find the words, help me find the strength within, help me shape my mouth, my voice, my heart, so that I can direct my spirit and find You in prayer.” (Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman).
Those who attended, came initially, because of the news of Sammy’s relapse. But everyone in the room had also suffered from personal loss: the death of a sister when she was a young teen, the death of a grandchild, the death of a son-in-law, a son who was lost to the ravages of mental illness, personal illness and other setbacks.
We prayed together, we sang together, we silently reflected. And then we shared: feelings, thoughts and emotions.
“Prayer takes us beyond the self. Joining our little self to the selfhood of humanity, it gives our wishes the freedom to grow large and inclusive. Our prayers are answered not when we are given what we ask, but when we are challenged to be what we can be.” (Rabbi Morris Adler, from A Service of Healing, Temple Beth Elohim, Wellesley, Massachusetts).
As we joined hands in our circle of healing at the conclusion, to feel the strength we can glean from each other, we stood silently together. The touch of one hand to another at that moment, was more powerful and more healing, than any words could possibly be.
We ended with words of song, from the book of Exodus (15:2):
“Ozi v’zimrat yah, va’y’hi li, li-shu-ah – Adonai is my strength and might; God will be my salvation.”
Together, we can strengthen and heal one another.