What would Mister Rogers do?

During this global COVID-19 health care crisis, we are all living a reality that none of us have ever experienced before. It is highly restrictive, uncertain, scary, all-consuming and filled with unfathomable tragedy. At the same time, this experience is giving each us of the opportunity to grow spiritually as we learn to cope with unwanted change, become more resilient and focus on what truly matters most in life.

The mission of the Spiritual Care Department at Menorah Manor is to provide spiritual comfort and support and to help residents find ways to experience blessing, joy, gratitude, purpose and meaning each day. Especially now in the midst of such uncertainty, loss and restriction, finding creative ways to help residents stay connected with their spirituality and faith has been critical to preserving their sense of spiritual well-being and freedom. Whatever I can do to maintain a sense of normalcy and routine has been an effective way to bolster spirits. I also give lots of “virtual hugs.”

Celebrating Shabbat is a central part of life at Menorah Manor. When residents could no longer gather for Shabbat dinner or attend Shabbat services in the synagogue, I was determined to help residents preserve their sense of Shabbat and all of the good feelings that go along with that. Thanks to the camera in the synagogue and Menorah Manor’s closed-circuit TV channel, I have been able to provide a live broadcast to celebrate Shabbat with the residents each week. For Shabbat dinner, we continue to play Shabbat dinner music and sing all of the familiar blessings and songs, including Hava Nagila. For Shabbat morning services, I give out virtual ark openings and virtual aliyot to keep people involved in the service. Preserving the sacred rhythm of the week has helped to maintain residents’ spirits.

The first time that I celebrated Shabbat to an empty room felt strange. I put a Teddy Bear on a chair as a focal point for the first time I led services. I thought to myself, what would Mister Rogers do in this situation? I proceeded to talk to the residents during the broadcast, with Mister Rogers in mind.

Celebrating Passover presented unique challenges in terms of how to preserve the communal experience of the Seder while residents were separated from their family and friends. The Seder was broadcast live on TV. Many residents in the Samson Nursing Center participated from their rooms, while others participated in the dining rooms, maintaining social distance. Toby Weinman residents also participated in the live broadcast from their dining room and living room.

A new colorful and cheerful Haggadah was designed for this year, and Afikomen prizes were given out after the Seder. Jewish residents also received a beautiful Passover card from Menorah Manor. It seemed that all of these efforts helped to mitigate the sense of loss many residents were feeling during the holiday.

I also wanted to make Easter special for our Christian residents who would be missing their families this year. Every Christian resident received a card from Menorah Manor. We live-streamed a Catholic and non-denominational service on Easter Sunday.

I check in with residents regularly. I give them a place to be heard and offer my empathetic support. I have seen residents draw strength and hope from the image I share that we are all on the Ark and will ride out this storm together.

May we all soon find ourselves on dry land.

Rabbi Aaron M. Lever, BCC
Director of Spiritual Care