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Gemilut Chesed Guidelines

Our compassion for and commitment to our community finds its voice and expression in the physical world through gemilut chesed (acts of loving kindness). The mitzvah of gemilut chesed is performed without the expectation of reward or acknowledgment from the recipient. The relationship that is created by an act of gemilut chesed holds the potential for spiritual experiences. We believe that both the giver and the receiver are enriched by the process. Gemilut chesedrequires continuous diligent education to enable us to learn how best to give as well as to receive.

We fulfill the mitzvah of Gemilut chesed by visiting the sick (bikur cholim), behaving graciously and hospitably (haknasat orchim), and comforting the mourner (nichum avelim). We resist the tendency to leave the performance of these mitzvot to professionals. Members of Adat Shalom are challenged to continually expand the ways in which gemilut chesed is expressed and demonstrated. Examples include comforting the divorced or separated; assisting parents with newborn children; assisting adopting parents; acknowledging the traumas of miscarriage and unemployment; and such other ways as we may discover.

Our hope as a religious community is that if each person will acknowledge both the responsibility to perform gemiltut chesed as well as the right to receivegemilut chesed, then, at any given moment in the life of our community, there will be individuals who are ready, willing, and able to respond to one another’s needs.

This sense of communal commitment and responsibility may not come naturally or easily but is a sensitivity that can be developed. The Adat Shalom Gemilut Chesed Study Group developed a number of principles that can guide our community in the fulfillment of this mitzvah. The process of communal education and self-awareness could be facilitated and enhanced by

  • creating an environment in which people will be comfortable seeking help and reaching out to others. This environment could be created by (a) educational programs on communication skills, developing sensitivity to others, and appropriate behavior in the Shiva house or in other specific situations; (b) social and “pot luck” style events that create a supportive and congenial mood; and (c) the development of procedures, processes, and systems such as personal networks, resource materials, telephone trees, and life cycle committee structures;
  • ensuring that communal worship educates and inspires us to act. Such impetus could come from (a) readings, case studies, and discussions aboutgemilut chesed and the positive aspects of living in a caring community; (b) worship with or for the sick and bereaved; (c) public expressions of thanks or gratitude at significant moments of members’ lives; and (d) announcements to inform the community about specific events affecting members and requests for or offers to help; and
  • fostering a communal environment that inspires greater openness and action. Such inspiration could come from (a) newsletter articles and announcements; (b) the creation of funds or the giving of tzedakah to mark significant life events; and (c) communications networks to link persons who share common needs and experiences.

The communal aspects of fostering gemilut chesed must be an outgrowth of individual expressions. The process of developing the individual aspect of gemilut chesed could be facilitated and enhanced by

  • pursuing individual education and making a personal commitment to break down barriers and create a sense of community;
  • being willing to share with the community in an honest way one’s needs, anxieties, and concerns and letting it be known that help and support would be appreciated;
  • becoming personally aware and sensitive to the needs of others;
  • recognizing that no one course of conduct applies to everyone, and, therefore, flexibility and patience must be a component of our behavior;
  • engaging in personal expressions of support, such as telephone calls, letters, and personal visits and making contributions to mark life cycle events;
  • welcoming new members to our community by creating an open and accepting environment, participating in “pot luck” events, and greeting new members at congregational events; and
  • seeking out those in our community who need or want assistance and providing or offering to provide specific help.

Gemilut chesed is, in the final analysis, an individual act and an individual expression of how we view the world in which we live. As Jews, our methods and manner of expression cannot help but be influenced by our historic and communal consciousness of the mitzvah of gemilut chesed; this consciousness reflects the total of our individual human experiences as well as the reservoir of the Jewish people’s communal knowledge acquired through communal experiences. In performing acts of gemiilut chesed, we seek to unify our historic communal and individual experiences by enhancing our individual personal development as Jews, as members of the present generation of the Jewish people, and as members of the human family.

These guidelines, adopted by the Adat Shalom board on 19 April 1992 (16 Nissan 5752) and then by the congregation as a whole on 14 June 1992 (13 Sivan 5752), are the product of a process that included a communal study of traditional sources and subsequent in-depth special study by topical subgroups. The subgroups formulated draft statements of principles and more detailed guidelines. Members of our congregation were invited to provide input on these guidelines throughout the year-long process.