Central Reform rabbi increases frequency of support group meetings during pandemic

Rabbi James Stone Goodman


These days, Rabbi James Stone Goodman spends a whole lot of time checking in with folks. “I make myself carry my 50-pound phone around and I call more people every day to see how they are doing,” said Goodman, who is affiliated with Central Reform Congregation. “Then I call their mother, their parents. I’m also talking with all kinds of people I haven’t talked to in a long while.”

Goodman has long spearheaded a recovery group called Shalvah (serenity) for people dealing with substance abuse and addiction issues. He also serves as spiritual leader for No Shanda (no shame), a support group for those living with, or around, mental health and mental illness problems. 

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Shalvah met weekly while No Shanda met monthly. Since the virus, which is keeping people quarantined at home, Shalvah now meets twice a week and No Shanda meets once a week; all of these meetings are through videoconferencing. 

“We increased the frequency out of need,” said Goodman, adding that typically 10 to 30 people participate in these meetings. “The challenge of isolation, the lure of loneliness and practicing aloneness are big problems for a lot of the people who come to these meetings both before and after this (pandemic). People (in these groups) take to this situation (of isolation) too well and they know this – so meetings become so important.”

He noted that people who drink to excess or do drugs often do so in isolation. “You drink because you’re lonely and then you drink more the lonelier you are. It’s a big problem,” he said.

But he says what has surprised him is how well people in both groups are doing. 

“I would have thought they would be more vulnerable and more needy and in a difficult place,” he said. “But they are truly doing quite well. They have resources in place. It’s rougher on the new people now joining us – they need more support and more contact. Those who are accustom to our model adapted readily to this situation.”

Goodman, who is not a fan of giving advice, did offer a few suggestions for people feeling out of sorts because they are quarantined. 

“A routine is important. It begins for me by making my bed — that intentions me for the day,” he said. “I take my dog for a walk and make sure I get exercise. Then I pick up that 50-pound phone and start calling. I make myself do it because I’m not so inclined normally. I’m someone who takes to isolation well. But connecting is so important and people really appreciate the calls.”

Anyone interested in joining Shalvah or No Shanda can do so by going to centralreform.org and clicking Goodman’s programming on the website for dates and times.