Congregations give access for homebound



Central Reform Congregation’s Rabbi Susan Talve shared a story with the congregation right before the start of services on Kol Nidre in 2005. She had visited a member in the hospital earlier in the day who was very sad he would not be able to hear the words of the Kol Nidre that evening. Rabbi Talve was determined to make it possible for him to be part of the service. She told everyone she had made special arrangements to call the member’s hospital room right before the beginning of services and in fact he was on the phone at that moment as she was speaking. Then she left her cell phone on so he could be “with” the congregation to hear the very special prayer that signals the start of Yom Kippur for so many Jews.

Unfortunately it is not unusual for Jews to be unable to attend services for the High Holidays, the Sabbath and other holidays and events due to illness or physical challenges which prevent them from coming to the synagogue. Shaare Emeth program director Ronnie Brockman said many people have approached her over the years who knew they would be unable to attend High Holiday services and asked if they could be taped.

Sue Matlof found herself in the same position when her husband, the late Michael, was very ill. She knew they would not be able to attend High Holiday services that year. She spoke to her friend Rabbi John Spitzer, who used to be a rabbi at Shaare Emeth and is now at Temple Israel in Canton, Ohio. He suggested the family call in to his congregation in Ohio and listen to their High Holiday services over the phone.

“It was such a meaningful experience,” Matlof said. “When Michael passed away I knew I wanted to do something special in his memory. Our family created the Homebound Services program at Shaare Emeth.”

The program allows people to call into a special toll-free telephone number and listen to the services taking place. Homebound Services began by providing High Holiday services in 1998, then added Yiskor and one Friday night a month. Now the service is available every Friday and Saturday and can be available with prior notice for any service, including weddings, bar or bat mitzvahs, funerals and special events.

Matlof purchased speaker phones with large buttons and lent the speakers out from the synagogue. She said the speaker phone feature is very important so people did not have to hold a receiver to their ear for an entire service. The synagogue has had a very good response to the program.

“People have sent nice notes and called with their thanks,” Brockman said. “They are especially grateful to have the program available during the High Holidays.”

Shaare Emeth executive director Don Kriss agreed with Brockman’s assessment.

“13,000 homebound minutes were used by people listening to services during the High Holidays,” Kriss said. “I know they value the service.”

Rosanne Tessler at Temple Israel said their congregation also broadcasts all their services including weddings and funerals with prior arrangements. Congregants planning to use the service during the High Holidays can check out prayer books so they can follow the service at home.

“The program has been going on for over eight years,” Temple Israel executive director Eli Montague said. “A member family provided the money to help underwrite the program. We get notes from people who are so appreciative of the service.”

This year Kent Hirschfelder is the chair of the 2007 community-wide Yom HaShoah service that is being held at Shaare Emeth. He has confirmed that service will be available through the Homebound Program.

“It is my vision and hope that no one has to miss something that is important to them,” Matlof said. “This program can even be used by someone from out of town who may not be able to attend a special event in their family like a bar mitzvah. Because it is a toll free number there is no charge for people to call in to hear the services.”

The programs at Shaare Emeth and Temple Israel are available to anyone who is homebound. You do not need to be a member of either congregation to participate in their programs.

To access the Shaare Emeth Homebound Services call 800-846-4808 and enter ID #91088047 if required. For more information call Shaare Emeth at 314-569-0010.

To access the Temple Israel Broadcast Services call 800-846-4808 and enter ID #8053 if required. For more information call Temple Israel at 314-432-8050.