9/1/20 3:50 p.m. Update: This article has been corrected to reflect a more accurate number of attendees of the SPIRIT Program. The Baltimore Jewish Times regrets this error.
With September’s arrival, the summer is all but over, and with it goes the peak months during which, in a pandemic-less era, community members would have stepped outside to enjoy the world and each other’s company without hesitation. To help its senior congregants combat continued cabin fever, Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley Synagogue has partnered with the Orthodox Union to bring them the OU’s SPIRIT program.
“During the pandemic, some [people], whether it’s seniors or people living on their own, have felt underwhelmed, just being stuck at home and people were not working,” said Ner Tamid’s Rabbi Yisrael Motzen.
“And so what the Orthodox Union SPIRIT program has done,” Motzen continued, “is really taking care of [those] people, and making sure that there are things that are more intellectually stimulating than just watching Netflix.”
Motzen said that SPIRIT program’s wide variety of classes and lectures have helped Ner Tamid’s congregants to keep learning and growing.
The SPIRIT program originally began in the fall of 2013, said Rebbetzin Judi Steinig, the OU’s director of community programs and the coordinator of the SPIRIT program, to provide “educational, intellectual, spiritual growth for people.” The SPIRIT events at first were largely in-person affairs. While it experienced some success in that format, since the program’s move to an online format in March, it has been “exploding,” Steinig said, with 2800 participants attending the virtual sessions so far.
Some of the programs that SPIRIT provides have included sessions on exercise, yoga, finance, legal preparation,and Jewish law, said Steinig. She made special mention of a session on “grandparenting from afar,” which focused on strategies on how grandparents can stay in touch with their grandchildren amidst social distancing, and of a session on how seniors can improve their memory.
The SPIRIT program is primarily organized by the OU, which then informs some 40 participating partner synagogues of its programming, Steinig said. The synagogues, in turn, pass that information along to the individual members of their congregations, commonly through their newsletters.
Ner Tamid originally became involved in the SPIRIT program following its participation in a July Zoom lecture with Orthodox Union President Mark Bane, who spoke on the work his organization had been doing in support of seniors, said Motzen.
Motzen expressed his appreciation for how the program was “highlighting the importance of people in this age bracket.” He lamented how “as people get older and people slow down, we belittle their contribution.”
This, Motzen said, despite how “in our religion, Moses started his job at 80. Pretty good track record to get started taking Jews out of Egypt and bringing them the holy land at that point.”