Editor’s Note: Congregation Sukkat Shalom is located in Wilmette, Illinois. More information on Touchpoints is available on the temple’s website.
(There should be a special blessing for computers that are able to store past files, and save our brains from being able to remember minutia from way back. In going back to our old documents, I was able to find our rationale and early programs for Touchpoints. Hallelujah!)
Touchpoints was formed to create a vibrant community of our empty nester congregants. We were people who joined without having children in Family School, and had no natural social cohorts to bond together with to address the challenges we might face, and had the social need to get together without the life cycle markers of bar/bat mitzvah, school issues, and young family events. Many of us joined a temple to be intellectually stimulated and spiritually connected with like peers.
Many of us joined Sukkat Shalom being newly retired, newly widowed or downsized and facing a whole host of issues that we wanted to approach with a Jewish orientation. We were looking for a peer group that would support our journey and each other through this next stage of life that we found ourselves in. Rabbi Gordon was a big supporter of the idea, and gave us the green light to go forth.
We jumped on the quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel,” The task of a lifetime is to face sacred moments.” I think this spoke to our new Touchpoints initiative eloquently as we, as a congregation, and a community, attempted to deal with those sacred moments. On September 29, 2013 fifty-eight people attended the Touchpoints kick-off event. The guest speaker was Rabbi Richard Address who spoke about Sacred Aging and challenges we face as we journey through our lives.
As we have gone through that journey we have created a Dinner With Friends program that meets periodically, and was created so that congregants could break challah together on random Friday nights, and have peers to sit with at services. We have even been able to navigate this on Zoom in the pandemic.
We have had numerous movies- usually on late Sunday afternoons, with discussions led by Rabbi Gordon, followed by a supper at the temple, and once again, we have been able to continue this during the pandemic.
We have addressed many provocative topics with Sunday morning and afternoon drop-in programs. We have studied Being Mortal–twice, and have had many conversations on end of life issues and have read articles and books together and participated in discussions. We studied Oliver Sacks twice- even he got an encore, just like Rabbi Address.
One of the personal highlights for me was a program where our high-schoolers interviewed some of our most senior congregants over a brunch and subsequent meetings- bonding and writing up a service held that May at the end of the year honoring our elders. It was truly an engaging intergenerational experience that was extremely meaningful.
We have also tried a Sunday morning Sicha program which was peer led by members of the community at the Community Center where family school takes place. This program ran for a couple of years. Our congregants led a discussion on a topic of their choice—searching for awe in everyday life, addiction, staying on track, learning about ego states, etc. It was a way to bring non- family school members into the “school” setting and have them stick around for the Caffeine for the Brain program. This program ran out of steam with the pandemic, but as the world unfolds back to a new normal, it can be re-evaluated.
We had a very successful Death Over Dinner evening, studied the 5 Wishes document and living wills, went to a play, and cooked together making Challah, and wonderful Chanukah cookies.
I think that the most important aspect of Touchpoints is that it IS. It sends a message that this is a congregation that values people in a stage of life that has real challenges, and many who are somewhat isolated and living alone. We are a peer group that has real programming needs that are being recognized as important. Ours is a mission statement that helps us realize our “sacred moments,” make connections and feel supported. I am thrilled that Sukkat Shalom values its Touchpointers.