Gail Baer

As the Jewish High Holidays near, we begin to take the time to reflect, recharge and renew ourselves for the year to come. Last year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, for many of us, were observed at home as the pandemic prevented us from being in-person at our congregations. We experienced a different kind of spiritual renewal as we created our own sacred space to observe the holidays.

The High Holiday season for me is also about reconnection. And this year even more so as we have the opportunity to return to our places of worship (albeit with social distancing protocols in place). I look forward to reuniting with friends after these past many months and enjoying the spiritual uplift of the season.

Taking time for reflection, clarity of mind, body and spirit is so fulfilling. I wonder whether that which we experience during our holiest time of year — such powerful moments for our souls — can be sustained throughout the rest of the year.

I know I am not alone when, after the holidays, I slowly, but surely, move back into the familiar pattern of filling my days with the heavy lifting of work and life, stretching the boundaries of my day to take in one more meeting, make one more phone call, send one more email.

Over the past 18 months, I have truly learned the importance of self-care. Much is due to the interactions I have had with my professional colleagues at Jewish Family & Children’s Service. As an organization that cares deeply for the community, JFCS is on the front lines of mental health, health care and social service needs.

My colleagues who daily deliver direct services to those in need are encouraged and taught to take time for self-care. Members of our JFCS professional staff absorb and feel some of the pain and trauma presented daily from our clients. Without properly taking care of themselves, they can’t effectively care for others.

During the pandemic, the number of individuals and families requiring JFCS assistance increased and accelerated. The virus continues to wreak havoc, and we have all experienced loss and severe trauma.

As vice president of philanthropic services at JFCS, I am not a direct service provider, but I am in constant communication with my colleagues who are and listen with empathy as they relay the stories of those whom we serve. Couple that with the constant barrage of news stories and social media posts about the impact of the virus, and my heart aches. It aches not only for those we help, but for the helpers. We were all experiencing our own losses and severe trauma.

As my boundaries continued to stretch, workdays were so blurred that I often did not take adequate breaks during evenings and weekends to recharge. On the outside, I was holding it together on screen and online. On the inside, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and mentally drained in a cycle that repeated as I pushed myself over and over again. A voice inside kept saying, “Work harder. After all, people are depending on you.”

Fortunately, my husband Michael saw my erosion of spirit, and knew I needed to get away. I am so grateful he did. A vacation — a real vacation with no emails, no texts, no phone. Truly taking time for us to reflect, recharge and renew.

I returned with a renewed sense of purpose and an even deeper commitment to the JFCS mission of “Healing lives. Whatever it takes.” But I returned with the recognition that to be my best self means taking time to take care of myself. The voice inside now echoed, “You know who is depending on you? You.”

Let’s enter 5782 with new resolve — with deeper, stronger personal commitments to ourselves and others. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh: All Jews are responsible for each other.

As the holidays draw near, I hope that all of you will take this time to reflect on the past year, to reconnect with family and friends, use these days and many more days ahead to reflect, recharge and renew. JN

Gail Baer is the vice president of philanthropic services for Jewish Family & Children’s Service.