TORONTO — No one who is ill should have to pray alone for his or her health, says Dalya Hakimi, co-chair of the chesed committee at Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, where a new prayer service aims to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Hakimi, who believes in the healing power of prayer, says that when you pray for the health of others, you strengthen your own well-being.
“Illness can be so traumatic for people and their family members,” she says. “We want to create a compassionate place where people can come together, connect with each other and help each other feel better.”
To realize this goal, on the afternoon of Feb. 24, Shaarei Shomayim held its first Jewish healing service, which was open to both members and people who don’t belong to Shaarei Shomayim.
The Sunday-afternoon service was unlike a traditional prayer service, Hakimi says.
Rabbi Avraham Sultan, the shul’s cantor, led worshippers in prayer, and music and song were also part of the observance.
During the Amidah, people were encouraged to meditate on their health, the health of their loved ones and anyone else they wanted to include in their prayers.
“People sit in a circle so they can make eye contact with each other,” Hakimi says. “This helps everyone feel more connected. We don’t want this to come off as hokey or New Age-y. The service is conducted under halachah – we don’t do anything too wacky. We just want to go a little out of the box and make people feel welcome and comforted.”
Hakimi likens the service to a meeting of a support group. “The healing service helps people connect socially, too. Sometimes it’s good just to shake another person’s hand, or put an arm around someone and say, ‘I hope your loved one will get well.’”
If people also wanted to attend a more traditional Minchah service, the shul’s regular one started after the healing service.
Rabbi Sultan hopes the healing service will become a monthly fixture. The rabbi pushed to offer such an event because years ago, when he served as a chaplain at several Montreal hospitals, he saw that healing services were appreciated by patients who were too ill to leave the hospital to attend regular services.
They were also popular among patients who didn’t belong to a synagogue, but wanted to stay connected with Judaism. Patients’ family members often made special trips to the hospital to attend these services with their loved ones.
“People in hospitals going through difficult moments enjoyed praying not only for themselves, but for each other. After all, when we pray for the health of others, that makes us stronger,” Rabbi Sultan says. “During our healing service, we join with all Israel and ask for a speedy recovery for everyone – even people whose names we don’t know.”
Hakimi also cites research that shows prayer not only makes people feel more optimistic, it also helps to boost the body’s immune system.
“Prayer opens the heart and nourishes the soul,” she says. “I don’t know if this service will make people physically better, but it will definitely make them feel spiritually better.”
For more information, call Shaarei Shomayim at 416-789-3213, or go to www.shomayim.org.