Meet Shirley Hirschberg, Facilitator of our Life Transitions Group
Shirley Hirschberg is a Social Worker, Life Coach and Bereavement Counselor, certified by Cedars, who has been facilitating BCC’s Life Transitions Group for many years. BCC Treasurer Mike King interviewed her for G’vanim.
Shirley, tell us a bit about the Life Transitions Group.
I was invited by Ray Eelsing to start the group back in 2002. He suggested I speak with the clergy, which I interpreted to mean they’d conduct an interview. Speaking with Rabbi Lisa and Fran, it felt as though we were old friends immediately. They were very supportive of the idea of a group, and gave me their blessings to proceed.
How did you first come up with the idea for a Life Transitions Group?
When I was a teenager, my 19 year-old sister was killed in a car accident. My parents were bereft, and I felt I’d make it worse for them by “burdening” them with my own grief. My friends weren’t yet adult enough to support me. I had no one to share my feelings with.
I made up my mind that at some point in my life I wanted to support others, in a safe place, to share their inner most feelings and not be judged. This was my goal and I am now fortunate to be living that dream.
Are you able to share some of the things group participants deal with, without breaking any confidences?
One example I can offer is that of a group participant who came from an ultra-Orthodox background. His father, a rabbi, expected his son to follow in his footsteps. Being gay, the son knew this was not an option, so he instead became a good Jewish doctor. While in medical school he came out to his parents. The family immediately sat shiva, threw him out of the house, and asked him to never again have contact with anyone in his family (particularly his mother). He came to the group in great pain. The group members surrounded him with acceptance, love, and friendship. It was a great moment for me to witness the compassionate support everyone offered him.
Another felt she received so much from the group that she said, “Even though I don’t have any major issues right now, I don’t’ want to leave the group because I know I have a place to go to find support, friendship and acceptance and I don’t want to let that go.”
Who might find benefit from participating in the Life Transitions Group?
The group initially dealt with HIV/AIDS. Today, we talk of challenges such as coping with relationships, family, bereavement, career, and health. They also find themselves to be supporting their partners, spouses, friends, and aging parents.
Each person in the group is an individual. People come from different backgrounds, have different experiences, were raised with different religious traditions, and now have their own unique needs and challenges. The group is always there to help people cope with whatever they may be experiencing. It can be difficult to share some of these personal happenings with friends or family because they naturally want us to be happy – which can stifle our ability to ask for support.
This I promise: each individual will be listened to, will learn new coping skills, and will find friends, support and love.
What do you personally get out of facilitating this group?
Personally, I get a tremendous amount back, so much so that it’s difficult to properly articulate. I feel so blessed to know that people can talk to me openly without feeling judged. People come into the group with personal challenges, and I feel blessed to part of their healing process. It feels like a sacred honor.
If someone has a Life Transitions Issue they’d like to explore, how might they learn more about the group?
The prospective member should telephone Chelsie at the BCC Office (x205) and leave their contact information. I will return their call to answer any questions they may have, and to welcome them to the group if they elect to join. We welcome everyone to the group – BCC members as well as non-members, Jewish or non-Jewish, LGBT or simply an ally.
We hold the group as a ‘safe and confidential’ place. All discussion stays in the room. In the 18 years I’ve led this group, everyone has respected confidentiality. I also see people privately if that is more to their liking, and some people have elected to participate in both group meetings and private sessions.
We meet the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of each month, 7-9 pm, at BCC
Suggested donation is $25 per session, and no one is turned away for lack of funds.