Wouldn’t it be great if you had a chavrusa working with you, guiding and helping you in your work environment? Well, occupational therapists are one of the few professional groups fortunate enough to have a forum of fellow workers to help them navigate the sometimes challenging task of being an observant OT. The mission of OJOTC (Orthodox Jewish Occupational Therapy Chavrusa) mission is to help observant OT’s connect and resolve any religious issues they may encounter in school and at work.
One may wonder why this particular field requires a forum. Founder Peggy Gurock explains that many OT’s, especially students and recent graduates, can benefit from being in touch with seasoned professionals who can offer advice and possible employment. The network also assists experienced professionals who are dealing with professional issues. “Knowing that one has colleagues who not only have the same professional outlook as you do, but also have the same religious outlook, and who are willing to help you with any issues that occur is very important,” says Mrs. Gurock.
Oftentimes, professional and religious requirements clash and this is where having such an organization helps. “An explanation of customs may need to be expressed on a situation to situation basis for those who may not be familiar with a person who is observant and their customs,” says Paul Stadler, who has been a member of OJOTC since its inception and maintains his own OT practice.
In fact, OJOTC was instrumental in convincing a number of continuing education providers to specifically schedule some of their programs on days other than Shabbat, to meet the needs of frum OT’s. In particular, one of the most popular continuing education seminars, especially for OT’s who are school-based or work in pediatrics, is “Handwriting Without Tears,” which are offered all over the country, always on Shabbat. OJOTC was successful in lobbying the company behind “Handwriting Without Tears” to offer a non-Shabbat course in the New York-New Jersey area. One seminar a year is now offered on a Sunday-Monday schedule each year and it sells out very quickly.
Another area of success is in dealing with AOTA. The American Occupational Therapist Associations holds conferences on Shabbat and Yom Tov and OJOTC was able to make arrangements for its members to receive credits for workshops without electronic badges being swiped. When the conferences are held in areas without an eiruv, AOTA provides a secure conference room where OJOTC members can leave their conference programs, brochures and other papers. OJOTC has also worked to provide Glatt Kosher lunches during seminars where attendees’ registration fees include a meal.
OJOTC came to be during a chance meeting. It was back in 2005 at the AOTA’s conference in Long Beach that an OT from New York, Tamar Fromm, just happened to spot a man wearing a yarmulke among the thousands of people roaming the Convention Center’s Exposition Hall. It turned out to be the husband of a frum OT from New Jersey, Peggy Gurock. Tamar asked Peggy and her husband Noah if they knew a place to buy kosher food for Shabbat. Told that the closest place was in Los Angeles, 30 miles away, she seemed resigned to eating canned tuna in her hotel room, until they invited her to share their Shabbat dinner – which they were picking up that night in L.A. – in their hotel room.
An hour later, Noah spotted two other men wearing yarmulkes in the crowd. They, too, were planning to eat in their hotel room. “Why don’t we all eat together, and really celebrate Shabbat?” they asked each other.
The real question was where to find the space. The answer came from a Front Desk Manager at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. He offered a “board room” that was scheduled to be vacant that Friday night. As the anticipation of a Shabbat meal together grew, so did the number of Occupational Therapists. By candle lighting, the number was ten; they came from New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Israel. Somehow these strangers, but not really, found each other. Some brought with them the food they had planned to eat in their rooms. The pot-luck style dinner lasted two and half hours and by the end of the conference, the Orthodox Jewish Occupational Therapy Chavrusa had been formed and there were plans to meet the following year in Charlotte, North Carolina. This year OJOTC is planning its 10th annual Shabbat Program.