As we light the lights of the Channukah menorah these days, no doubt we will be filled with smiles and thoughts of family and friends and, maybe food! These eight lights have received numerous interpretations throughout the years. Despite the commercialism of the festival, at its heart, it remains one focused on family, friends and the values of commitment to a cause. We dedicate, we hope, our lives to that which is greater than our own self.
So, it is in this spirit that I want to suggest that one of the possible add-ons to this festival is to honor the care-givers in our communities. Channukah is a perfect holiday for it. Why? Well, look at that Menorah. We increase the lights, just as those who are care-givers gradually increase their care and with it, often comes increases stress and strain. The statistics are overwhelming. AARP tells us that there are some 44 million caregivers and that the rates for physical and mental health concerns are beyond those who do not do this. We now also know from studies from several organizations that work in this area that we are seeing an increase in men who are care-givers as well as Millennials. In fact, as we have written before, in our Jewish Sacred Aging® work we never use the term “sandwich generation”. Rather, we use the term “club-sandwich generation” because multi-generational care-giving is not unusual. In fact, it is more normal than ever for several generations to be involved in this “mitzvah”. You probably know instances of this, indeed, you may be living it!
I just returned from two conferences that touched on this issue. The Coalition to Transform Advanced Care” (C-TAC. www.thectac.org) held is annual Summit at the end of November. A major issue was the financial, emotional, familial and spiritual strains on care-givers. It also looked at the small rise in attempts to pass legislation on the state and federal level to provide tax benefits to care-givers. The recently concluded Biennial for the Union for Reform Judaism also contained sessions that looked at, in some small ways, the spiritual challenges and possibilities of care-giving. The Jewish tradition’s approach to care-giving is one that is fascinating and quite contemporary. The analyses of the 5th Commandment (honor/respect mother and father) and the extrapolation of the interpretations of the Commandment can be liberating to people who are in this new life stage, a life stage that can last not months, but years. As our generation ages and issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s rise, we are already being told that we will not have enough qualified professional care-givers to take care of us, thus placing more pressures on families and congregations.
So, let me suggest that the time maybe at hand for congregations to incorporate rituals, events, Shabbatot, etc to honoring the care-giver. Some do, as part of their Caring Community program, however, the vast majority of our congregations, regardless of denomination, do NOT. Yet, as our workshops on the “art” of care-giving tell us, so many people 50 years of age plus are, have been or will enter this stage of life, often without warning or preparation. Caring for another human being is of the highest value. The “tzelem elohim” factor is present at all times as we do this “mitzvah”. SO, consider as you light these lights the challenge to establish for next year, a celebration honoring those who are care-givers during this time of light. Care-givers bring that “light” to so many. Their presence, over time, can bring their presence and their love and support to people in need. What a time to re-dedicate the light of caring and human to human relationships.
Have a wonderful holiday. Enjoy it in health, peace and caring.
Rabbi Richard F Address