I just returned from another weekend of teaching at a congregation. Emanu-el in Rye, NY is alovely community that asked me to spend some time with them to discuss some ideas of developing programming for their older adult population. This is a major role for Jewish Sacred Aging and, to be honest, is fun for me to do. The challenge of engaging congregants in discussing issues such as care-giving, end of life decision making and caring community issues; all from the foundation of Jewish texts, always provides some powerful momnents. This weekend was no exception.
Starting from the Q and A after the opening talk, a theme of isolation and loneliness appeared. We did discuss some interpretations of Genesis [2:18] and the word “l’vado”, to be alone. The comments seem to touch on the recognized fear of being alone, especially as life ebbs. This issue kept coming up. It was a presence at the concluding program on care-giving on Sunday. No one wishes to be alone, to be isolated, to be cut off. This reality, this fear of being alone, is played out every day in our community. Congregations have a unique role to play in making sure that no one within their community is ever alone. So many caring community programs of direct service, or “in reach” have been developed to try and make sure that people are visited, called and cared for. Sometime, programs of transportation are developed to make sure that people who feel isolated can get to a service or a program or a doctor appointment.
For people in nursing homes, who often have few if any visors; or who may be dealing with dementia or ALzheimer’s; this issue of isolation can be critical. That is why so many more congregations are beginning to discuss ways in which they can reach in to these people so as to make them know that they are still, and will always be, part of the community and/or congregation. Increasingly, studies show that socialization, being with people in relationships, is a key to mental and spiritual health. As our population ages, and more people find it too difficult to get to the building, the need for the creation of direct service programs within religious communities will grow. As Genesis [2:18] says, it is not good for any of us to be “alone”. Look at your organization, congregation and see how they are meeting this need on a person to person, human level.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min