HaDerekh: Paths to Jewish Caregiving

Caregiver hands
Caregiver hands

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Madelyn (Micki) Iris, Ph.D.  For more information about the HaDerekh program and evaluation results, please contact her at irisassociates2016@gmail.com.

Caregiving for aging family members is of particular concern for the Jewish community, as the Jewish population is aging at a rapid rate: in 2010 approximately 45% of Jews in the greater Chicago area were 50 years of age or older, and thus were likely to be caregivers for their older family members, or receiving care themselves.

Jewish congregations have a unique opportunity to assist congregants with educational programs and support tailored to meet the needs of their particular faith community. HaDerekh: Paths to Jewish Caregiving addresses the needs of caregivers for older adults by integrating Jewish traditions and practices with a secular self-care education program. organized into 5  two-hour class sessions, topics addressed include: techniques and strategies for managing emotions, dealing with stress, dealing with changing relationships, communicating about caregiving, and seeking support and services.

Each class also includes an exercise that encourages caregivers to take time for themselves. The Jewish component of the program explores how caregivers’ can draw upon personally meaningful faith-based resources for coping. HaDerekh provides caregivers with textual and other materials, such as music, that they can use for personal reflection. An important feature of HaDerekh is that it is hosted by local synagogues, thus fostering connections among Jewish caregivers and their congregations.

We believe it is especially important that HaDerekh be offered in a synagogue setting as the synagogue environment and community offers support to participants at a time when they may feel alone and overwhelmed. Strengthening connections to both the synagogue as an institution and to fellow congregants and other Jews during this critical time may produce lasting relationships that will endure beyond the caregiving experience and the coping skills taught in HaDerekh are equally appropriate when dealing with various forms of grief.

A recently completed pilot test of HaDerekh, funded by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, involved 3 synagogues in the north suburbs of Chicago and included an evaluation component. Caregivers commented on the meaningfulness of being of the program, noting that the classes not only provided practical information about how to care for themselves and improve communication with others, but also offered them support for caregiving in the context of their Jewish community.

HaDerekh: Paths to Jewish Caregiving is adapted from University of Illinois Extension’s caregiver training curriculum “Caregiving Relationships” (http://web.extension.illinois.edu/state/calendar_event.cfm?ID=65306). HaDerekh classes are led by two trained facilitators, who may be professionals with experience in caregiver issues (such as social workers in aging services), or lay leaders. Each facilitator must participate in a special training course, now offered via webinar, by AgeOptions, the Area Agency on Aging serving suburban Cook County, IL. Information about the training is provided by Sarah Stein, at Sarah.Stein@ageoptions.org.  Using the Facilitators Guide facilitators can tailor their delivery to be most relevant for each group of caregiver attendees. Training includes instructions on how to recruit caregivers, how to provide the program in a faith-sensitive manner, and procedures for completing the evaluation protocols. Jewish content and context, developed as part of the proposed project, will be emphasized through in-class brain-storming and other types of exercises where caregivers will be asked to reflect on how they can draw upon Jewish traditions and resources to overcome care-giving challenges.

HaDerekh: Paths to Jewish Caregiving serves a practical, educational need regarding coping with caregiving, by drawing upon the Jewish tradition of study and discussion. By referencing sacred, historical and contemporary writings on Jewish values and practices related to aging and care of the elderly, the project serves a broader Jewish educational purpose.


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