If You Forget Us…You Will Make a Sad Mistake!

I am concerned that there may be a growing trend that the Jewish institutional world has a focus that is skewed mostly on the young. Emphasis on youth and education of the youth has been and should be a major concern of every congregation. BUT, I am concerned, very concerned, that trends and demographics seem to be showing the way that these same institutions are forgetting that the spiritual and Jewish intellectual growth of the elders of our community is equally important, and, this same multi-generational cohort contains within it such a wealth of human and life experience that to forget this, or ignore it, is to court irrelevancy.
We are already seeing the rise on communal sponsored educational days of learning (see “Limmud”) that draw hundreds of people; many “former” congregants. My work and travel brings me in to contact with many who used to be affiliated but now are not and, are not, in many cases, because their home congregation offered nothing that spoke to the life stages that they were experiencing. Many JCCs create powerful life-long learning opportunities that make education available to hundreds. Full disclosure: I teach at one of these JCCs and my weekly class has many who are members of congregations but who see the JCC as the place that their Jewish education is based.
As I traveled this year, I handed out a small, very unscientific questionnaire to people. It just asked their responses to where they saw the basis of the Jewish educational life. It also asked what issues were most important for them to learn about. The people were from all over the USA. From small to large congregations. It was no surprise that most people saw the synagogue and the local JCC as the two main locations that they looked to for continuing education. A third place finisher was the inter-net. These responders (all over 50 with 1 exception) stated that they wanted more educational opportunities and that the number one issue that drives them to seek Jewish answers and approaches was their own spiritual search for meaning.
There is a serious sense of searching out there among Boomers. As we become more aware of our own mortality, the fragility of life and the rapid passage of time, we need Jewish based opportunities to learn, discuss and reflect on our own meaning and purpose. There is much that Boomers can give to these organizations and congregations. To forget them is to, as I said, court irrelevancy.
Rabbi Richard F Address


  1. Right-on! I offered to facilitate a class for Baby Boomer Grandparents at my Temple and the response was money was needed for youth education. When I suggested I’d do it for free, I was told there was no space or time for it. Sad. Many grandparents are struggling on how to communicate with their 21 Century grandchildren, with or without all the technology! It would be great to have a welcoming environment to come together and share thoughts and ideas. What better place than our synagogue.

  2. Twenty years ago at age 52 I attended my first URJ Summer Kallah at Brandeis University. The combination of outstanding faculty and worship leaders (among the latter, Debbie Friedman) and the opportunity to meet equally committed congregants from across the country motivated me to continue to grow intellectually and spiritually as a Reform Jew by participating in Summer Kallot annually, with few exceptions, until the URJ discontinued them a few years ago as part of its emphasis on youth. While attending my sixth consecutive Kallah in 2000 I realized that although I loved the Kallah experience it was time to develop skills that would enable me to be useful to my congregation and the broader Jewish community by teaching, leading worship and serving congregants in other ways when clergy were unavailable, as I did this past Shabbat morning when our cantor unexpectedly had to be with a family at a time of their need. Thanks to training for laypersons offered by URJ,HUC and the CCAR I spent parts of the summers of 2001 and 2002 preparing for being the “go to” person when necessary. Thus, I have led numerous Shabbat and High Holy Day services as well as shiva minyans, and have taught Torah to adults at my congregation and at other venues, including prisons.

    In 2002 and 2003, again motivated by the desire to serve my congregation, I participated in training offered by the Reform Movement for lay persons wanting to assist clergy with welcoming interfaith families and Jew by Choice. Again, the congregation benefitted. I think the two programs that prepared me from 2001-04 to do what I do no longer exist. If they exist, they are not as robust as they were and they are certainly not well publicized.

    Of course, the vast majority of congregations with full-time clergy offer adult learning opportunities; I attend most that my congregation offers. Yet congregations cannot replicate the intensity, depth nor breadth of learning away from home from the best scholars in our Movement. Further, few if any congregations can create and implement a program to enable a lay person to become what, in parts of the Christian world, is called a “lay minister.”

    Two years ago I attended the Summer Institute of the National Havurah Committee. This summer I plan to be at the Mechon Hadar Executive Seminar. The Reform Movement brags about being the largest in the American Jewish community, and at one time it could boast about its rich summer learning opportunities that attracted many over age 50. The URJ presumably wants older adults to do what we can to strengthen our congregations and the URJ. Sadly, it no longer seems interested it giving us the tools and motivation to do so.

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