Central to Passover is the teaching from Deuteronomy, that it is incumbent upon us to tell our children that once upon a time “we were slaves in Egypt, and God brought us out of slavery with an outstretched hand, and with great signs and wonders.”
At some point in our personal past, parents or grandparents, aunts, uncles, or teachers introduced us to the mythic tale of Passover. Through story-telling, Seder rituals and a smorgasbord of culinary delights we were initiated into the Passover story. These multi-sensory practices were etched into our consciousness, leaving us with visceral memories of family and friends being brought together, each year at this time, to celebrate an ancient Jewish festival.
Given the powerful imprinting of Passover memories, so often just the sounds, smells, and din and clatter of families gathered together at Seders, evoke poignant recollections of recently-deceased and long-gone family members with whom we have shared Passover throughout the years. Because of this, at times a Seder night can be emotionally difficult, joyous and yet simultaneously bittersweet. This is especially so when there has been a recent death, and the absence of a beloved grandparent, parent or spouse is acutely felt.
As the Seder begins this year, one helpful practice to consider, is asking those present who else they want to invite to the Seder. Make time to go around the table mentioning those who could not be present – perhaps children attending university, or friends and family who have moved away – and symbolically inviting deceased parents and grandparents, and others to the Seder. Saying something like “I want to invite my mother, Rose, who taught me everything I knew about Pesach, and would be delighted to be here with all of us being here tonight” can add a depth dimension to one’s Seder.
In some cases, it might be helpful to leave an empty chair in honor of someone who has died. “Zayde Jack always led Seders for us, and since he cannot be here tonight, we want to remember his presence with this empty chair.” This practice can help turn mournful longing into a tender memory.
There is often a mistaken belief that if we give voice to missing someone who died, it will evoke sadness, or even tears. There is a tendency to want to smooth things over, ignoring the obvious elephant in the room, the unexpressed grief felt particularly if the death is recent. Reality is such that the opposite is true: by acknowledging the loss, naming our collective grief, we open our hearts to remembering the person who has died, with love and with an appreciation of their legacy. Doing this can be very healing.
Similarly, we again have a chance to remember loved ones, at the end of the week of Passover, as we prepare for Yizkor. Inherent to Jewish practice is the wisdom to remember deceased loved ones by saying the memorial prayers of Yizkor four times a year. At Yom Kippur, and in the last days of celebration of Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot, we reflect upon the lives of those who have died, honor their memory and attune to their souls in the world beyond.
This year, on the last day of Passover, it is traditional to light a Yizkor candle at home at sundown and to recite Yizkor prayers in synagogue the next day. Once again, we are given the chance to remember those who imparted to us the Passover story, those with whom we shared Seder foods and sang Passover songs over many years. Reflecting on the light of a Yizkor candle, provides opportunity to talk about deceased loved ones, share stories of their lives, and in so doing, acknowledge our loves, losses and the lasting legacy parents, grandparents, and others have left behind.
Throughout Passover, as you remember Bubby’s matzo ball soup, your father’s Dayenu melody, or how to set a Passover table with elegance, take the time to share recollections of a person’s life and legacy, bring their spirit alive, and acknowledge their role in teaching you Seder traditions and practices. Honor their role as progenitors for you of the tradition that taught how “we were slaves in Egypt, and God brought us out of slavery with an outstretched hand, and with great signs and wonders.”
The whole week of Passover is a perfect time to remember loved ones, to honor our ever-changing feelings of grief, and align with the spirit of the person who has died, holding close to our hearts the gifts and the legacy that he or she has left behind.
Some four decades ago, Dr Eugene Brorowtiz (z’l) published his class “The Masks Jews Wear”. He attempted to look, in a systematic way, at the great changes then erupting within the contemporary American Jewish world and see them in the light of his existentialist theology. He looked at the
“multiplicity of Jewish self-perception” that he observed. He was looking at the unmasking, in a way, of the self-perception which, in many ways, became self-deception. So much has changed in these forty plus years, but, in some ways, the challenges remain the same and, in a sense, the consequences are greater.
In Jewish communities around the world the coming days will see the arrival of Purim. The “Megillat Esther” will be read, Haman will be booed and Mordecai and Esther cheered and thousands of people will dress up in costume, masks and parade to celebrate the history of ancient Persia. Oh yes, and there is always “hamentaschen”!. In thinking about this holiday and the costumes and the parades and the masks, I was reminded of Dr.Borowitz’s book and the idea of what a mask does in hiding a self. This idea was also sparked by two recent conversations we had on our weekly Jewish Sacred Aging Radio show and podcast. In recent interviews with Rabbis Peter Knobel and Dana Evan Kaplan, we got into the issue of non-orthodox movements sense of legitimacy. The idea, as we talked and they have written, that still, the non-Orthodox movements often seem to be afraid to affirm their sense of authenticity and legitimacy. Yet, in understanding the flow of Jewish life and history, the idea of on-going adaptation and change has been a secret of our survival. These movements, (from Renewal to Conservatism and all stops in between) still try to see themselves in relationship to Orthodoxy. Why?
I think that what one of the messages of Borowitz’s book may be for us today is to stop this, that it is finally time to throw off the mask of fear and claim our own Jewish experience as authentic and, in truth, part of the on-going evolving Jewish historical experience. This need for an affirming, creative and contemporary Jewish experience has never been more important in our American experience. As people drift from institutions, as Boomers seek a sense of meaningful community, we need more than ever a Judaism that affirms our choices, celebrates Jewish history and knowledge, and seeks to apply this sense of creative personal and communal expression to the life experiences of our people; and to do so unafraid of what others may say!
Decades ago Bororitz wrote the following: “Our beliefs tend to be temporary and fleeting. So we give the bits and pieces of our devotion to this and that, for shorter or longer periods. But, because there is little that is basic and lasting in us, our lives periodically reveal their ultimate emptiness, and we must acknowledge that we are neither integrated or whole. Fragmentation and insecurity are our most pervasive personal and social maladies today.” (211).
The world in which we now reside fills many with that sense of fragmentation and insecurity. The truths that so many of us who came of age in the 60s and 70s, and for which we marched and advocated for, so many of those truths have been torn aside and remain threatened. We seek that authentic community of faith in which we can take off the mask of perception and face the world secure in our own self. Judaism’s that still define themselves in terms of
not the other” will eventually self-destruct. We need not to be afraid to take off the masks of self-deception and claim and celebrate the authenticity of our interpretation of Judaism.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
This is a difficult time. Once again we seem to be faced with the challenges of events taking place that we did not plan for, even expect. As the cliché goes, we have been dealt some cards that change the way we see things. Let me every honest, some of this is very personal. It is also cumulative. I am not only thinking of the Parkland killings and the horror of what families must deal with. I am also thinking personally because it was just a few days ago that I had to help bury another very close friend.
In many of the talks and sessions associated with Jewish Sacred Aging, we look at what we call the “R” factor of life. This is the randomness of our life. The impact of this, I am convinced, becomes more powerful as we get older. I think that it is because we are more aware of time and the limitations that this reality places on us. We may be able to control many things in life, yet, there is always that randomness factor that we do not expect. It is that sudden phone call that brings news that changes things. It is that random act that we could never prepare for that changes lives.
How we react to these random events does determine the type pf person we become. Of that I am convinced. Yet, there is NO paradigm, for each of us is unique and each of us reacts to these random events in our own way, based, I think, on our own past history. Some people may retreat into a shell and cut themselves off from life, while others use the event to spark activism or chart a new life course. The unknown in this is, of course, the eternal question of “why”? This is THE religious question. Science and the news can explain to us the “how” and event took place, but the religious mind asks the “why” because once we know the “how” we immediately seek to find a reason for the “why”. And that is, as many of us know, the hardest thing to do. Indeed, for many, until we know the “why”, there may be little closure or comfort.
We are overwhelmed, often, by clichés of language that seek to find a reason for why an event took place. They are nice and in some measure, do bring some comfort. But, I am understanding, or at least trying to understand, that in the end, it is each of us that must find our own answer to the “why”. I do know (and this is frightening in many ways) that as we get older, the randomness factor of life becomes more present and the reality that we cannot control it becomes more concerning. Our tradition, knowing all of this, still opts for life. It always remains true to the over-riding value of celebrating the life you have been given and celebrating each day and moment. We are reminded that by saying the “modeh ani lifanecha” (I give thanks to You) prayer as soon as we wake up. In the end, maybe that is all we can do, to give thanks that we have another day of life, to not let that gift be for nothing and to remember in life and in deed, those who are no longer physically here. I know all of this, but yet……………..
Rabbi Richard F Address
One of my favorite Sinatra LPs (remember them?) is “September of My Years”. The title track speaks to the realization, common now for Boomers, that one day we are in summer, and the next day we “turn around and it is Fall.” The lyric asks, whatever happened to the springs and winters of a lifetime? This song lyric jumped into my head as I tried (not well) to process receiving one of “those” calls very recently. It was a call telling me that another very close friend, a friend for over 5 decades, had died suddenly.
In a flash, so many memories sped through my mind’s eye. It also reminded me, in cold hard stark fashion, of the randomness of our existence, a reality that grows more real as we get older. Maybe one of the great challenges in life as we age, is how we choose to deal with these random acts of life. How do we, you and I, choose to move on living? Some people never do. I imagine that you may know someone like that. Yet, life moves forward, as if unaware or unconcerned with our own circumstances.
I often, in talks on this, reflect back on Deuteronomy 30 and the passage which asks us to choose life. A key to that passage is the concept that we have the power to choose. Indeed, this is one of the great gifts of Judaism, we get to choose how we deal with what life hands us, knowing that sometimes the choices are not between blessing for curse, or good and bad, but gradations of each. Yet, the choice is ours to make, and even, in some circumstances, making no choice is a choice.
These choices that we make in lighting these random acts of life need not be made instantly. Indeed, that may be the worst time to make these choices. Time needs to take over in light ion sudden changes. Our souls need to adapt to new realities and to rush to make judgements or choices may be ill-advised. This is especially true in grief related situations.
The randomness of life is a true test of our humanity and our own values. It is not easy and the difficulty in dealing with this is heightened as we get older and those circles of relationships begin to get smaller. Loss can be a great equalizer and a great challenge.
Each of us has a story or two or more that relates to this aspect of choosing how to react to random acts of life. I hope I and you can, as the text ask, make choices that bring honor and sanctity to life and, if relevant, to the memory of a life well lived.
Rabbi Richard F Address
This period of time in January brings together the weekend celebration of the life of Dr Martin Luther KIng as well as the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. They marched together for freedom in the 60’s and each came to their prophetic roles via their deep roots within their faith. This country will mark the King weekend with a variety of celebrations; from inter-faith services to days of service. It is interesting that, for the most part, the Jewish community allows Heschel’s “yahrzeit” to go by with barely a mention. It would be a gift if congregations set aside time every January, around the anniversary of Heschel’s death to study his words. I will be eternally grateful to my friend “Jake” Jackofsky (z’l) who turned me on to Heschel’s writings so many years ago.
For us, for our generation, the study of Heschel’s words and deeds should ring true. He was one of those rare scholar-activists who practiced what he preached. We remember a bunch of them from those days, so many whose names are slowly being forgotten. Heschel spoke to us when we were younger and, in many ways, speaks even more profoundly as we get older. I submit to you his now infamous speech at the first White House conference on aging, held in 1961. He presented a paper titled “To Grow In Wisdom”. It should be required reading for anyone over 50. My copy, in a book called “The Insecurity of Freedom” (Shocken Books. NYC) speaks to many of the themes that all of us encounter as we age. Yet, it is a profoundly poetic and timely piece. Heschel writes of time and the reality that time “remains immune” to our powers of control. He calls on us to focus on the time we have, like a gift; cautioning us on the worship of material things. “Is the joy of possession, an antidote to the terror of time which grows to be a dread of the inevitable death?”
He seemed to foresee the longevity revolution and the fact that we now have the possibility of having so much more time to live, and asks us to consider this gift of time as a possibility for creativity way before so many modern pundits. “Time is the process of creation, and things of space are results of creation…Time is the presence of God in the world of space, and it is within time that we are able to sense the unity of all beings.” He sees our time as a vehicle for freedom of the soul, our soul! In his closing, he reminds us of something that is as true (maybe truer) today as it was 57 years ago when he noted that as we age we
need a vision, not only recreation…a dream, not only memory” We require, he wrote, three things to acquire a sense of meaning: “God, A Soul And a Moment. And the three are always here. Just to be is a blessing, Just to live is holy”.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Shalom. I recently had the honor of presenting a series of Jewish Sacred Aging sessions at the annual meeting of the National Association of Retired Reform Rabbis (NAORRR) in Florida. At the Shabbat morning service, NAORRR honored the HUC-JIR class ordained 50 years ago. A member of that class, Rabbi Howard Shapiro, was asked to give the sermon. He captivated the congregation and he gave Jewish Sacred Aging permission to repost it here.
Thank you, Howard!
Rabbi Richard Address
I was laying in Shavasana – my favorite yoga position usually translated as corpse pose: on my back, my feet as wide as the edges of the mat, my arms comfortably outstretched, not quite to a “T”, palms up ready to receive. It is the final pose at the end of the session and it is a time for me to melt into the mat and be with myself. It was a good session with a few practices I could not quite reach and a few in which I found my groove and the ligaments and muscles of my body aligned. But now I was letting my breath do the work pulling me and allowing me to rest and gratefully acknowledge the gift of presence. It is a quiet moment, the music low, the room darkened, and you are alone. Well not entirely alone, there is more often than not all those images, thoughts and memories floating in and out of consciousness. Lots of us who meditate and lots of us who pray silently without words know that the mind has a will of its own and people, places, things enter this quiet space as you gently try to get ready you for the rest of the day.
Rabbi Howard Shapiro
And there we all were floating across that place between my eyes that is my holy of holies. Not just all of us in this room but all of those who came before us. This moment of meeting, me standing before you, trying to share, inspire, teach landed front and center. I had little choice; I could try and push you away giving you even more power or I could gently let you stay knowing you could leave with my next inhale or the exhale after. It is not that I resented you being there but this was feeling like a Lowell McCoy moment in 5th year sermon seminar on Clifton Avenue 50 years ago. Was I in a place of judgment or transition, a place of blessing or challenge? Was this a moment of criticism or compassion?
Maybe the author of the Book of Exodus had a similar feeling when deciding how to introduce the transition to our foundational freedom myth. In the empty white spaces between the death of Joseph and the anonymous new king who knew him not, the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt, each coming with their household hovered over the story that begins on the shores of the Nile and summits at a Mountain called Sinai. Vi-eleh Shmot B’nei Yisrael – These are the names of the children of Israel … Reuven, Shimon, Levi. It’s as if the Exodus author wants us to know we don’t leave the past behind. It joins our journey forward whether through deserts or life. It’s as if the Exodus author wants us to remember it’s all about the people. It’s all about each and every one of us; it’s all about each and every person whom we touched through our Rabbinate. It’s all about how you impacted me whether consciously, deliberately, knowingly or not.
I learned that in the Army wearing green fatigues with silver tablets on my lapels in jungles lush and deadly, in mountains terraced with rice paddies and hidden mines. I learned from innocent Jewish soldiers who felt trapped in the insanity we called Vietnam and turned to the Chaplain, the one safe link to sanity they felt they could trust. They taught me it is all about how we are present to each other. It was not my choice to become a Chaplain but a lieutenant from Mississippi, a captain from Minneapolis, a private from Brooklyn, and countless others taught me what it means to be a Rabbi. Their pain, confusion, disillusionment touched me, changed me. Their struggle to find purpose and meaning are still imprinted within.
In the 16th Century mystical world of Tzefat, the RAMAK (Rabbi Moshe Cordevora) wrote in Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Deborah), “For in every one there is actually one part of his fellow, and when one person sins he injures not only himself but also that part of his fellow which is in him…and therefore a person should want his fellow’s happiness and honor as much as his own, because he really is himself, and that is why we were commanded “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Vi-eleh Shemot – These are the names of the children of Israel …. Yocheved, Miraim. The story of our struggles both personal and collective teaches me that the connections between us are not metaphorical but the divine spark ignited at our birth is a shared reflection of that which we call Eternal. In the deepest strata, you are me and I am you. It was not an easy lesson to learn. I had to empty out my own anger and disappointments about how life sometimes unfurled. And it wasn’t like it just happened – over, finished, done. Every experience and the people we birthed and the people we buried live within us and are layered into the soul’s climb toward holiness.
Vi-eleh Shmot: One of the names that has been a constant teacher over the years of my life since he first taught me Hebrew at the Machon Hayim Greenberg in Jerusalem way back before the year in Israel was a required HUC experience, is Yehudah Amichai. In a poem called, “A Man in His Life”, Amichai reflects on this process we call living, growing, learning, loving. His words and metaphors feel like my own flawed and imperfect struggle towards wholeness. His insights and revelations feel appropriate to this 50th anniversary.
A Man In His Life by Yehuda Amichai
A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.
A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
takes years and years to do.
A man doesn’t have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.
And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever an amateur.
It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn’t learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.
He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there’s time for everything.
Amichai teaches me that whatever we do, there is rarely enough time; it teaches me that there is the potential that we could have done it differently/better/more professionally; it teaches me that there is room for growth, even when we live within definitive beginnings and finite endings. V’eleh Shmot: I imagine even Shifra and Puah lived knowing how much more could have been done as they secreted those little Hebrew baby boys away from the eyes of Pharaoh.
I sometimes look in the mirror and wonder who is that person looking back. Amichai is right: only the body remains forever an amateur. I sometimes lay out my prescriptions in a nightly ritual before surrendering to sleep and remember how I used to laugh at my father-in-law’s Sunday Monday, Tuesday box of pills. And now that is me. Amichai is right: It is a gift to know that we don’t have time for everything and it is a gift to be able to say it is the autumn of my life. Fifty years a Rabbi and I push myself to affirm that the reds and the golds, the oranges and yellows of the fall leaves are some of the brightest of the year.
Vi-eleh Shmot. There is one more name. It has flowed beneath all the words we have shared. “Vayomer Moshe el Ha-Elohim: When I come to the Israelites and they ask me what is Your name. What shall I say to them? Vayomer Elohim el Moshe: Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. Thus shall you say to the Israelites, “Ehyeh” sent me to you.” I know we could spend forever deciphering the nuances of these Hebrew words. But for now, for me, for today and tomorrow, they point me to that which is yet possible. They speak to my heart about all that is and all that is yet to be. God’s name is a verb and we all are in the process of becoming.
And so it is not with despair that I come to this moment. And so it is not with sadness at missed opportunities. It is with both love and forgiveness. I return to where I began this morning, to my Yoga mat to make sure I have not misled you. I am not a Yogi. I have what is called a Yoga practice with an emphasis on the word practice. I use the blocks and the straps and the props with abandon. I couldn’t touch my toes when I was seven what do I expect now that I am seventy-seven. I believe my yoga teacher when he sees me fall out of a pose and gently reminds me that falling is also a lesson. I want to return to the teaching of Rabbi Moshe Cordova – the RAMAK. In the Mussar world, his insight that we live in each other compels us to the Midah of compassion – “therefore we have been taught to love your neighbor as your self.” Love your neighbor as you love yourself and for God’s sake – love your self with all your heart and all your soul. For God’s sake love yourself with all your wrinkles and all your failings. For God’s sake love yourself with all your achievements and successes. For we are part of each other in ways we often forget and neglect, in ways we gloss over as we walk the path of our days.
When Eileen was 30, she bought a painting that still hangs in our home. In hues of brown and sepia, the image of a flower with deeps roots and broad leaves in full possession of its maturity lives next to these words only the young can laugh at: “I like the old woman I am growing into.” We thought it was funny and cute. Little did we understand that to like the person we would become, the person we are, the person we see in the mirror, the person with aches and pains and muscles with minds of their own, the person who sees that tomorrow will not go on forever, we needed compassion, patience, forgiveness. We needed to see that to like the old woman we are growing into is an act of faith and a blessing. And so I come to this moment in my life with faith. I come to it with blessing. I come to this moment in my life with forgiveness. I come to it with compassion.
And say these words we have repeated many times this weekend but they come from the deepest recesses of my heart.
Rabbi Howard Shapiro is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel and community-builder in the greater Palm Beaches, bridging different institutions and forging links between people, traditions and congregations. He cares deeply for Jewish education, and loves to teach and learn. Shapiro is active in local and national and Jewish organizations — on the National Board of the Reform Pension Board of the Union for Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis, a member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, where he works closely with its Synagogue Institute.
He was educated at Brandeis University and ordained from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He served as a chaplain in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Rabbi Shapiro and his wife have two children and five grandchildren.
Happy and healthy 2018. It certainly has been quite a 2017! As so many of us will pause for some reflection over these next few days, you know those resolutions that last maybe 1 day, I wanted to raise an issue that has become something of a recurring theme in this year. What we hope for our family and yours is peace and understanding. In a recent New York Times article the subject of family estrangement was broached “When Families Fall Out” is by Catherine Saint Louis. The article appeared in Tuesday December 26 Times, page D-1. It reports on a series of studies on the issue of family estrangement which was defined as “one or more relatives intentionally choosing to end contact because of an on going negative relationship.”
Estrangement is no stranger to Biblical texts. And, in truth, we can take some lessons from some of the scenarios. Jacob reunites with Esau in Genesis. Their history was anything but peaceful. But after 20 years or so they meet, and after the wrestling text, what happens is that they agree that they cannot re-do the past, so they will go their separate ways, but knowing that they are still linked by their blood. Likewise the famous story we just read of Joseph and his reunion with his brothers. Despite their history, they come together out of concern for their father Jacob. Nothing is perfect, but people agree to move on maybe not in any “kumbayah” moment, but with a more matures sense of understanding. You cannot undo the past, but you can choose to redefine the future.
Every colleague has dealt with this issue. It is challenging and heartbreaking. It often takes one party to step up and make that all important first move, and there are no guarantees. But, as we get older, the need for family and friends becomes more important. How many colleagues have met with a family at a funeral only to deal with a relative who laments that “if only I had reached out”?
As the new year dawns, let me hope that if you are dealing with this estrangement issue that in some way you can find the courage to reach out and bridge the divide of enmity. Shalom Bait is a value that begins in our own house, within our own families.
Wishing you a sweet, healthy and peaceful 2018
Rabbi Richard F Address
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
In the distant TV past, from our youth, I seem to recall a TV show which I think was Forbidden Planet. The “hook” for this show, to me, was Robbie the Robot, who looked after the Robinson family, who were stranded in a strange new world. Robbie especially looked after the little boy, Will, and if he sensed any threat to the boy would cry out in his robotic voice “danger, Will Robinson!”. In scanning some of the issues that will be impacting us in the new tax bill, I could not help but hear Robbie’s voice. Where are you now when we need you!
The may or not be seen as political. But, for Boomers and our families, there are some danger signs in the discussions now holding forth in D.C. Indeed, I will be attending the annual meeting of C-TAC this week (the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (www.thectac.org) and I am sure the issue of health care costs at the end of life will be foremost. It is our generations (and our families) best interest to keep up on these discussions. I am not speaking of proposed tax cuts, rather, the fact that there seems to be some issues in the bill that would and could impact all of us. It seems that in the House version the deductions for medical expenses are proposed to be eliminated. How many of us have had health care costs as a necessity for care-giving issues or for our own health and wellness? As one newspaper account wrote on this issue that th bill “would eliminate the medical expense deduction, which is used by nearly nine million people with medical problems so severe that they spend more than 10% of their income on health care.”
Reports from other agencies also warned about the potential impact on Medicare and Medicaid. With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, and the first wave of Boomers now in our early 70s, this is not theoretical. If income from taxes is reduced some fear that it would be made up from cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
Indeed, according to the Congressional Budget Office, there is a danger that a law passed in 2010 may impact us. This law “requires spending cuts when Congress passes laws that increase the deficit. These tax bills would require a $25 billion cut to Medicare and many billions more to other programs.” We are seeing in the discussions the potential impact to the deficit if the bills pass.
Add to this whole mess the desire on the part of some to attach the ACA issues to the Senate bill and we have a recipe for real concern. All of us are probably in favor of some reform of the current tax structure. However, speaking to our concerns, I cannot help but hear Robbie’s voice warning us of “danger”.
Please, if you are a member of a congregation or organization, it is on all of our best interests to educate our membership on the implications of these bills. Our tradition speaks to need to have a system based on “tzedek”, justice. We may wonder if what is being discussed is just for all.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Recently, Jewish Sacred Aging, along with several other groups, co-sponsored a half day education day for clergy on Alzheimer’s disease. The local Alzheimer’s Association developed a Jewish Advisory Group to help get the word out regarding the disease and resources. The goal was to begin the process of educating clergy on resources so that they will be better prepared in counseling congregants and fellow Jews. We spent from 9-12.30 working through many of the issues, from the psychological to the financial. A keynote by our colleague Rabbi Dayle Friedman was followed by a recitation from the Alzheimer’s Association of the wide variety of resources that are available to clergy. A panel, moderated by public radio’s Dr Dan Gottlieb, walked through a variety of issues associated with the disease, all of which eventually returned to the challenges of being a care-giver.
I mention this program because it is a valuable idea that can be replicated in many cities. Indeed, linking local Boards of Rabbis and local Alzheimer’s Associations is a great match. There is still much fear and ignorance about the disease, but the fact remains that despite millions for research, it remains a disease with no cure. The stress and strain on the care-giver is enormous (and known I am sure, to many reading this) and the financial implications of care continue to rise. We are told by the Association that the current 5 million people diagnosed with the disease will grow to over 15 million as Boomers age out. And, we are told, that there are not enough trained care-givers and geriatric workers to handle this growth, which will put increasing strain on families and agencies like a synagogue.
We hope to print one or two fo the presentations here on the home page of the web site. If you are in a position to work with your organization and/or congregation to develop a relationship with the local Alzheimer’s Association, it behooves you to do this. Increasing numbers of people are being impacted and, as many of you know, this is a real family systems issue.
Rabbi Richard Address
Read Full Article
Read for later
Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.