If You Forget Them, They Will Not Come
By Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min
In my work these past years with Jewish Sacred Aging, one of the themes that keeps being discussed, formally and informally, is the feeling on the part of the over 50 years of age set that the institutional Jewish community has written them off. The focus on engaging youth seems to be sending a not so subtle message of the marginalization of older adults. This is a tragic mistake.
The current Jewish community of the U.S is already about 25% over 65. The aging of the baby boom generation, now well under way, presents our community with an unprecedented opportunity to engage this cohort in creative responses to everything from membership to funding to life long learning. This is a generation that is seeking meaningful Jewish answers to new life stages. To disengage from this generation is foolish and courts irrelevancy. There is untapped spiritual capital here. There is a reservoir of life experience that is ready to be tapped and used to benefit the entire community. The possibilities for mentoring and inter-generational engagement are wide open to the communities that have the vision to break down generational silos.
A recent posting on this site by David Werdiger, spoke to the value of building intergenerational bridges and the importance of such dialogue. He notes a program in Australia that understood that “All generational groups need to understand that the emphasis on one group does not come at the expense of another.” Creativity is not the province of just one generation. Think of the possible synergy that could be created if congregations, Federations and similar Jewish institutions sought to have the generations speak with each other, learn from each other and model the concept of “generation to generation.”
It has been my experience in working with groups of baby boomers that there exists within them a desire to “give back.” There is a feeling that as we turn to the third stage of our life, we see the need to seek meaning and find out own legacy.
Why are so many boomers leaving our congregations? Perhaps it is because there is precious little there for them. Boomers are finding their way in to smaller relationship oriented cohorts, becoming more comfortable with variations of their Judaism, and seeking adult educational experiences that provide Jewish answers to issues that we all are facing; from caring for a loved one, to decision making at the end of life, to managing new relationships and adult children. Longevity has given this generation the gift of time and, for the most part, we do not intend to squander that gift. What powerful lessons on life and love and learning are contained within this generation? Think of the gifts of those experiences that can be passed down to the next generations. How often have these generations had the opportunity to sit down and learn from each other? The possibilities for relationship building and learning are endless, not the least of which is the chance to honor and respect the contributions of all.
To see this longevity generation as only a resource for funding is to discount their possible spiritual contributions to the generations that follow. The transference of wisdom through the sharing of their spiritual capital is an opportunity that should not be wasted. We do so at our own peril.
Rabbi Richard F. Address is founder and director of Jewish Sacred Aging, LLC and the web site www.jewishsacredaging.com.