Days of Awe: A time to reach out to seniors

Days of Awe: A time to reach out to seniors

MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Seniors, is coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, and brings together leaders from Greater MetroWest NJ agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency has an opportunity to address a critical eldercare issue. This month’s column is presented by the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of Greater MetroWest, which provides professional pastoral/spiritual care to area seniors.

During the Days of Awe, were you moved by the blasts of the shofar? Did you emphasize  the moment when parents lift their little ones over their heads so they were able to witness the powerful ritual? Did you participate when the congregation held its collective breath right up to the long-in-coming final note of the teki’a gedola?

During the Amida in the Additional Service on Rosh Hashana, selected verses from the Bible surrounded the blowing of the shofar. The 10 Verses of Remembrance (zihronot) depict God as “remembering” or noticing each individual. God pays attention to the thoughts we think and the deeds we do. God takes note of us with care and concern simply because we are alive. Because we hope that God will continue to remember us with this level of compassion throughout the coming year, we pray to God, zohreinu — remember us.

Even as we appeal for God’s notice and the blessings of a good and sweet and healthy New Year, we are meant to be assessing ourselves. What have we done well and what could we have done better? What changes will we make? Have we lived up to our potential and our opportunity to “walk in God’s ways”? In short, have we made it our business to imitate God?

This New Year, we might start imitating God by “remembering” our seniors, many of whom often feel forgotten. Some face challenges, including illness, costly and complex health care, and isolation from family and community. Some may be coping with the death of a spouse or partner, diminishing independence, or memory loss. Others may be confronting their mortality and experiencing spiritual distress. Even seniors who remain vital may feel anxious and afraid, despairing or depressed. Sadly, they may not know how or be unable to reach out, or they may feel too proud or scared to do so.

As a chaplain who spiritually supports seniors, I have a special obligation to notice them. In their company, I might recite a prayer or read and talk about a sacred text, offer a ritual, or provide spiritual counseling. The elder and I might sit quietly or try some guided breathing. Or we might have a “scared conversation” in which the elder reflects and reviews or talks about the ultimate meaning of things. I hope and pray that I can help the senior and his or her loved ones or caregivers feel supported by God and the entire Jewish community.

Even if we are not chaplains, each of us can “remember” or pay attention to our elders. We can check in on them if they are our neighbors or look them up if we haven’t seen them in synagogue lately. We can affirm their value past and present and listen without judgment to their stories. We can discover and use their strengths and talents as resources or bring resources to them. We can hold hands with them or hum to them. We can cry with them and remember; we can laugh and celebrate with them.

In this holiday season, let us direct our teshuva, the personal “turning” we do through apology, introspection, and prayer, toward our seniors. With deep empathy, let us notice their humanity and pay attention to the cracks, where elders who have fallen through may be languishing. Then, when we remember our seniors, may we ourselves be worthy of remembrance.

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