2017-12-20 / Editorial

The moral challenge of care-giving

Living Longer, Living Better:

RABBI RICHARD ADDRESS RABBI RICHARD ADDRESS C-TAC is the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care. I attended their annual summit in Washington, DC at the end of November. Some 300-plus health care advocates, executives, medical professionals and clergy came together to discuss issues related to costs and care in the final years of life. A theme that overwhelmed the panels and many breakouts was the issue of the stresses, strains and challenges (both good and bad) of being a care-giver. The caregiving “tsunami” is now upon us. Many of you reading this know from firsthand experience what this journey entails. Often, at a time when family and friends gather for holidays, the care-giver stands alone.

The statistics of care-giving are staggering. AARP, which tracks much of this, tells us that there are some 44-million caregivers now and that they are more than twice as likely to deal with their own chronic illnesses and also have twice the normal rate of depression. We know that the “typical” care-giver is a woman, working and caring for an elderly parent. Yet, new statistics, reflecting changes in family dynamics, now tell us that there is a significant increase in men assuming this role as well as grandchildren. Also, as longevity increases, a very challenging reality is presenting itself, as a growing number of care-givers are over 65, caring for an elderly parent, for example, and in need of some care themselves.

One of the emerging issues that will confront us as a society and faith community will be the expected rise in Alzheimer’s and dementia as Boomers age. The Alzheimer’s Association tells us that if you are over 85 (and that is a growing cohort within our Jewish world) you have a 1 in 2 chance of developing this disease. They also tell us that the current estimated 5-million people dealing with Alzheimer’s will grow to over 15-million as Boomers age out. We are also being told that there are simply not enough trained care-givers and medical people to handle this increase, which will place increasing stresses and strains on families, agencies and yes, congregations.

Let me suggest that while many organizations look at this from an economic or social policy view, we, as a faith community need to see these challenges as ethical and moral imperatives. These are our parents, spouses and yes, children. The spiritual challenges and concerns within this arena are profound and need to be discussed. We are at a time of the year when so much will be written and discussed about family and community. The lights of Chanukah symbolize the hope for faith and the possibility of “miracles” of human interaction. Let me suggest that the care-giving challenge needs to be seen in this moral and ethical light.

How are communities of faith supporting and caring for the care-giver?

Our local JFCS supports this through many programs. Many congregations see their Caring Community programs as a means of direct service. Yet, we can and should do more to celebrate the “mitzvah” of care-giving. The people who do these “deeds of loving kindness” act in the highest level of sacred deed. Why not have, in every congregation, a Shabbat that celebrates the care-giver? Why not have annual educational programs that teach the Jewish texts that provide guidance to the care-giver?

The most requested workshop from our Jewish Sacred Aging program is the “art” of care-giving. When our people see that our Jewish tradition provides spiritual and practical guidance, significant amounts of guilt are reduced and, often, clarity of purpose is shown.

With so many of our people engaged in this holy work, it is time for all of our community to come together to celebrate and honor those who care for another human being. Can there be any greater gift at this, or any other, time of year?


This is the latest column in a continuing series of articles by Rabbi Richard F. Address, D. Min, founder and director of Jewish Sacred Aging and the web site www.jewishsacredaging.com. As director of URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns, he created the project on Sacred Aging that examined the growing impact of longevity on congregations and Jewish communal life. He teaches at HUC-JIR in New York, and has served as a rabbi of Cong. M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill. He lives in Gloucester County.

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