Author: Rabbi Richard Address
There is, perhaps, no greater marker to the first wave of Boomers than November 22, 1963. It was out generation’s “I remember where I was when….”
My parents always spoke about Pearl Harbor and when President Roosevelt died. It has been 50 years! A half a century! And I still remember hearing the news on the car radio on Columbia Ave in Philadelphia. My friend Larry and I had finished classes for the week at Temple University and were driving to my house for the weekend. The news stopped us, as it did everyone. We ran into the house and were glued to the TV. That night, we knew we had to go to the synagogue where we taught, just to be with people. The sanctuary was overflowing.
Fifty years later! So much has changed. So much of that idealism and hope has been washed away by the years. Is there a message from all of this? I will leave the historians to muddle through revisionism. So many of us cut our political teeth on the 1960 election and the ideal of “Camelot.”
Scott Reich, in his new book on JFK, The Power of Citizenship: Why John F. Kennedy Matters to a New Generation, discusses the concept of citizenship; the ideal that we all owe something to each other and to this country and that is one of the highest ideals to which we, as a civilization, can aspire. Remember the Peace Corps? (Mr. Reich will discuss his book on Boomer Generation Radio Tuesday Nov. 26th at 10.00am on WWDB am 860 and wwdbam.com)
Let me suggest that as we try and remember, we consider how this ideal of citizenship has been translated into Jewish values. The tradition reminds us that “all Israel is responsible for each other”. We are all inter-connected in so many ways, and what we do and believe in can make a difference. And it begins with each one of us doing something to make the world a better place. That is Jewish citizenship and it is striking how many Boomers are now at a stage in our life when we feel compelled to “give something back”. Perhaps that is the seed planted so many years ago that flowered in the 60′s and 70′s and is being reborn. Perhaps it is a no longer silent response to some of those powerful words we heard when we were so very young; words like these from a speech at American University commencement from June of 1963:“In the final analyses, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal”
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
I recently was honored to do a workshop for a synagogue in Chicago (Sukkat Shalom). They were developing a program focusing on baby boomers and aging. In a break-out session the subject again turned to how we create a sense of meaning and purpose as we age. This issue comes up at just about every talk or class in which I am involved. Books and articles abound in trying to answer this. They focus on a wide variety of answers, all of which are “right”, in their own way. Yet, as we discussed at this session, let me offer a glimpse from out own tradition because, as a rabbi, I often will go back to sacred texts as a starting point.
This season offers us the Book of Genesis, perhaps one of the greatest collections of stories and insights into human behavior ever collected. It is a textbook on family dynamics. Contained within its power is a theme of moving on, transition and growth. It is from many of these stories that I get the belief that Judaism teaches that we can never be afraid to move forward in life, that standing still leads to atrophy, not only of body and mind, but of the spirit.
The beginning of that belief comes from Genesis 12 when Abram is “called” to “go forth” (lech l’cha) into a future that is unknown. It requires a faith in that future and a faith in his own self to begin the process that will eventually evolve into people hood. As we boomers age, we often face challenges that call on us to “go forth”. Health issues, family issues, social issues call on us to re-structure and maybe even re-evaluate our place. If we are given the gift of longevity with health, we may see this as a time to do what we always have wanted to do. Still, many of us stop at the border of growth citing to many responsibilities or commitments. We fall back into a type of normalcy. Judaism, I think, gives us the freedom to change and grow and risk–no matter what our age. Indeed, I think it says that until our last breath, we are challenged to search for our own unique-ness and to celebrate the gift of life.
Think about this as we move into Autumn. It is a season of beginnings, in many ways. Rosh Hoshonnah and the Holiday season just passed is a meaningful starting point for this. Simchat Torah literally symbolizes the invitation to begin again, as we finish the Torah cycle and immediately start another cycle with Genesis. It is as if we are given, every year, this opportunity to be something new.
Enjoy this new year and season in health.
Rabbi Richard F. Address. D.MIn
L’shana Tovah! Once again the calendar turns and we come face to face with the dawn of a new year. 5774!
For many of us we will spend some time, either in synagogue or in private, reflecting on this past year and expressing hopes and dreams for the year that now begins. We look in the mirror and perhaps see a few more lines and wrinkles and try not to dwell too much on the aging process that seems to be our new companion.
It is a time for families and friends. It is a time for memory as we will reflect on those who are with us in our souls, but have left physical life. It seems their absence is more strongly felt at this season.
The prayers and themes of the Holidays speak a lot to the idea of change and transition.Indeed, the entire Jewish world is in a state of flux and change in America (my Rosh Hoshonnah sermon!). The “new” American Judaism that is being created is one that offers great challenges and hope for a different Jewish future.
Yet, there is always the constant of the power of community. In the end, we seek the love and companionship of others. As we ourselves age, the fear of being truly “alone” gnaws at us.
That is the power, by the way, of part of the first Torah portion which contains the famous line from Genesis 2:18 that it is not good for us to be alone. It is way more profound than just finding a mate. It speaks to the desire for us to be in relationship with others.
In this coming year, I hope that each of us can find those individuals and moments when we feel connected and loved.Just think of those great and meaningful moments in your own life and how they were enhanced and made more powerful when you were able to share them with someone. And how empty it felt when there was no one to experience them with.
Let this be a year of renewed relationships for all of us. In them we can find our own sense of meaning.
May you be blessed with a year of peace, joy and health.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min
I recently had the honor of being part of a discussion at a small conference in Chicago as part of an organization called C-CHANGE. It is devoted to exploring and developing teams of people that care for cancer patients and, by extension, their families. Dr. Elizabeth Clark, the co-chair of C-Change’s Workforce Initiative, closed the seminar by reminding those in attendance that there will not be enough people to take care of individuals who will be diagnosed with cancer in the next decades. She called again for increased communal support and collaboration to help meet this expected demand. This is very reminiscent of similar warnings from organizations like Alzheimer’s who also note that there are not enough care-givers even now to meet a growing reality.
I mention this because I was struck with a recent situation. I was working with a family who modeled exactly what Dr. Clark was speaking about. In fact, we published Bill’s story here on jewishsacredaging.com.
It was a story that sparked a lot of reaction. It was a story of how Bill chose to come home to live out his last weeks surrounded by his family and friends. It was also a story of how, in those last weeks, a real “team of caring” evolved. Doctors, social workers, hospice workers, long time friends, family and additional caring folks, most of whom were not caring professionals, all came together to bring support and love which carried this family through a difficult time.
I mention this because these were real heroes. The “team” worked. There was no real coordinator. There was just a sense that this was “right” and that no one would be allowed to be alone. We baby boomers are in the process of raising these issues of trying to reconcile a need for increased needs in a world of less resources. In fact, many feel that boomers are the driving force in this tension. Be that as it may, it is important to realize and understand that, as great as professionals are as care-givers (and they are), often, the real support and primal care-giving is done by friends and family, who, motivated out of love and concern, become real modern heroes. Thank you to them all.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
A few columns ago we looked at some of the studies that have been created to study the issue of happiness. The Harvard longitudinal study mentioned that as this class of Harvard students aged, their relationships seemed to be a major factor in how they viewed being “happy”.
It seems our society is obsessed with this concept of being happy. Just in time for summer (our happiest time?) comes more information. A BBC News Magazine piece reviewed a study done by the World Happiness database in Rotterdam. They found that there is, according tot heir studies, a “lack of correlation between seeing meaning in life and being happy.”
Professor Veenhoven, director of the Database found that being active is the strongest correlate with happiness. Dr. Veeenhoven should have read his Viktor Frankl who reminded us in Man’s Search for Meaning that seeking meaning in life is not the goal, rather it is to live a life so that you have meaning.
Then there is the current (July 8/15) Time Magazine. Its cover story is titled “The Pursuit of Happiness.”
Just what you need to read at the beach or on vacation!
The author of the lead essay makes a distinction between “consumptive happiness” (the old bumper sticker that the person with the most toys..wins!) and the illusion of other types of happiness. Maybe we can call that spiritual happiness. Anyway, the article does point out that our vision of what makes us happy evolves as we, we hope, evolve and that there may actually be some genetic issue involved as well. Time’s article seems to focus on the state of happiness of the country. As for us as individuals, the variables are often hard to pin down.
Jewishly, however, there does not seem to be much debate. Home, family and relationships form the bedrock of our tradition’s view. The outer directed thrust of our tradition seems to echo the view that by going out and living life, to the best of your ability, you will find what makes you happy.
Or, as my mom used to say, “Who ever promised you happiness, anyway?”
Enjoy the summer. Hug your kids and spoil your grandchildren. It will never get any happier than that!
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min
I recently had a chance to spend some time with two women who had been taken to the hospital. Both women, in their 80′s, had survived the random challenges of life; from life threatening illness to deaths of spouses and grandchildren.
I visited them as they began their recovery from the latest health challenge. We sat and spoke of the coming days of recovery and the associated challenges. Gradually, however, after we exhausted the usual pleasantries and latest medical opinion, we moved on to some reflective conversation.
These women discussed, in their own way, a philosophy of life that saw the world and their place in it, as always open to blessing and challenge. They had also arrived at the stage in their life when they knew that they did not need to prove anything to anyone; that they “owed” nothing to anyone. Life had made sure of that!
I imagine they could have been excused if they had decided that life was giving them too many challenges and their decision would be to turn inward. Not them, however. They discussed the temptation to look back on life and to focus on the “what might have been”, instead of giving thanks for the “what is”. In fact, one of these vital women looked straight into my eyes and, with tubes running out of her and monitors attached, said “I am blessed”.
What is it that makes people, of any age, see the world as exciting and open to the possible, instead of a place of regret and disillusionment? Is it genetics, or one’s family of origin? The debates over this question rage on. What the lesson for us, as the generation of the children of these women, is that there is little value in living in a land that is defined by regret. As one of them said to, it does me no good to look back and dwell on the past. I cannot change that. I can only move forward.
So, I wanted to take this lesson and wrap it in a thought that struck me in a very profound way. I must admit, I downloaded the following from a Facebook post many months ago. I was reminded of it when I spoke with these women and it may be a nice thought to propel us into the summer.
“Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets.
So, love the people who treat you right and forget about the one’s who don’t.
And believe that everything happens for a reason.
If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it!
Nobody said it would be easy; they just promised it would be worth it!”
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min
Spring has, we hope, sprung here in the Philadelphia area. Trees are budding, we get to see the sun, the days get longer and the Phillies are loosing.We emerge from the long cold, gray winter. Happy times ahead! Mother and Father’s day, graduations, weddings and end of program year events all serve to stir up memories and, we hope, anticipation of happy times. Happiness, that much sought after goal, is so subjective and so prized. But what makes up happiness?
The Atlantic Monthly has been following a major Harvard University longitudinal study on happiness for years.
It is a study that began at Harvard of a class that entered school in the late 1930′s. Dr George Vaillant has followed this group through their lives. Vaillant identified seven major contributing factors that predicted healthy aging. both physically and psychologically. The seven were “mature adaptations”;which I interpret as having the ability, as we age, to roll with the punch or “go with the flow” or, as I like to call it, flexibility. The others were: “education, stable marriages, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise and healthy weight.” If you have five or six of these seven in your favor by the time you reach fifty, the study showed that you have a very good chance, by eighty, of being called “happy-well”.
Equally as important in this analyses was Vaillant’s finding of the poor of relationships. “It is social aptitude not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.”
We have written a lot on the power of relationships as we age.
In Seekers of meaning, our book on baby boomers, Judaism and aging, we review the “theology of relationships” and posit the fact that, as we age, relationships with other people are a key to how we grow older. The study supports that. Vaillant was asked in a March 2008 interview what he had learned from following this study. His response was that “the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with other people”.
Spring is the time for renewal and new beginnings. As we move forward, let’s not forget the relationships that have brought us to where we are. It is with those people and the ones we have yet to meet, that we will find joy and, we hope, meaning and purpose.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
The New York Times (April 4, 2013) carried a front page article, “Dementia Study Predicts A Surge In Costs and Cases”.
Referencing a RAND study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the article went on to detail the staggering statistics that are now becoming evident as Boomers live longer. We are unprepared as a society to deal with the rise on the number of cases of Dementia.
The study results showed that 15% of people over the age of 71, about 3.8 million people, have dementia. By 2040, that 3.8 million number is expected to be 9.1 million.
“I don’t know of any other disease predicting such a huge increase,” said Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute of Aging, which financed the study. And as we have the baby boomer group maturing, there are going to be more older people with fewer children to be informal caregivers for them, which is going to intensify the problem even more.” This statement rarely gets discussed. Who will care for us? With less children, who are often living in other cities, will many of us face our final years living in physical and psychological isolation cared for by strangers in a “facility”?
The article outlines the economic impact of this Dementia wave.
What also needs to be addressed is the psycho-spiritual toll that impacts family members. Any one of us who has had to care for a loved one dealing with Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, knows that over and above the financial strain is the often overwhelming psychological stress that impact us. This also is rooted in a real fear that “this may be me in a few years”.
Slowly, as our generation ages and as we care for parents (and even spouses) who are afflicted with Dementia, the society is getting the message that it must pay attention to this reality. With no “cure”, we need to being to look at how a community can be supportive and caring. Faith communities as well are starting to become more aware of this issue. We have no choice since families are increasingly seeking advice and support from clergy.
Education about the challenges of Dementia needs to be increased as well as funding into research. Attention must be paid to this issue as, if the studies are correct, too many of us will be impacted. There is much more to come on this.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min.