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October 14, 2015 | 1st Cheshvan 5776
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Longevity Revolution

Emily Grotta


For the first time in memory, representatives from all four major streams of American Jewish life are coming together as part of a leadership summit on the graying of the American Jewish community.

Aging and the 21st Century Synagogue: A Think Tank for Creating Positive Futures will bring together more than two dozen leaders in the fields of aging, spirituality, and Jewish communal and congregational life from across the nation and across the Jewish denominational spectrum.

The conference is scheduled for Monday, May 3, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 North Broad Street in Philadelphia.

An initiative of the Sacred Aging Project of the Union for Reform Judaism's Department of Jewish Family Concerns, the think tank is jointly sponsored by the URJ and Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism, which was recently established at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, PA., to transform the culture of aging in the Jewish community. Rabbi Richard Address, executive director of the URJ's Department of Jewish Family Concerns, and Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, founding director of Hiddur, are coordinating the event.

This program is spurred by what Address and Friedman call "the longevity revolution" - statistics showing that nearly one-quarter of the Jewish community is over 60, and that the majority of congregational members are now 50 years of age or older.

"Right this minute, our congregations are far more gray than we admit," said Friedman, a pioneer in spiritual work with the elderly. "We have to stop bemoaning the 'age wave' and start creatively serving and engaging everyone from the vital Baby Boomers now contemplating retirement to our communities' oldest members. Rabbi Address's inspiration to make this gathering happen is visionary, because most congregations have not even begun to put these issues on their agenda."

"This is the first time a core group of people active in Judaism and aging will be brought together to think about the new Jewish majority," said Address. "I've long wanted to create a think tank with people involved in Judaism and aging, so that we could brainstorm new ways for synagogues to proactively confront these issues. This is my dream."

The conference is funded by a grant from the Charles and M.R. Shapiro Foundation in Chicago and seed money from the families of David Toomin and Steven Picheny, members of the board of the Department of Jewish Family Concerns.

Highlights of Aging and the 21st Century Synagogue will include workshops on meeting the spiritual needs of an aging Jewish community, tapping elders as a resource to congregations and the community, exploring how congregations can partner with communal agencies in the delivery of services to aging Jews and their families, and shaping recommendations for the future.

"What I hope we'll generate in this think tank is a map of the territory - how an aging membership will affect congregational life, and what their needs will be - and then develop a vision for how congregations can optimally serve and engage with elders across the spectrum," Friedman said.

The day-long event will be preceded by an evening leadership summit, "The Emerging Age Wave: Crisis or Opportunity," on Sunday, May 2, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Gershman Y, located at the corner of Broad and Pine Streets in Philadelphia. The summit will engage members of the Philadelphia Jewish community in a dialogue on the challenges and possibilities presented by the growing numbers of aging Jews. The summit will feature remarks by Friedman and Harry (Rick) Moody, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Human Values in Aging at the International Longevity Center in New York.

  • Allen Glicksman, Ph.D., director of research and evaluation for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging;
  • Nancy Henkin, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Intergenerational Learning at Temple University;
  • Amy Sales, Ph.D., senior research associate at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.
  • Paul M. Steinberg, Ph.D., vice president for communal development at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York;
  • Rabbi Morton K. Siegel, senior vice president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism;
  • Diane Cover, CSW, director of services for older persons, Center City District, Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia;

Aging and the 21st Century Synagogue will become the seed for a communal resource guide to be jointly published by the URJ and Hiddur, according to Address.

"My hope is that we will gather information that will help us chart a future and help us find a way to create concrete programs," he said. "This think tank is really the opening of the door."


The Union for Reform Judaism is the synagogue arm of the Reform Movement in North America, and represents 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 congregations in the United States and Canada. The Union services include youth camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, adult education programs, and the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC.


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