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October 6, 2015 | 23rd Tishrei 5776

Sacred Aging/Baby Boomer Study Guide

Facts and Figures regarding Jewish Aging

1. Background:

  • There are an estimated 76-78 million baby boomers
  • Currently, close to 20% of the American Jewish Community is 65 years and older with fastest growth in those over 75
  • Median age of community 1990 = 37 years; 2000 = 41
    Reinforcing “trend to older” that is currently impacting all aspects of community. Reform Jews (as of survey from early 2000’s) median age is 48.
  • 48% of older adults (65+) belong to synagogue or other Jewish organization and between 43-48% give to Jewish causes. (Will the next generation?)
  • 9% older adults have income below poverty level and between 15 and 18% have incomes between $15,000-$25,000 per year. However, nearly ½ of all Jewish older adults have total assets over $250,000 and about 20% have assets of more than $500.000 (will this grow with aging of “baby boom” generation?)
  • “Revolution” in longevity: blessing of medical technology, knowledge of how to access of health care system, greater knowledge of self care = longest living, most mobile, most affluent and most spiritually challenging cohort of Jewish older adults that has ever lived.
  • Current cohort about to be joined by aging of “baby boom” generation. As of Jan. 1, 2006; one person in USA will turn 60 every 7+ seconds. Generation of 60’s and 70’s bringing that generation’s “baggage” into aging: re-structuring and re-defining “retirement,” work, relationships with others, relationships with synagogues (flee from “pediatric” religion), approach to health: search for meaning and purpose!
  • On Jan 1. 2008 1st wave BBwere eligible to sign up for social security……thirty years ago, these two “generations” stood in contrast over issues such as Viet Nam, civil rights, life styles, and politics; now, united over issues of care giving, entitlements.
  • Emerging population changes yield new “housing” and living situations (active adult communities etc) which are beginning to develop “new” style congregation forms
  • There has been a decline in nursing home admission and rise is independent living options due to successful, healthy aging--
    * Boomers “healthier”—implications for better life styles, less institutionalized care and greater desire for independence…re-definition and re-visioning of “healthy” will have to incorporate “loss”…”we are younger longer and we are aged longer. Living well with this paradox of modern aging is perhaps the special challenge of our time”(L. Kass: The Aging Self New Atlantis. Fall 05)
  • urging congregations to assess population of, needs of older adult cohorts within congregation---multi-generation; multi-experience and needs…NO single definition or picture…fluid, dynamic first wave of boomers begins to reach 65 around 2010-2011… number of seniors expected to double between 2002 and 2030 … Jewish community “older” than general USA population (median age in 2001 was 41+) and we are -2 children per family.
  • potential “generational storm” as boomers seek their entitlements, first wave boomer parents still drawing and decline in number of workers to fund (7:1 after WW 2 to about 2:1 within next decade)
  • Four out of 10 boomers have less than $10,000 in Savings for retirement…about 1/3 boomers estimated To have at least $100,000 in investable assets
  • about 1/3 of today’s boomers think they are OK for retirement re: finances
  • link between aging and retirement is eroding...four out of five boomers intend to keep working and earning in retirement. Half of boomers expect to be involved in launching new job or career
  • only 1 in 7 boomers say they expect to start collecting social security at 62…”doomsday” scenario of social security bankruptcy may be not as severe as “trend to older” continues to play out…extending working and delay in filing for social security may delay “doomsday”...BUT, Medicare (in USA) may be different challenge
    * transition vs. retirement
  • boomer generation first to assimilate role of women as a result of feminist revolution (part of boomer culture)…84% of boomer women in families are joint decision Makers….1/3 of boomer households woman is primary Income….YET…women are also primary caregivers in the new life stage known as “care-giver”…usually woman in late 40’s, employed 20 + hours p/w caring for parent (usually mom)
  • possibility that elder care issues/crises will surpass crises/ concerns over childcare in next few decades
  • need to create new vocabulary for longevity revolution…work, retirement, parenting, co-habitation, adultery, Blessings of “manufactured time” and, for many in Jewish community, economic and societal security will yield unprecedented opportunities to seek the answers to the “why” questions of Genesis 3:
    Why was I born
    Why must I die
    Why am I alive…for what purpose am I here and what do I wish ton leave behind?


2. Caregiving:

  • Longevity revolution has created new life stage: caregiver
  • Life stage not “voluntary”: can last years: stresses on family, career, self….how to respond?
  • Woman in late 40’s, employed, 20+ hours p/w caring for parent, usually mother, (AARP)…”designated caregiver” in family…location may not be indicator…family of origin often replayed…millions $ in “in-kind” services and untold “hours”= hidden “costs” 
  •  “club sandwich” generation: multi-generational caregiving
  • shomrim (from Hebrew root shin, mem, resh: to guard, care) project…shabbat honoring those who are “caregivers”
  • Caring community input: respite care, health worker, etc
  • “ombudsperson”…patient advocate
  • possible need for congregation to investigate and/or invest in new forms of housing
  • utilize congregational, communal resources to assist in caregiving support… and “check in” for growing number of independent but alone members


3. Possibilities of New Rituals for Stages in Longevity:

  •  “Blessing” of time yielding new opportunities for taking life stages and sanctifying them: traditional “life cycle” now open to new possibilities
  • opportunity to re-introduce and interpret “traditional” blessings: i.e sh’hechyanu, gomel
  • recent creations: simchat hochmah
  • emerging: cohabitation, well spouse and issues of dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • role of congregation in developing such opportunities for new rituals


4. Blessings of Medical Technology:

  • need to teach the art of “making sacred decisions” how religion can/should be part of the decision making process
  • challenges of information vs. knowledge and idea that just because we “can” does it mean we “should”?
  • the tension between the “how” of science and the “why” of religion
  • tension between “autonomy” and “limits” of Judaism
  • role of personal “spiritual” history and beliefs and impact of that in decision making
  • challenges of living with chronic illness


5. Enhancing “Spiritual Capital:"

  • how do we engage and involve the “talent” that exists within the older adult populations of our community?
  • wealth of “life experiences”: are they utilized in the evolution of a “caring community”: mentoring, teaching, inter-generational programming
  • the power of personal stories: personal midrash as role models, examples of power of personal growth….understanding “letting go”
    *meaning and purpose…..growing desire/need to “give back”…seek the answers to Genesis 3’s “ayecha” (where are you?)


6. Basic Values (to help inform how we may choose to approach the babyboomers):


  • seeing the holistic approach to health and life which is what Judaism teaches. The mind-body-spirit linkage (Maimonides) and how to integrate that into modern life styles….what we eat, serve etc is a reflection of our relationship with God *health and wellness programs/fairs
  • education for do we see the blessing of economic security as a mandate to give back
  •  education for decision making…how to teach that the richness of Jewish tradition can guide how we can make decisions in light of emerging medical technology….seeing ourselves and our life in the texts


  • longevity revolution and need to find meaning in normal “loss” that takes place
  • longevity and the need to find meaning in what we will be rise on living with chronic illness.
  • support for the care-giver…new American life stage
  • creation of new rituals that speak to new life stages that now are emerging as a result of longevity


  • legacy/spiritual autobiography programs
  • “spiritual capital”…how to involve, use the growing pool of educated human resources that often go untapped within our community….mentor programs..
  • cores of service…ombudsperson
  • intergenerational programming….grandparent programming
  • see Judaism and its’ approach to medicine and life as interface of mind-body-soul…


  • provide opportunities for people to expand and explore their search for meaning and purpose….the “why” questions…the tension between the “how” and the “why”
  • meaningful adult educational opportunities…a fleeing from “pediatric” Judaism…and the matching of these opportunities to the life styles of the boomers…go where they may be and do not expect them always to come to the central building
  • given what we are learning about this multi-faceted and multi-decade cohort, do not be afraid to ask them what they want, need, desire…empowerment and involvement may produce a sense of ownership and support.
  • The power and need to develop personal sacred relationships…community surpasses program….Relationships and life experience create theology


7. Texts (Shedding light on the approach to Judaism and Jewish Communal life that baby boomers may reflect):

challenge: how different is this generation? was it the 60/s and 70/s that “changed” this generation…or American culture? Are boomers more reflective of middle Class-upper middle class American Society than “Jewish” value system? No one answer…no one “boomer” profile fits all….any approach needs to take into account differences in location (east/west coast vs. south vs. Midwest) and affiliation patterns ( members and non-members etc)

overview: “sovereignty of self”….personal expression…impact of personal family “system” (memory, legacy, grandparents), niche-affinity orientation, fluidity of Judaism may match fluidity of life style….power of andimportance of personal relationships (“theology of relationships”)

a) “Jewish Baby Boomers”: Chaim I. Waxman SUNY 2001

  • There is a fundamental debate between “assimilationists” and “transformanists” over the communal implications of the decline of religion, with the former viewing the weakening of religious attitudes and behavior as a manifestation of secularization and acculturation that inevitable lead to assimilation. Transformationists, on the other hand, argue that as the significance of religion declines, it is replaced by newer forms of Jewish expression, and that declines in Judaism, the religion of the Jews, do not threaten Jewish cohesion and continuity because modern society fosters new ways of being and manifesting Jewishness that have replaced religion as the guarantor of Jewish social cohesion. (63)
  • The evidence on the baby boomers and the pre-World War II cohort does not, as a rule, indicate that the baby boomers are qualitatively different from the pre World War II cohort. Many of the patterns that were found among their elders were prevalent among the baby boomers, except that they are somewhat more pronounced among the baby boomers. That means that the thesis of Roof and the others that the cultural patterns, including the religious ones, of the baby boomers can largely be attributed to their having grown up in the turbulent 1960’s, is not supported by the evidence. On the other hand, Inglehart’s thesis of a “cultural shift” not only accounts from the much more subtle differences between the two age groups, it also explains why the changes that we witness are taking place. Political liberalism, with its emphasis on individual rights, the changing family patterns, the decline in institutional loyalties, and an emphasis on the individual’s right to choose even in the areas of religion are all manifestations of postmodernist values, and there has been a rather steady increase in the significance of those values in American society, especially since the end of World War II. The baby boomers are the first generation top be born into an American society that has increasingly reflected postmodernist values, but their predecessors were not that old when those values began to emerge, so that it is not surprising that they, too, manifest them, to some degree, even if not as much as does the baby boom generation. (141-142)

b) “The Greater Generation”. Leonard Steinhorn. St. Martin’s. 2006

  • What boomer culture embraces are the very American values of pluralism, privacy, freedom of choice, tolerance, and respect for others no matter how different they are from you. To Boomers, authority should be earned, government should be open, conscience should trump rules, the environment should be protected, people should feel free to express themselves, and we should have as much democracy as any organization or institution will allow. These are core Boomer values, and they’re as moral as the values of any previous era. To the oft repeated accusation that Boomer culture has eroded the traditional family and all restraints on personal behavior, not at all. Boomers simply accept that people are different and have a right to make their own choices and lead their own lives, and that the moral imperative is not to condemn those who are different but to include and support them. Diversity is not just a slogan—it’s a moral value in Baby Boom America. (18)
  • We also see the new norm in the wholesale insistence that personal behavior is private, that people who do no harm to others have a right to conduct their lives as they wish, that religious or moral judgments are not absolutes but matters of perspective, that all people have an equal right to call themselves mainstream. We now value choice over tradition….Nor has religion escaped this culture of choice, with Americans perhaps as religious as ever but neither bound to any denomination nor obligated to any family tradition nor shy about questioning religious authorities. We worship the choice to worship and accept the worship of choice….It’s not that all is relative and there are no moral judgments today. Americans are making judgments and choices all the time, but they are judgments and choices based on individual ethics and personal preferences rather than rigid rules and hidebound traditions. When Boomer culture wields its moral authority, it’s when individual choices have serious social consequences, as in bigoted behavior that undermines equality or pollution that damages the environment. Let people be themselves as long as they don’t harm someone else. (33, 34)

c) “The Jew Within”. Steven M. Cohen and Arnold M. Eisen. Indiana Univ. 2000

  • More and more, the meaning of Judaism in America transpires within the self. American Jews have drawn the activity and significance of group identity into the subjectivity of the individual, the activities of the family, and the institution (primarily the synagogue) which are seen as extensions of this intimate sphere. At the same time, relative to their parents’ generation, today’s American Jews in their thirties, forties and early fifties are finding less meaning in mass organizations, political activity, philanthropic endeavor, and attachment to the state of Israel. In broad strokes, that which is personally meaningful has gained at expense of that which is people hood oriented. American Jews today are relatively more individualistic and less collectivistic. Taken as a group, their patterns of belief and practice are more idiosyncratic and diverse, less uniform and consensual. No less important, they regard the ever changing selection of Jewish activities and meanings from the broad repertoire available as part of their birthright as Jews. They celebrate the autonomy of this choosing and do not worry about its authenticity. Indeed, they welcome each change in the pattern of their Judaism as a new stage in their lifelong personal journeys…….The self…is the ultimate arbiter of Jewish expression…….Moreover, because today’s Jews believe that Jewish identity is inalienable, i.e., that they will always remain Jewish no matter what choices they make, the exercise enormous latitude in what they choose to do and not do. Jewishly assured that they need have no fear of loosing themselves in the process. Jewishness for them is an absolute. It cannot be increased or lessened by observance, in-marriage, communal affiliation, or any other normative behavior. They feel no need to express or enact their identity in regular activity. Judaism is rather an “inner thing” a point of origin, a feature of experience, an object of reflection. (184, 185)


8. URJ-JFC Resources

  • “To Honor and Respect”: A Program and Resource Guide for Congregations for Sacred Aging (URJ PRESS, 2005)
  • “That You May Live Long”: Caring for our Aging Parents: Caring for Ourselves. (URJPRESS 2004)
  • “A Time To Prepare”: A Practical Guide for Individuals and Families in Determining A Jewish Approach to Making Personal Arrangements, Establishing the Limits of Medical Care and Embracing Rituals at the End of Life. (URJPRESS: 2002)
  • “Caring for the Soul: R’fuat HaNefesh”: A Mental Health Resource and Study Guide. (URJPRESS. 2003)
  • “Our Changed Reform Jewish Family: Celebrating a Unity of Diversities”. (Jewish Family Concerns. 2003-04) 
  •  “Becoming A Kehilat Chesed: Creating and Sustaining A Caring Congregation”. (URJ PRESS. 2004)


Union of Reform Judaism Department of Jewish Family Concerns
Rabbi Richard F. Address. D.Min: Director



**statistics and information culled from NJPS (2004) and work of Jewish Family Concerns’ “Sacred Aging” project and early findings of the “Aleph-Bet of Marriage” project.




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