Just as Christmas and New Year’s can bring stress to people in the broader population, the High Holy Days can bring Jews heartache, as well as joy and renewal.
“They are bittersweet, aren’t they?” Rochelle Brodsky, a nurse with Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, asked a gathering of seniors at the YM-YWHA of Union County on Sept. 5. There were nods and murmurs of agreement.
The seminar, offered to participants in the Y’s Senior Adult Program and guests, was sponsored by the LINKS — Living in Neighborhoods Kind to Seniors, a project of the NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) program run by JFS.
“You come through the summer and everything is copacetic, and then boom! Here come the High Holy Days,” she said. “It’s wonderful if you can get together with your loved ones, but there are all these reminders of what you’ve lost — of those who aren’t around, and all the things you can’t do anymore.”
“Boy, I wasn’t depressed when I came in, but I am now!” teased one of the men in the group. There was laughter, but also expressions of agreement. “She’s right,” a woman said. “I love seeing my family, but it can be very difficult.”
“I have no family at all,” another woman said.
Brodsky emphasized the importance of differentiating between anxiety, depression — a general state of unhappiness that doesn’t allow for any light moments of pleasure — and grief — mourning in response to real loss, where there can still be moments of humor or happiness.
Dealing with such emotions rather than trying to ignore them, she said, opens up the possibility of coping with them better and of enjoying the Holy Days.
Working with Brodsky was JFS social worker JoAnne Cohen, who offered participants a questionnaire to help clarify what they’re feeling, and reminded them that they can come to her individually for counseling.
Brodsky went through a litany of losses highlighted by the season — physical, mental, and emotional. She said not being able to drive, or cook, or remember names can be as distressing as the reminders of loved ones who have moved far away or died. Restricted finances can be an issue too, faced with the cost of synagogue tickets or of feeding a big gathering.
She mentioned a client who survived the horrors of the Holocaust, but is finding the challenges of old age — especially in this season — more than she can handle.
“You used to go to services and worry about having to chase the children around; now you worry about whether you can get to the bathroom in time — not so?” she suggested. “Where you used to be the boss, doing the cooking and having everyone come to you to eat, now you’re a guest, and your kids are telling you to sit back and take it easy. That can be very hard to take. Being dependent means no longer being independent, doesn’t it?”
For more information on LINKS activities and other JFS services, contact Brodsky or Cohen at 908-352-8375.