Rabbi Richard F. Address has some good news and some bad news about getting older. The good news is that aging baby boomers are in general expected to live longer and healthier lives.
The bad news is that too few are prepared for the challenges, spiritual and financial, that aging will bring.
“If somebody has good health, God willing, and retires from full-time work at 68 or 70 and that health card plays out, they can have 20 more years of life expectancy,” said Address. “What do they do with them?”
To help his contemporaries answer that question, Address founded Jewish Sacred Aging, what he calls the only Jewish website dealing with aging and spirituality and their impact on families (jewishsacredaging.com). Address has a regular radio program in Philadelphia on baby boomers and more than 20,000 followers on Sacred Aging’s Facebook page.
On Friday, Jan. 15, he will speak about the spiritual impact of aging during the Rabbi Nathaniel M. Keller Memorial Lecture at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick.
“All over the country, one of the great fears among people is dealing with aging parents and worrying themselves if they are going to run out of money,” said Address. “Most baby boomers do not have enough for retirement, and most baby boomers are one medical crisis away from financial crisis.”
Speaking from his home in Woodbury, Address said his Anshe Emeth program will focus on mental health, caregiving, end-of-life decision-making, and economic issues.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of how modern the tradition can be when approaching these concerns,” said Address. “For instance, when it comes to caregiving, I and every single colleague have had this conversation with their congregation, and sometimes within their own families, about placing a loved one in a facility. I walk them through the tradition surrounding the Fifth Commandment — honoring and respecting parents — through Torah and Talmud and commentary.”
In the Mishna Torah, the medieval sage Maimonides wrote that in certain contexts, where it is impossible for a child to care for a parent, it is acceptable to place the parent in the care of a third party. Such insights are reassuring to those with a loved one suffering from a terminal illness, dementia, or Alzheimer’s.
Likewise, the tradition permits “the flame of life to flicker out in dignity and sanctity,” which, Address said, can be applied when struggling with end-of-life issues.
Address said he became involved with issues of aging while serving for more than 30 years at the Union for Reform Judaism as a regional director and as founder and director of its Department of Jewish Family Concerns. Most recently, he was senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill until his 2014 retirement.
With a larger percentage of Jews comprising older baby boomers than in the general population, he noted the challenges will only grow.
“The over-50 demographic is driven by the fact that the baby boomers are now aging out,” said Address. The aging of the boomers is already straining social welfare systems and individual families.
Every Jewish population study in the last 15 years, he said, shows growth in older population.
“It’s very important to have this conversation in every congregation,” said Address, “and it’s important for congregants to know what their tradition has to say about these issues.”