Posted by Marjie Sokoll
“One ought to enter old age the way one enters the senior year at a university, in exciting anticipation of consummation.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel
I first met Rabbi Rachel Cowan in New York City at a Jewish healing conference. It was November 3, 1998 and I was 44 years old. At the time, I could never have imagined that 16 years later on the very same date, I would have the privilege of helping bring her to Boston where she would introduce her pioneering work on Wise Aging.
However, on November 3, 2014, Rabbi Cowan, along with two other trainers, came to JF&CS to facilitate a two-day training for 36 participants! Participants included rabbis, cantors, psychotherapists, social workers, chaplains, Jewish educators, synagogue members/lay leaders, and staff members from Hebrew Senior Life, the JCC, and four of my JF&CS colleagues who work with older adults. These 36 can now bring what they learned back to their communities.
JF&CS is very excited to be one of the first communities in the country to launch the Wise Aging Project with an innovative curriculum created by Rabbi Cowan, co-founder of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS), and her colleague, Dr. Linda Thal. Their book, Wise Aging: Living with Joy, Resilience, & Spirit, will be published by Behrman House in early spring.
As the Wise Aging curriculum teaches, “Not only are we living longer than past generations, we are beginning to expect that we might. These healthy years of aging are not the caboose at the end of the life train. Rather they are a whole new car added towards the end – full of potential.”
Here at JF&CS, we have been excited about this work for a while. Last March I began facilitating a Wise Aging group for staff members who work with older adults. In one of the sessions, we experienced an eye-opening exercise when we shared what we found to be surprising, scary, and good about aging. What we learned is that many of the feelings we have as professionals and as human beings are shared by our clients who express similar feelings about aging – the surprising and the good along with the scary. This was a profound insight!
Looking ahead, my colleague Barbara Sternfield and I will have the opportunity to lead a Wise Aging workshop at the annual LimmudBoston conference. And in addition to the support offered by IJS, we will gather trainees at JF&CS for networking and support.
Now that I am 60 years old, and finally old enough to do the work of Wise Aging, my hope is that this is just the beginning of making this important work available to our community and beyond.
This training was made possible by the generous support of The Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation; Nancy and Mark Belsky, Susan B. Kaplan, and Scott K. Belsky in honor of Rita Joan Gwirtzman Kaplan and her devoted work with the aged.
Marjorie U. Sokoll, MEd, Director of Jewish Life and Healing, is the founder and director of JF&CS Jewish Healing Connections, which helps ensure that people feel a sense of connection when facing the challenges of illness, loss, or isolation by offering spiritual and communal supports to provide hope, comfort, and wholeness guided by Jewish tradition. “It is not good for people to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). Marjie also provides spiritual support for the JF&CS Parkinson’s Family Support Program, is a founding partner at the Kalsman Institute for Judaism and Health, and holds a certificate of thanatology from the National Center for Death Education.