Seniors are one of the most susceptible groups to COVID-19. According to the CDC, the older the adult, the higher the risk for severe illness from the disease.
For this reason, seniors are spending a lot of time indoors and a lot less time in their Jewish communities.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, many older synagogue congregants may feel cut off since houses of worship stopped in-person services due to the pandemic. Studies show that religious belief can lead to improved physical and mental health.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has kept all of us excluded from normal activities, but it doesn’t mean we need to be alone,” says Rabbi Daniel Braune-Friedman, director of pastoral care for Charles E. Smith Life Communities. “Modern technology, from the simple telephone to video conferencing, has allowed us various ways to connect.”
These 7 tips from Braune-Friedman can help seniors and their families stay connected to Judaism while staying safe during the pandemic.
1. Zoom in to services
Not being able to attend services in person can feel isolating. Most synagogues were closed for several months. Now, some synagogues have reopened their doors with social distancing measures. But that doesn’t mean that it’s safe for seniors to attend.
However, you can be part of the services in another way.
“Many synagogues are still broadcasting their services. Some over video conferencing, like Zoom, some over the phone, or both,” Braune-Friedman says.
2. Discover global resources
During this time, when seniors are safest at home, you may rarely leave your neighborhood, if at all, and your world may feel very small.
However, people all over the planet are dealing with the consequences of the pandemic.
“Therefore, almost every Jewish community must deal with the same set of problems. Most major synagogues in the world have online or even call-in services,” Braune-Friedman says.
Travel to another country without leaving your living room through an online service taking place across the globe.
Due to the combination of the quarantine and possible retirement, you probably have extra time on your hands. Why not put it to use by studying the Torah, the Kabbalah or other challenging Jewish texts?
“There are people all over the world studying ancient texts. Tapping into this tradition may help you feel you’re a part of something greater than yourself,” says Braune-Friedman.
4. Be kind to others
Treating others well during a pandemic can make you feel less alone, and it’s a mitzvah. “Remember that the most important Jewish value is our kindness to others,” Braune-Friedman says.
5. Stay Connected
Your friends are probably in the same boat as you, sitting at home with too much free time and missing their community. So what better time to reach out?
“Call a friend or even send a letter to someone far away. It’s amazing what a small effort can do if done with heart and soul,” Braune-Friedman says.
6. Gain a new pen pal
The world is in this pandemic together. You don’t have to feel alone, even if you have limited human interaction.
“Some of our local shuls are pairing seniors and b’nei mitzvah with a chance to get to know each other through letters and phone calls,” says Braune-Friedman.
You can reach out to your synagogue or JCC to see if there’s a Jewish pen pal program near you.
7. Special services
In addition to general Shabbat services, there are also specific services that seniors can attend.
“There are also special services for people struggling with dementia,” Braune-Friedman says.
Rabbi Judith Hauptman, of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Minyan Ahava, runs a twice-monthly Kabbalat Shabbat Memory service. For information send an email to their Zoom host, Sheryl Harawitz, [email protected].