How to make aging a sacred experience


In the 1960s, baby boomers led the revolution against the Vietnam War. Today, says Rabbi Richard Address, that aging generation is leading the “revolution in longevity.”

At 72, Address is a part of that revolution. With his website, Jewish Sacred Aging, he aims to help synagogues and other Jewish organizations reach out to boomers to offer Jewish answers to the questions that growing older gives rise to.

This comes at a time when a significant number of Jewish baby boomers are leaving congregations, Address says. “At the same time, there’s a resurgence of interest in the spirituality of aging. Baby boomers are seeking serious Jewish answers to life stages. When you’re 70, 80, 90, you know the horizon is finite.”

Address launched the Jewish Sacred Aging website in 2009 and uses it as a platform for his consulting work. Recently, he visited Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington and Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church.

“This is all about the basic spiritual questions of the human race,” he says. “You decide to transition out of full-time work. You may have 25 or 30 years more of life. The spiritual question is: What do you want to do with this gift of time?”

Jewish Sacred Aging is largely a one-man operation. Through blog posts and articles on the weekly Torah portion, Address, based in Philadelphia, considers the intertwining of aging and Jewish tradition.

For last week’s portion, Bamidbar, In the Wilderness, Address noted that many older Jews are interested in studying Torah again, perhaps for the first time since their bar or bat mitzvah.

“This stage of life allows us to confront our own search for a sense of meaning and purpose in our own life,” he wrote. “For many Boomers and elders, the path to looking at the richness of the texts opens new pathways to understanding our own journey. Indeed, the CENTRAL image for us is the Wilderness. If we understand that we all are on a spiritual journey, then this return to Torah makes sense. But it is not a return to the Torah of our youth. It is a return and even search for a Torah that speaks to the issues of our life now.”

Podcasts, on “issues of growing older and the impact on our families” are posted every other Friday. The most recent episode featured Michelle Friedman, co-author of “The Art of Jewish Pastoral Counseling: A Guide for All Faiths.”

Address’ target audience are Jewish professionals. As a consultant, he offers workshops on Jewish Approaches to Mental Health Issues, Creating Rituals for Life’s Third Stage, and Jewish Approaches to Health and Wellness, among others.

A Reform rabbi, he was on staff at the Union for Reform Judaism for three decades, most recently as founder and director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns. He left URJ to work full time on Jewish Sacred Aging.

The way ahead is determined by three wildcards, he says: money, health and time.

“The great mystery is time,” he says. ”You can pray your guts out but you can’t control it.”

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