By Juli Dickelman
Rabbi Dayle Friedman presented at last October’s sixth International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality in Los Angeles. Friedman is a chaplain, teacher, social innovator, spiritual guide, and scholar whose career has focused on aging, long-term care, and dementia spiritual care.
Inspired by her presentations, I picked up a copy of her latest book, Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older: Finding Your Grit and Grace Beyond Midlife (Jewish Lights, 2015, 176 pp., $16.99), which offers “provisions for the journey” of aging — for professional and lay caregivers as well as for those of us who are personally navigating the sometimes complex journey “beyond midlife.”
With wisdom rooted in ancient Jewish tradition, the Torah, the tools of Midrash and sacred story, Friedman challenges us to “grow whole, not old.” She offers guidance to help us find our way with resilience, courage, and blessing so as to develop that “grit and grace” necessary to enter this sometimes desert of aging.
In Chapter 5, “Wandering in the Wilderness: Caring for our Fragile Dear Ones,” Friedman reminds us that God did not leave the Abraham and his people without sustenance on their journey. How do we recognize and draw from the resources available to us? Wisdom, guiding pillars of cloud and fire, may be found in the values of our own traditions providing “orientation amid the swirl of decisions and dilemmas that surround us.”
As the Israelites carried their portable sanctuary with them, the rabbi asks us, what are our connections to the Divine on this aging journey? Can we know sanctifying moments for ourselves and in our care of our elders? And when we feel isolated and invisible as caregivers or as elders, we are reminded that God instructed his people to make that sanctuary so that “I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Friedman points out it may be easy to miss the surprising aspect of this order: “The result of joining together to construct a holy space is not that God will dwell within it, but rather that the Divine will be found in the midst of the people. … We can find grounding, inspiration, and support when we are in a barren place … by being in relationship, in community.”
The book explores themes of shifting relationships, loss, letting go, dementia, resistance, forgiveness, using prayer and ritual. Each chapter offers reflections from scripture, the Talmud, a variety of authors across academia, other cultures, and religions; a practice (guided meditation or exercise); and a blessing. An appendix offers suggestions and guidance for book groups or wisdom circles.
We can be inspired by Rabbi Friedman’s work and the faith that birthed our own. Mining the richness of our roots through an expert’s eyes, hearing familiar stories with fresh perspective deepens our professional work and personal journeys. As she writes, “May you be sustained by the Source of compassion and life itself in this daunting, but sacred terrain.”
Juli Dickelman, BCC, is a chaplain educator at Providence Health Care in Spokane, WA.