Listen in to almost any group of over-50-year-olds and it won’t be long before you hear health issues discussed. From getting recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes, a breast cancer diagnosis for a sibling or the complicated issues involved intaking care of an aging mother with dementia, health and wellness issues loom large for the baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964.
And yet aside from a Misheberach for a family member who is ill, or home-cooked meals from a Chesed Committee to see a family through chemo, many synagogues, schools and other Jewish institutions provide little to middle-aged community members who are either trying to prevent major illness or cope with an on-going, chronic condition that is not an acute medical condition.
The assumption is often made that all synagogue members and parents of day school children have good health insurance, which flies in the face of the national uninsured rate of 16.3%, as reported by the US Census Bureau just this month. And even for those who have health insurance, many are under-insured with huge deductibles.
Preventive wellness programs in every Jewish venue can go a long way to showing the baby boomer generation that one of their primary concerns is closely aligned with the priorities of the Jewish community. Lay-driven committees can make suggestions for more nutritious food at events, such as always having a healthy alternative at kiddishim and meals including fresh fruit and vegetables whenever possible. Walking clubs can be formed at places where people are already meeting or in the neighborhoods where congregants live.
For Jewish community members facing cancer, both practical assistance and emotional support are needed. Buying groceries, driving carpool, even helping out with keeping the houseplants alive during chemo and radiation can all be coordinated by volunteers supervised by staff. Emotional and spiritual support can come from Rabbinic staff and specially trained paid social workers.
Family caregivers of children, siblings or parents with developmental, intellectual or mental disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic medical conditions need long- term help for the “marathon” of their daily lives. A few hours of volunteers’ respite every week gives the caregiver the chance to get a haircut or go to the gym, making a huge difference in their quality of life.
As a Jewish communal professional who has worked for both Jewish agencies and voluntary health agencies and sees much overlap in clients in both settings, I see the need to bring the two worlds together. As the parent of a teen with developmental disabilities and an aging father with emerging health issues, I say, “if not now, then when?”
Michelle K. Wolf is currently the Director of Foundation and Government Relations for the American Diabetes Association, Los Angeles market and is the former Director of Caring for Jews in Need at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. She is also the co-founder of HaMercaz: the one stop for Jewish families raising a child with special needs.