Last week, I had the privilege of attending the annual conference of the Association of Jewish Aging Services, an organization that brings together nonprofit senior living and senior care providers across North America. As you might guess, there is not a huge number of these organizations but the 100+ providers convene at these meetings — and in between—for learning, fellowship and support.

At last week’s meeting, we had both keynote speakers and presentations from experts in the field of aging services, including our peers. We heard about the work folks are doing with new programs and services; the tools and techniques that are being used to manage the changing reimbursement landscape; approaches to fundraising and much more. As we do every year, we had the chance to share with our peers and we walked away with new ideas to explore.

As I reflect on the days we spent at conference, what strikes me most is the collegiality and mutual respect our organizations have for one another. We are not competing with one another and, in every case, people are open to sharing what they do. Everyone is not only open for questions, they are also ready to jump in and provide help and support.

This kind of open and giving quality is not one we find at other conferences, whether State or national. Folks are all happy to talk about what we do but not so willing to help others do the same, not so available to share freely and while we do learn and get new ideas, this sort of “how can I help you” mentality just does not seem to exist.

If I had to explain why that is, I think I would tell you that it is one of the key differences for us as Jewish organizations. The theme for the conference was about “reinventing home” for the future and each and every speaker was focused on care of our older adults first and a business message second. No one ever lost sight of what is most important, what we exist to do and that is to care for our elders.

I believe that as Jewish organizations we do see ourselves as needing first to “honor our fathers and mothers,” and that creating success is, while by no means unimportant, a means to that end. It is what drives us, it is the “why” as we talk about Jewish organizations being different, the distinction that raises both care and innovation to the highest possible levels.

Years ago someone told me about his mom’s experience in several different assisted living and nursing homes. He described the difference of our Jewish facilities in one simple phrase. He said that what distinguished these facilities was that, in them, everyone “touched” his mother in some way, unlike what he saw in other places. Touch was reaching out a hand, giving a hug, being there to assist but touch was also looking her in the eye, speaking to her with dignity and as an adult, connecting with her in every interaction, from the housekeeper sweeping the floor to the nurse administering medication.

Many of our colleagues have increasing percentages of non-Jewish residents, residents who chose the setting and the care because they can see and feel the difference. We are proud to be who we are, proud to be committed to our heritage and our values and proud to represent this unwavering dedication, first and foremost, to the elders we exist to serve.