Miriam C. Berkowitz
Helping people navigate and celebrate life transitions

‘Do not cast me away when I am old…’ (Psalm 71)

Last week’s Jerusalem Post featured an article introducing Meirav Cohen, the Minister of Social Equality and Elderly Citizens and a Member of Knesset for Blue and White. Cohen previously directed Emun Hatzibur (literally Trust of the Public) which advocates for the rights of consumers. She has a particular interest in protecting the elderly from fraud, often brought on by their loneliness and eagerness to speak to anyone who telephones them and approaches them with a friendly voice.
She told interviewer Neria Barr that one of her main concerns is the well-being of elderly in nursing homes and sheltered housing. They are a relatively small population (only about 50,000 out of 978,400 Israelis over the age of 65, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, October 2019 study), but they accounted for 50% of the deaths in the first wave of Corona this year.
Plans are being made to protect the independent elderly, especially as winter flu season approaches. Volunteer organizations can deliver food and medicine during a lock-down. The hotline *8840  can answer questions, provide empathetic listening, and help seniors access social benefits. Some centers (such as taasuka 50 plus minus) help with employment and others help identify volunteer opportunities, since the elderly often face age discrimination in the workforce and early retirement may lead to further isolation, financial pressures, and reduced sense of well-being.
In residential facilities, measures already include frequent Corona testing of nursing home staff, limitation of social activities, restriction of family visits, and heightened hygiene and sanitation standards. Cohen seeks further coordination with the Corona Cabinet about standards and enforcement.
Interestingly, Cohen does not advocate for banning family visits. She mentions that most of the infection of residents has been from staff, not families, and that the benefit to quality of life outweighs the potential prolongation of life. (Of course she does affirm the need for protective measures such as masks, distance and other now commonly accepted procedures).
It seems the need for human contact is an essential component of well-being. While efforts to keep elderly safe in their rooms or apartments may be well-intentioned, their effect has been to increase the sense of isolation and depression.
Articles like these raise awareness of the social and emotional needs of the elderly, above and beyond the medical, physical and economic needs.
Any friendly visitor or voice on the phone, whether a volunteer, friend, family member or professional (social worker, nurse, etc.) can make a person feel more respected, valued and alive.
We at Kashouvot maintain that professional spiritual caregivers have an additional, complementary role to play, initiating conversations about people’s deepest wishes and fears, listening patiently to people’s life stories, and providing support to elders, family and staff. Spiritual caregivers are also trained in creative ways to connect with people suffering from memory loss. Spiritual caregivers can also facilitate difficult conversations with family around issues of medical choices, forgiveness, plans for funeral and burial, and passing on their legacy of values. They offer medical staff a safe space to talk about their work and lives, thus making them more resilient and able to serve the patients with a calmer, more grounded approach.
To read more about Kashouvot’s services and classes see www.kashouvot.org
About the Author
Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz is an Israel-ordained Conservative rabbi and certified chaplain. She co-founded Kashouvot: Pastoral Care and is currently the International Coordinator of the Spiritual Care Association, promoting chaplaincy around the world. She does weddings and bar-bat mitzvahs, editing and individual pastoral care/ life coaching for people in transitions, in Israel and remotely.
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