In a push to provide more in-depth education to clergy and professionals who work with the elderly, the Helen Bader Foundation in Milwaukee has given a $74,215 grant to Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote.
Much of the grant money will go to fund a three-year pilot program that aims to train 175 clergy and professionals in four Jewish communities throughout the United States — Philadelphia, New York City, northern New Jersey and San Francisco — on how to better serve the spiritual needs of aging populations.
The center plans to develop training curricula to put adult learners in "real-life" situations to assist them in applying their newfound skills. The workshops will run from the fall of 2007 until the spring of 2010.
"We know that most rabbis encounter aging in their pastoral experience," said Rabbi Dayle Friedman, director of Hiddur, "but many of them have not had any formal training in how to do outreach to the elderly."
In addition, the tension of serving a loyal, senior community while bringing in new congregational members and ensuring Jewish continuity can be a trial, she explained, saying that "most rabbis identify that as a challenge they don't know how to meet."
The new educational opportunities provided by the grant will move beyond the simple, physical care of aging men and women, and enter the realm of the spiritual as well, according to the rabbi.
"We have to do more," she stressed, "than just care for the body."