In the Decalogue, we’re taught to honor our father and our mother. Each of us honors our parents in different way…but what happens when your role is to honor someone else’s father and mother?
Our tradition teaches us to show respect for our elders. In the Holiness Code, we’re taught “You shall stand up before the elderly, and honor the aged” (Lev. 19:32). This applies not only to our own genetic elders, but also to the elders in our community. Furthermore, in the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Judah teaches us to “be careful [to respect] an old man who has forgotten his knowledge through no fault of its own, for it was said: ‘both the whole tablets and the fragments of the tablets [those of the Decalogue that Moses shattered] were placed in the Ark’” (B’rachot 8b). By connecting the whole and shattered tablets in this teaching about how to treat our elderly, Rabbi Judah teaches us to remember the holiness even among the feeble and aging. We should demonstrate the utmost respect for our elders, no matter their abilities or cognitive awareness.
Any one of us may struggle to adequately show honor to our own parents, especially as we recognize their needs changing as they age. Luckily, there are experts we can call upon to support our families. For example, staff members at Cedar Village work every day to fulfill their mission; namely, to make aging an enriching and fulfilling experience. Cedar Village is a Jewish nursing home in Cincinnati, Ohio founded in 1997. Cedar Village is dedicated to meeting the physical, spiritual, emotional, and social needs of its residents. The organization of Cedar Village includes social work services, a multi-denominational team of rabbis, the Shalom Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, and extensive healthcare services.
Truly, the work that is being done at Cedar Village is sacred service. The amount of love and care that each team member at Cedar Village demonstrates for the residents is tangible, even by visitors. The approach at Cedar Village is beautifully harmonious with Rabbi Judah’s teaching; rather than see our aging community as a problem to be dealt with, the Cedar Village team sees the elderly as a gift, and they strive to empower the aging community to embrace social, spiritual, and physical wellness as they age with dignity.
This year, as a Jewish Foundation Fellow, I have the opportunity to contribute to the caring work being done at Cedar Village. I get to spend time with residents; I listen to their stories, I hold their hands, and I simply let them express themselves. Some of them have nearby family members who are able to visit regularly; others experience profound loneliness and feel distant from their relatives. Though I no longer have any grandparents of my own, I feel as if I’ve been adopted as a granddaughter by many of the residents at Cedar Village.
My mentor, Carol Silver Elliott, the CEO of Cedar Village, has empowered me to find a meaningful project to experience the possibilities of sacred service-learning. With her leadership, and with the further mentorship of Rabbi Yudin, the chaplain and bereavement counselor for Cedar Village and Cedar Village Hospice, I’ve learned some effective ways to work with hospice patients in a meaningful way. I have learned how to brighten someone’s day just by spending a few minutes with them. What I’ve learned at Cedar Village will easily integrate with my future chaplaincy training and with my interactions with congregants. I’ve discovered the impact I can have by simply being with someone where they are, no matter how feeble or helpless they may appear. By treating everyone with dignity, we can truly show honor to our elders, even if they aren’t our own fathers and mothers.
Elle Muhlbaum is collecting stories at Cedar Village as a form of “dignity therapy.”