September 18, 2008
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age.”
“Do not forsake me when my strength fails.”
“Rise up before the aged.”
These biblical verses are focal points in the liturgy of the High Holy Days. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the focus is on repairing ourselves and the world and holding ourselves accountable for our actions.
What is the intent of the repetition of this “old age” theme? — “Do not cast me off…, Do not forsake me…, Rise up before the aged?”
It is interesting to note that these words and High Holy Day concepts were inserted into the prayer book at a time when “old” was 40 to 50 years, a time when the ailing rarely lingered and pharmaceuticals were rarely available and certainly not sophisticated. These words were included in the context of praying for life and living in the coming year. They appear at a time in the service when our words reach a crescendo, when we plead with the Almighty for a year of health and life. They are included at a time when we evaluate and reevaluate ourselves and the society we are creating. At the same time that we pray for long life, we also pray not to be thrust into old age.
Professional chaplains, trained in clinical pastoral education, are aware of the spiritual concerns that weigh so heavily on the elderly. They are often burdened not only by waning capabilities and strength but by how those physical realities affect their spiritual realities. Why me? Why now? Why?
Professionally trained chaplains possess the tools to provide the best spiritual care for seniors. This care may or may not include ritual. Individual visitations, conferring with family members on the care of the elderly, being part of the team of healthcare professionals who confer on the continuum of care, being aware of the interaction of drug therapies, helping family members develop trust in those caring for their loved ones — are all part of the responsibilities of professional chaplains. Chaplains help the elderly understand their place in the world and their contribution to society and help families recognize the spiritual dimensions of aging.
The mission of the Jewish chaplains is to provide comprehensive, quality, and professional pastoral/spiritual chaplaincy to the frail and elderly within our community.
This is what the phrases of the High Holy Day liturgy refer to:
- “Do not cast me off in time of old age.” Don’t write off the elderly; they have a lot to teach and contribute.
- “Do not forsake me when my strength fails.” I may not have the strength to participate in many activities, but don’t exclude me; don’t discount my opinions.
- “Rise up before the aged.” Symbolically, stand upright before the aged. Grant them the honor and deference they have earned by virtue of their life experience and in keeping with Jewish tradition.
Cecille Allman Asekoff is the executive director of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains. For more information, contact her at 973-929-3168 or firstname.lastname@example.org.