Caregiver Support and Caring Communities

by John Shalett

In my role as MRJ Executive Council Member and member of the URJ Commission on Outreach, Membership and Caring Communities I am dedicated to helping our members to help to build and to benefit from congregational communities that help each of us to feel strengthened, needed and supported. In a meaningful and positive manner. Men of Reform Judaism is working closely with Rabbi Edythe Mencher, Caring Congregations Specialist, in efforts to create greater awareness and sensitivity to both individual and family concerns that effect and potentially take a great toll on each of us as family members. As Rabbi Richard Address so eloquently stated, the critical factor and what we must pay most attention to is “the theology of relationships.”

Last month was Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month and the URJ is continuing to focus on ways we can increase inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities, as well as all the ways we can create communities of caring and connection.  Because of this, the Men of Reform Judaism and the Union for Reform Judaism have evolved some guidelines that each of us can use to help those who are caregivers to feel less isolated and to help each member of our communities know they are cherished and belong throughout every stage of their lives.

When someone has Alzheimer’s or another debilitating condition, that person and the caregivers in his or her family are under enormous stress. Sometimes even friends and fellow congregants find themselves withdrawing or avoiding the family with a person with such a condition, causing incalculable distress without any such intent. There are many reasons for this. It may be because of uncertainty about what to say, it may be because of feelings of confusion about how to helpful and it may even be because of a wish sometimes to not be reminded of painful possibilities that could affect our own lives.

Together, realizing the pain and isolation suffered by some of our own members and many others, we have developed some suggestions.

  1. When you see a person whom you know is has a disability that affects their cognition by all means go over to greet them and their family members. Greet each by name and  reintroduce yourself, “Hi, John Shalett here, your fellow congregant, how nice to see you, Shabbat shalom.”
  2. Speak to all in a natural way about what is going on in their lives and in yours.
  3. Include caregivers and person with the disability in social events and let them decide what is manageable—don’t decide for them what they feel able to attend.
  4. Work  within your congregation to offer opportunities for respite care for even a few hours.
  5. Work with community agencies to host educational programs about similar conditions and also to provide recreational programming. This can help to increase social opportunities for the person who has the condition and offer time off for the caregiver.
  6. Do include the caregiver in invitations without their family member too—let them decide if they can attend and even offer to help them to find respite care.
  7. Remember it is likely that each and every one of us will have family members with such conditions or will experience them ourselves. Help to work toward greater acceptance, understanding and research toward prevention and cure.

As a key affiliates in the URJ family, MRJ has committed to working closely with Rabbi Mencher and the Commission on Outreach, Membership and Caring Communities. We encourage each of you in your congregations to visit the website; either create or continue to offer “caring community” services through your existing Congregational Committees.

Rabbi Mencher, John Shalett (MRJ) and staff and lay leaders stand ready to be responsive and available for dialogue. We encourage each of our affiliate groups to work to create meaningful and caring programs for their members.


John Shalett is a Men of Reform Judaism Executive Council Member and member of the URJ Commission on Outreach, Membership and Caring Communities.

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