“And You Should Teach it to Your Children”: Passover and Holding a Dialogue with Oneself

By Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Campus Chaplain, The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living

The Passover Seder’s liturgy contains multiple references to the holiday’s multi-generational focus, reflected in the statement “In every generation, one is obligated to see oneself as if s/he left Egypt.” Part of creating this multi-generational atmosphere is further described in the section about the four sons – the wise, wicked, simple and one who doesn’t know how to ask. The “parent’s” responsibility is to elicit conversation through dialogue and storytelling.

What would happen if a person is alone on Passover night? How would the storytelling piece work? According to Maimonides, “When a person does not have a child, his wife should ask him. If he does not have a wife, [he and a colleague] should ask each other: ‘Why is this night different?’ This applies even if they are all wise. A person who is alone should ask himself: ‘Why is this night different?’” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Leavened and Unleavened Bread, 7:3).

In my chaplaincy work, I am regularly confronted with the challenge of loneliness. People express feeling alone after the death of a close loved one. While death removes a person physically from our lives, those people remain in our memory. Many describe “hearing” our loved one’s voices during those times we need to find a path, a way, an answer to a troubling question. Perhaps Food of Passover“hearing” is a reminder of never being truly alone.

On Passover, we are doing the same. To truly feel as if we were redeemed from Egypt, it is essential to ask “why is this night different?” The question implies a rupture, a change in our routine. In that moment when we ask about the ritual differences between Passover and the other holidays, we are looking for a sense of stability in the midst of the chaos. It is in the chaos that one is obligated to not ignore the instability but rather to confront it. This is true whether other people are present to express the questions to or not. As Maimonides acknowledged, even a person alone must confront the changes of the night, asking the hard questions of oneself. It is through the hard questions that one can move beyond the loneliness to the remainder of the Haggadah’s message, which is one of finding redemption out of the depths of servitude.

The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living is comprised of Stein Assisted Living and the Jaffa Gate Memory Care Neighborhood, Stein Hospice, Wilentz Senior Residence, Wilf Transport, and The Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, contact us at (732) 568-1155, info@wilfcampus.org or visit us at www.wilfcampus.org.

Social Workers: Leaders. Advocates. Champions

Celebrated each March, National Social Work Month is an opportunity to turn the spotlight on the important contributions social workers make to our society every single day. Our residents at The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living are fortunate to be the beneficiaries of the hard work of our own social workers, who offer emotional support to our residents and their families and act as advocates for them in order to meet their needs.

Lori Dillon, MSW, LCSW, our social worker at Stein Hospice says that what she loves most about her job is that “this is not a job to me, it is participating in tikkun olam – healing people and helping them transition at end-of-life with dignity, grace, and comfort.” She adds, “This is spiritual work. It is God’s work, and I feel blessed to be able to work with an extraordinary team of Hospice professionals, because it takes a village to do this work and provide the kind of hospice care that I would want for myself or my family members.”

Lori leads our staff of social workers at Stein Hospice, which also includes Stephanie Auerbach, LCSW, Gita Zohar, LCSW, and Tammy Russ-Fishbane, LCSW.

social workers

Marnie Kean, LCSW, our social worker at The Wilentz Senior Residence, says she enjoys working with the residents and their families, “appreciating who they are and helping to meet their needs.” She adds, “We have a fantastic group of residents and pulling together support for them means a lot to me. Watching them function as a caring community is an incredible process to observe.”

Social work is a fast-growing profession with more than 680,000 social workers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the National Association of Social Workers, “Social workers are trained to look at situations in a holistic way, bringing people together with others and their communities to find ways to address pressing individual, group and societal problems such as hunger, affordable housing, equal rights for all and making organizations and government accountable.”

The 2018 Social Work Month Theme, “Social Workers: Leaders. Advocates. Champions”, is meant to inform the public about the role of social workers in helping the most vulnerable people in our society. Social workers confront some of the most challenging issues facing individuals, families, communities and society and they forge solutions that help people reach their full potential.

This month we would like to celebrate and recognize the dedication of our own social workers at The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living and how they act as leaders, advocates, and champions who make our Wilf community a better place to live.

The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living is comprised of Stein Assisted Living, Jaffa Gate Memory Care Neighborhood, Stein Hospice, Wilentz Senior Residence, Wilf Transport, and The Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, contact us at (732) 568-1155info@wilfcampus.org or visit us at www.wilfcampus.org.

Finding Joy in the Incomplete: Purim

By Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Chaplain, Wilf Campus for Jewish Life

Purim celebrates surviving a decree of genocide unleashed by the evil Haman against the Jews of Persia.  Part of the celebration is the reading of Megillat Esther (the scroll of Esther), which describes the story of the events in Shushan 2500 years ago.  In reviewing the story this year, I noticed something fundamental about the joy of the Purim story.  While on the one hand, we celebrate survival, there is a sense upon completing the story that something is missing.  Some commentators see the missing piece as the Jews remaining under Persian rule instead of returning to Israel and rebuilding the Second Temple.  Others will note how the story ends with the anti-climatic moment of the King, Ahasuerus placing a tax upon all who live in his land, showing how surviving a genocidal decree doesn’t mean being free from other forms of oppression.  How can we celebrate while also sitting with this sense of incompleteness?

In the moment of triumph, there is a tremendous burden lifted off one’s shoulders, leading to a sense of exhilaration or a sense of relief.  For the Jews of Shushan, surviving Haman’s decree provided this sense of relief.  As such, they celebrated their newly found “new lease on life.” Their celebration was one of communal care and support, guaranteeing all could celebrate through the giving of Mishloah Manot (gifts to friends) and Matanot L’Evyonim (gifts to the poor).  Subsequently, this celebration was established as a yearly practice, as being able to celebrate Purim was proof of continued survival.  At the same time, hindsight forces us to speculate on the long term gains of this survival.  They continued to be under foreign rule.  Eventually, the lightness, the relief goes away, and the reality of life returns, with all its trials and tribulations.  Yet, by establishing Purim, we are responsible to celebrate the good while also recognizing that it is right to celebrate momentary victories even when they remain incomplete.

Purim Sameach, A Freilichen Purim.

Exercise For a Healthier Heart: It’s Never Too Late

February is American Heart Month—a great time to consider whether we’re doing all we can to support cardiovascular wellness.

Most people today are aware of the heart health benefits of physical activity. Walk by a gym window or any urban trail, and you’ll note that young people today are likely to make regular exercise part of their daily routine. But what about their parents and grandparents? If you’ve pretty much been a couch potato for most of your life, and you’ve just celebrated your 65th birthday … or 75th, or 85th, or beyond … is it too late for exercise to benefit your heart?

Hearth Health and ExerciseHere’s some good news! A study headed by Dr. Chiadi Ndumele, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, revealed that it’s never too late to reap the heart health benefits of exercise.

Said Dr. Ndumele, “Our findings suggest that when it comes to exercise and heart failure, the better-late-than-never axiom rings particularly true.”

Dr. Ndumele and his team studied the heart health and exercise routines of thousands of people. They found that those who followed a lifelong fitness program were the best off—33 percent less likely to develop heart failure than people who never exercised. But the team also found that people who took up the exercise habit later in life could also lower their risk. Said another Johns Hopkins cardiologist, Dr. Roberta Florido, “Our findings demonstrate that every little bit of movement matters, and that picking up exercise later in life is decidedly better than not moving at all.”

So, where should you begin in turning over this new leaf? Especially if you are an older adult, and if you are a person of any age who is living with a heart condition or other serious illness, it’s very important to talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. The doctor will provide an exercise “prescription,” which will most likely include:

Aerobic activity: which increases heart rate and breathing, bringing more oxygen to the body (for example: walking, dancing).

Muscle strengthening and flexibility exercises: that keeps muscles and ligaments strong (for example: stretching, lifting weights).

Balance training: to prevent falls and enhance confidence in exercising (for example: balance classes, tai chi).

Protecting your heart is only one way exercise will benefit you. Exercise helps reduce the risk and manage a wide range of health conditions—a short list includes diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, lung disease and depression, and certain cancers.

And perhaps of greatest interest to those of us who are growing older, exercise has been found to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and related memory loss, even among people who have been diagnosed with dementia or are at higher genetic risk.

Anxiety Disorders: Seeking Help for Yourself or a Loved One

Could My Loved One Have an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety affecting older womanCertainly, there are things to fret about as we grow older. We may face health challenges. We may have financial concerns. We may fear falling. We may worry about family members or the state of the world. It is part of human nature to be anxious sometimes.

But it’s a myth that anxiety increases with age. In research published by Liberty Mutual Insurance, psychologists noted, “Unlike the stereotypical depictions of older adults fretting, worry actually significantly diminishes as we age. Studies consistently find that older adults worry less than younger ones … in fact, older adults taking a retrospective look on their life frequently say their biggest regret is that they spent so much time worrying.”

Nonetheless, for some seniors, anxiety can be debilitating—certainly more than some of the things they are worrying about. If a senior is experiencing uncontrollable worries, they may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Experts estimate that perhaps one in ten seniors experiences enough anxiety to harm their quality of life and their health. Anxiety can cause nausea, dizziness and sleep problems. People with anxiety report higher levels of pain. Anxiety raises the risk of a host of physical health problems. And University of Southern California researchers recently showed that people with chronic anxiety have a 48 percent higher risk of dementia!

If a senior loved one is showing signs of excess anxiety, seek an evaluation from a doctor who is familiar with senior mental health issues. Diagnosis is the first step. Seniors may experience several types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder, the most common type among older adults, in which a senior seems to fret all the time with no particular reason to do so
  • Panic disorders, which cause sudden, intense attacks of fear, with a seemingly minor trigger or no discernable cause
  • Social anxiety disorder, in which a person is afraid of being embarrassed or judged by others, often avoiding the company of others
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a delayed reaction to a traumatic event in the past

Anxiety can be treated. For seniors, treatment might include:

Diagnosing and managing underlying health conditions

Certain conditions can make us feel more anxious—in fact, anxiety might be the first symptom of heart trouble, diabetes or digestive problems. Some medications also can cause anxiety, so a medication review should be an early step.

Cognitive/behavioral therapy

“Talk therapy” from a trained professional helps patients understand what’s causing their anxiety, and learn skills to help cope with their fears. Often, treatment focuses on learning to cope with uncertainty in life. Mindfulness practices, such as yoga or tai chi, may help calm our worried thoughts. The Liberty Mutual experts suggest strategies such as writing down your fears, “scheduling” time for worrying, and making lists of practical plans to address our concerns.

Exercise

Experts say that inactivity can markedly increase feelings of anxiety. Get off the couch and into an exercise class. Look for ways to add a bit of movement to your life throughout the day. For senior patients with the not-uncommon fear of falling, a fall protection class can provide confidence.

Increased socialization

We are a very social species, and loneliness raises our anxiety level. It helps to know we’re not alone. Group therapy and support groups are a great way to connect with others who are dealing with the same feelings. Volunteering is another way to take our minds off our own concerns and enhance our sense of purpose in the world.

Medications

Geriatricians caution that while medication should not be the automatic first treatment option for a senior with anxiety, and that some drugs are inappropriate for older patients, several types of medications can be helpful. It’s important to take these medications correctly and to report side effects such as confusion, dizziness or drowsiness.

A combination of these treatments often yields the best results. Finding the best regimen may take some time and patience, but it’s well worth it to return a senior’s sense of peace and joy of living.

The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living is comprised of Stein Assisted Living, Jaffa Gate Memory Care Neighborhood, Stein Hospice, Wilentz Senior Residence, Wilf Transport, and The Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, contact us at (732) 568-1155info@wilfcampus.org or visit us at www.wilfcampus.org.