Aging Wisely, Together

Pilot Program Helps Jews Transition Into Older Adulthood

Profound Transformation: Laura Rothschild (left) and Billie Gold are part of Wise Aging’s pilot project to help Jews prepare for late life.
nate lavey
Profound Transformation: Laura Rothschild (left) and Billie Gold are part of Wise Aging’s pilot project to help Jews prepare for late life.

By Gabrielle Birkner

Published May 21, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Until recently, Howard Sharfstein, an attorney who has had a decades-long career at a white-shoe law firm, had never meditated. “I never took the time to sit and be mindful,” he said. “I never took the time to consider my life values or life goals, or the meaning of relationships or faith.”

In a little more than a year, all that has changed with his involvement in a pilot project called Wise Aging. Sharfstein is one of 11 people, ranging in age from 61 to 72, who have been meeting at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue to discuss their respective transitions into older adulthood.

Click to see the rest of the section, Click for more stories about Aging.

“It’s not a kvetch session,” said Sharfstein, 67, but a chance for people to explore, through the lens of Jewish wisdom, everything from their postretirement identity to dealing with new physical limitations.

Unlike much of the communal programming geared toward those older than 60, Wise Aging isn’t about keeping seniors busy with cultural activities or continuing education. Instead, it’s about doing reflective work and preparing oneself for late life, when there is greater frailty and greater loss.

“We’re helping people transition from doing and accomplishing and making their mark on the world to being more present in the world — whether they’re seeing a beautiful flower in Central Park or looking into their grandchildren’s eyes,” said Rabbi Marion Lev-Cohen, who as Central Synagogue’s Rabbi for Community Engagement selected the participants for the pilot.

Lev-Cohen, together with Rabbi Rachel Cowan, who is spearheading the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Wise Aging initiative, facilitates the group of eight women and three men. Some participants are married, others are divorced or widowed; some are retired or semi-retired, and others are still working.

The lunchtime meetings run anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours, and include guided meditation and facilitated discussions on such topics as body image, gratitude, repairing relationships, living with loss and considering one’s legacy. There are often smaller breakout groups around Jewish text study, or sharing and listening exercises.

“Whatever is said in the room stays in the room, and we all take that very seriously,” said Laura Rothschild, 64, a married mother of a college-age daughter.

In hopes of getting other synagogues and Jewish centers to begin Wise Aging groups of their own, Cowan and the educator Linda Thal, who leads the Yedidya Center for Jewish Spiritual Direction, are developing a curriculum and resource guide. Chapters include meditations, readings from secular and Jewish texts — written by geriatricians, poets, Martin Buber and the Baal Shem Tov alike — and discussion and journaling prompts.

Cowan and Thal have received about $30,000 from the Covenant Foundation and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to create the guide, which they hope to complete this fall. They are currently seeking additional grants to train Jewish leaders to use the Wise Aging curriculum.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.