By Leon A Smith
September 13, 2011
Once again, and as ever with increasing rapidity, the Jewish Festival season is fast approaching. As a friend recently commented to me the Jewish Festivals are sometime late or sometimes early – they are never on time!
In running a large care home, two key dates in the calendar are Pesach and Rosh Hashana. The physical logistical arrangements are mammoth to ensure that everything runs smoothly without a hitch during these periods - clearly the logistical arrangements for Passover are considerably more complex than those for the High Holy Days. I think it is fair to say that regardless of the levels of religious adherence or belief, these two periods have great resonance for most Jewish people – if only because many people in their formative years would have been immersed in the Yom Tov atmosphere. At Nightingale, all of our residents are Jewish. An exceedingly small percentage of our staff are Jewish yet notwithstanding this we succeed in creating a warm and haimisher atmosphere throughout the Home in which everybody can feel comfortable. Those contributing to that atmosphere include, residents, relatives, volunteers and of course our staff who work so hard to demonstrate both their respect and understanding of the importance of these Festivals.
But what a shame it is that there are so few Jewish staff working in the care sector. I was moved when visiting homes in Israel some years ago, particularly a home for retired older members of the Jewish Bulgarian community. Where were all the staff were Jewish and from? Bulgaria! It was apparent just how much this meant to the residents who shared a common language and culture with those caring for them. It is with great pride that I can tell you that the workforce at Nightingale is multi cultural. We are a true melting pot where we are able to share many aspects of each other’s cultures. It is of course incumbent upon us to facilitate religious and cultural training for those of our staff who are not necessarily familiar with the Jewish religion, its customs and rituals. Indeed, we have recently carried out an extensive programme of such training. It is moving and touching to see the interest our staff have and, indeed, the way in which many of them are able to relate both to Jewish values and in some cases to Jewish ritual through their own religious beliefs.
But I return to the question of why there are so few Jewish people working in the care sector. Why should that be? Generally staff recruitment at some levels is an issue. I’ve indicated before in this Blog that one has to be special to work at Nightingale. We only want special people caring for our residents. Yet again why so few Jews? There could possibly be a number of reasons. Sadly, the status attached to those doing physical “hands on” caring is not high. We have great respect for doctors and we have great respect for nurses. Carers, the people who are physically caring for our friends and relatives on a day to day basis, do not attract that same level of respect. Who could be more important to an older person than the person that is doing the most intimate caring for them on a daily basis? Yet still society as a whole does not hold the caring profession in high esteem.
This is an issue which I believe we need to tackle and not simply in relation to the Jewish issue. What can be done to elevate the status of those in the caring profession to the level at which it deserves to be? One way of doing this of course is to endeavour to increase the self esteem of those individuals. They need to be reassured that the work which they are doing is of vital importance and is touching the lives of those for whom they are caring and indeed their families – every hour of every day. It is important that our staff feel recognised not only by their employer but by all who come into touch with them.
Last week at Nightingale we held a “summer” party – even if the weather wasn’t very summery . It is wonderful to see so many of our staff having the opportunity to let their hair down and simply have fun. Whilst caring for older people can provide considerable job satisfaction it is not always “fun”. We should be indebted to those who care for our elders and at the same time as a community those of us working in the care sector do in my view need to spend more time focussing on trying to make this both a sought after and desirable career option.