Don't write us off, we have something to say

By Simon Rocker, March 29, 2012
Mel Brooks as the ‘2,000-year-old man’

Mel Brooks as the ‘2,000-year-old man’

British Jewry needs a more imaginative approach to its growing ranks of senior citizens which goes beyond care for the most vulnerable, according to a new report.

Instead, it should do more to encourage older people to take part in community activities and find opportunities for personal growth.

"The Jewish community has twice the number of people aged over 60 compared to the general population and yet the majority of our creative energy and resources is directed towards young people," says the report, An Agenda for Ageing Well. It was launched at the House of Lords this week.

The report notes: "While we have an exceptional reputation for providing care for those who are most in need of it, we often do this in an old-fashioned and paternalistic manner.

"We often ignore the growing number of people within our community who are ageing well, and thus contribute to their increasing isolation."

It also calls for a return to traditional Jewish values, which venerate the old for their wisdom and experience rather than slavishly following secular trends which place "such a huge importance on youth and looking young".

Produced by Jewish Care and cross-communal think tank, ResponseAbility, the report is the result of more than a year's research involving consultations with more than 450 people.

It says that organisations need to take particular account of the large number of single women - Jewish women over 65 outnumber men by five to two - and also the growing numbers of Jews not officially linked to the community.

Increased emphasis on observance and learning in both Orthodox and Reform congregations, it notes, "has made many older people feel that synagogue life is no longer aimed at them".

Meanwhile, programmes targeted at the elderly are often "simplistic, traditional or only aimed at those who are intellectual and educated," and there was a lack of imaginative alternatives for those who wanted "more than discussion groups, bingo, musical entertainment and simple craft".

But the cost of some programmes can be prohibitive for those who are living on benefits or who "may be asset-rich but cash-poor".

It also recommends better transport for those who may have restricted mobility or worry about going out at night. Disabled access and hearing loops can also increase participation. Greater emphasis should be put on seeing what people can - rather than what they cannot - do.

Abigail Morris, outgoing director of ResponseAbility, said putting the report's recommendations into practice would "result in a remarkable transformation of the Jewish community. The age agenda would shift to being about valuing and including people as they age and not just about providing welfare."

Sonia Douek, head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care, also said that it was important for older people "to feel they still have something to give".

Last updated: 1:31pm, March 29 2012