Jewish Cultural Life

By Leon A Smith
October 7, 2011

This year’s Rosh Hashana holiday was celebrated with gusto and much pleasure by residents at Nightingale. Our beautiful new synagogue was filled to overflowing with a significant number of residents who had come to enjoy the services conducted by our charismatic Religious Coordinator Rafi Fuchs.

The residents in our Home are old and they are frail and sadly many have dementia. It is amazing to see how religious services resonate with so many residents at this time of the year. Returning to a theme which I have launched into previously in these columns (on the screen!) is the attraction of Jewish cultural life as opposed to Jewish religious life. Many of the residents coming to live in our Home are not necessarily strictly observant. They have however chosen to come to live in a Jewish environment because they feel more comfortable surrounded by other Jewish people. One wonders analytically why this might be? One can only come to the conclusion that this is something to do with security and/or insecurity. Some older people of course simply prefer to live in a Jewish environment despite their lack of interest in religion for sentimental reasons- maybe to take them back to their childhood or their youth. So many would have been brought up in a very Jewish and probably a very religious atmosphere. But it may also be something more than this. Psychologically getting old involves a huge sense of loss and indeed bereavement. Friends and family die around one; independence goes. Freedom is restricted because of ill health – and all of this can lead to a great sense of insecurity which is further accentuated when dementia developes. It may well be therefore that in the same way that some people feel more comfortable with their chair along the wall, others feel that they need the psychological or cultural prop of living in an environment which is familiar to them, albeit not necessarily in the recent past.

Nightingale provides an environment in which anybody can live Jewishly to whatever greater or lesser degree they choose to do so.Clearly there is no compulsion to participate in any religious activities – although these are all available for those who choose to take advantage of them. Interestingly those who hitherto had not shown any interest in religion do find they wish to celebrate the Festivals and at the same time offer constructive criticism on the texture or weight of our kneidlach!

I am sometimes asked by non-Jewish people including those working in the care sector why it is necessary to have a “Jewish home” – and why can’t Jewish people simply go into “any home”. Where do I begin?! The answer is primarily two-fold. Firstly, the provision of religious services including access to a synagogue, Festivals, Kosher food etc; and the other is the more intangible cultural atmosphere to which I referred to above.

Those people who are dependent on local authority funding do have the right to request “culturally sensitive provision” and this needs to have a real meaning ie it would be possible for a local authority to place somebody in a non-Jewish home and arrange for them to have either Kosher meals-on-wheels and/or a vegetarian diet. For many people this would not begin to scrape the surface of this person’s needs and certainly it could not be considered to be “culturally sensitive”. What matters is not just religion – it’s culture too.

In conclusion I would just like to ask if there is anybody out there reading this? I don’t really receive many comments on this blog. It would be really good to get some feedback and to know if I have any viewers/readers!


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