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Mother's Day and Father's Day: Honoring Our Elders

MOTHER'S AND FATHER'S DAY: Honoring our Elders 

As one of the Ten Commandments, “Honor your mother and father” is one of the most well known mitzvot in the entire Torah. Although we are required to honor and respect our parents each and every day, Mother’s and Father’s Day provides a special opportunity to show our relatives the joy that they bring into our lives. In addition, we also have the responsibility to show reverence to the elderly in our society, to those seniors in our congregations, and to our wise and respected elder family members. By creating programming that reaches out to seniors, we will be able to create an extended family that welcomes all into our synagogues. Whether or not we have children of our own, we all can become role models and teachers to the youth in our congregations and we all have the ability to become students of the elders in our community.

Jewish Texts and Values

Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure the land the Eternal your God is assigning to you. Exodus 20:12

You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep My Sabbaths: I the Eternal am your God. Leviticus 19:3

The Rabbis taught: What is reverence to one’s parents and what is honor to one’s parents? Reverence means one may not stand in his parents’ place, or contradict her parents’ words, and may not offer an opinion (about Jewish law). Honor means to give one’s parents food and drink, to dress and cover one’s parents, and to bring them in and out. Babylonian Talmud 31b

Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel said: All my life I attended upon my father, yet I did not do for him a hundredth of service which Esau did for his father. I used to attend upon my father in soiled garments and go out in the street in clean ones; but when Esau attended on his father, he came upon him in royal robes. Beresheit Rabbah 65:16

Be careful with the honor of an elderly scholar who has involuntarily forgotten his or her learning. For we say that the second set of Tablets and the broken pieces of the first Tablets both rest in the Ark. Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 8b


Kever Avot: Visiting the Graves of Our Loved Ones: Many of the elderly individuals in the Jewish community find it difficult to visit the gravesites of their loved ones. Temple Israel (West Bloomfield, MI) came up with a straight forward and simple answer. They scheduled a day of visitation to the area Jewish cemeteries. Volunteers were given information about the participants and the cemeteries. The graves were marked off in advance, golf carts were made available to those who had difficulty walking, and air-conditioned tour buses were hired. A local funeral home sponsored the cost of the program. In addition to the direct service that was provided to the participants, new friendships formed between the elderly and the volunteers.

Blankets For Bubbies: Temple Israel (London, Ontario) participates in a program called Blankets for Bubbies in which congregants knit or crochet lap blankets for the elderly residents of various nursing homes. A Temple could launch such a project around Mother’s or Father’s Day and/or could visit the nursing homes and drop off the blankets at this time. This multi-generational program allows for various age groups to meet and socialize with one another and encourages congregants to use their artistic talents to create a blanket for those in need.

Phone Companions for Seniors: Temple Shalom (Succasunna, NJ) has partnered with local social service organizations to make weekday morning calls to seniors. Congregants meet at the synagogue and make reassurance phone calls to homebound elderly people. Thus it provides a social opportunity for the callers as well. Although Temple Shalom’s program is ongoing, synagogues could make special calls to elderly congregants or senior citizens in their community on Mother’s and Father’s Day. This is a time when many elderly people are separated from their families and friends and need reassurance from a cheerful voice on the phone.

Senior Activities in a Jewish Environment (SAJE): The Community Synagogue (Rye, NY) has implemented this program for the seniors of their community. SAJE (Senior Activities in a Jewish Environment) will have an adult center with activities such as Tai Chi, writing workshops, painting, trips, discussion groups, and more. In addition, the group had a SAJE Shabbat service, where the seniors read many of their personal reflections and stories to the congregation. This allowed for the “personal midrash” of the older generations to be shared in a worship setting.

Sacred Aging- URJ website related to issues of sacred aging. The website includes resources to assist seniors in Reform congregations, new studies about the future Jewish community, websites to look for more information, and program ideas that congregations can implement.