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Engaging Empty Nesters & Senior Citizens
By Leah Wittenberg, Lawrence Magdovitz ISJL Education Fellow
The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston recently published results from a community study. They collected data from the different populations and habits of Jews in the Houston area. One of the most surprising facts was the age of the Jewish people. A little over 25% of Jewish people in the Houston area are 65 years old and above. We can compare this percentage to 12% of Jews who are ages 0-17. The study found that senior citizens and what we refer to as “empty nesters” comprise the most amount of Jewish people. And this doesn’t only apply to Houston; this percentage is reflected all over the South (and the country as a whole). However, engagement opportunities for seniors and “empty nesters” in our congregations can be sparse.
Here are some ideas to spice up congregational life for those who are not involved through the religious school:
1. Designate a point person.
We all know that one senior who shows up at almost every religious event. Reach out to them and see if they would be interested in heading up a group outing. Having someone who is enthusiastic can get others excited too.
2. Learn the best way to connect with your audience.
Are your older congregants always on Facebook? Or, maybe they love receiving personalized emails? You can even consider an old fashioned calling tree to let them know about events.
3. Get outside of the synagogue.
Many of these congregants may not feel comfortable being in a “religious” space. Meet for some java and nosh at a coffee shop, head to the local bowling alley, see that movie everyone has been raving about, or get your daily dose of mitzvah by volunteering at an organization that needs your help.
4. Build the interfaith community.
Connect with other faith groups in the area and see what they do to engage their seniors. Get a group together of older congregants from different faiths and have lunch, do a service project together, or learn about each other’s religions. You can have the groups prepare to enter other houses of worship using a book like How to Be a Perfect Stranger.
5. Bring in a guest speaker.
“Empty nesters” often want to look for ways to stay engaged in current events and a great way to do this is by bringing in a featured speaker. The ISJL Programming Department has some good resources. Also, you can look for a community member or even an older congregant who has interesting and topical experiences about which they can speak.
6. Create a buddy system.
Do you remember grandparents’ day in elementary school? Get congregants without children engaged by pairing them with a young religious school-age buddy. Invite buddies to an all-school event, a family-friendly Shabbat service, or a Havdalah program.