Over 130 Jewish professionals and volunteers from across Canada gathered in Montreal, September 19 and 20, to delve into the latest research on Jewish baby boomers and their unique needs.
The conference, “Engaging with Aging,” was organized by Jewish Federations of Canada–UIA to better understand issues affecting adults aged 50 and over, who now represent more than 50 per cent of active Jews in communities across Canada.
Leading up to the conference, Jewish Federations of Canada commissioned B3/The Jewish Boomer Platform (a research company) to undertake a survey of Canadian Jewish adults. The survey examined preferences and attitudes around Jewish engagement and community. The survey results formed the backdrop to discussions about the new and unique ways that boomers are transforming the process of aging.
Baby boomers – who fall roughly between the ages of 50 and 70 in 2016 – are reinventing the way people think about aging. They have more in common with younger adults known as generation X (aged 35-50) and millennials (aged 15-35) than with the generations that preceded them. The main thesis of B3/Jewish Boomer Platform was if we can crack the code and succeed with boomer engagement in Jewish life, we can go on to succeed in engaging generation X and millennials because their outlooks are so similar.
The new attitude of boomers was eloquently conveyed by keynote speaker David Cravit, vice-president of Zoomer Media, when he juxtaposed the image of his grandfather at age 65 with iconic rocker Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, who was performing rock concerts at age 65. The difference in outlook, lifestyle, goals and dreams between these two 65-year-old men illustrates the huge changes that boomers are making to the way people age, and to perceptions of what it means to grow older and live life “to the max” in the third chapter of their lives.
Conference participants learned about incredible programs in many communities in Canada and around the world that address the needs of adults aged 50-plus. Everything from new and exciting volunteer opportunities, to expanded home care services that enable people to continue to live independently longer in their own homes, to new configurations in the way housing is imagined and organized to create supportive networks for adults as they continue to grow and experience everything they can from life.
A session on “Innovative Approaches to Recreation and Socialization for Seniors” was part of the impressive line-up of workshops, and was presented by Arnold Finkelstein and Sophie Kohn Kaminsky of Ottawa’s AJA 50+.
What was most interesting for me, as a Jewish communal professional, was the information gleaned from the survey, which illustrates the opportunity that exists to tap into the incredible potential within our Canadian Jewish communities of the huge number of boomers eager to engage in more meaningful ways in Jewish life.
“It is incumbent upon us to pay attention to this demographic reality of the growing boomer population, and to take advantage of this amazing opportunity,” said Linda Kislowicz, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada–UIA. “We need to work with this demographic to leverage this tremendous asset for the benefit of our Jewish community for now and into the future.”
Other interesting topics covered at the conference included the unique and growing needs of Holocaust survivors; issues around the end of life and dying with dignity; and best practices in the field of adaptive services targeted specifically at seniors.
In a conference full of important takeaways, the most salient message for me was the need for Jewish communal organizations to be open to new ways of doing things and to work to broaden our focus as much as possible in order to continue to strive to meet the Jewish needs of all age groups.
Sarah Beutel is vice-president, community building, of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.