Last week, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel with two leaders in the field of philanthropy to discuss vision and strategy with the Board of Directors of 2Life Communities, formerly known as Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly. For more than 60 years, 2Life has been providing affordable housing and services for low-income, older adults from all backgrounds — both inside and beyond our Jewish community.
It is impossible to overstate how critical the need for affordable housing for the elderly currently is and will become in the near future, both for our Jewish community and our broader society, as the population of older adults who cannot afford housing continues to increase.
At the same time, 2Life Communities is about more than affordable roofs over people’s heads. Aging together combats social isolation, which, in turn, promotes health, wellness, and connection for a vulnerable population that, sadly, our society often overlooks.
Jewish communities have strived to honor, care for, lift up, and learn from the oldest and wisest among us since the Book of Leviticus, which commanded us thousands of years ago: “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the elderly.” 2Life Communities is one of the many valued partners of CJP in our collective effort to live out this charge. And, as we heard from one of my fellow panelists, it also has become a nationally recognized model organization and thought leader on aging with dignity, and a critical part of the landscape of civic Boston.
The diversity of its residents was clear to me when I visited the Golda Meir House in Newton during The 360Five listening tour last year, and during my most recent visit to the Brighton Campus, when I heard numerous languages and witnessed such vibrant activity. I even got a ping pong lesson from two Chinese residents, whose shots I could barely return!
I am always inspired by the work of 2Life Communities, and it was particularly moving to sit on this panel during the Ten Days of Repentance, the period on the Jewish calendar in between the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. While 2Life’s name immediately conjures up for me the well-known song from Fiddler on the Roof and the Jewish toast for all occasions (“L’Chaim — To Life!”), I also hear echoes of one of the phrases that we repeat throughout the high holiday liturgy, “Zochreinu l’chaim — Remember us for life.”
There was also something powerful about visiting 2Life in between two of my most inspiring ritual experiences of the year, attending synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the Haftarah of Yom Kippur, we read from the Book of Isaiah (Chapters 53-54): “I [God] dwell in lofty and holy places, and with those who are crushed low-in-spirit; to revive their low-spirit and the broken-hearted.” For God, to be holy and “on high” is precisely to dwell with those who are at their lowest, most vulnerable places.
What does this mean for us? Isaiah continues (in God’s voice), in a strong rebuke of the hypocrisy of practicing religious rituals without also living out core ethical responsibilities: “It is not your fasting that will make your voice heard... Is not this the fast that I have chosen? ... To offer bread to the hungry and bring the poor [homeless] into your home. ”
When I read this line on Yom Kippur, feeling inspired by an uplifting prayer experience, I also thought about the long wait list of older adults in need of affordable housing. I thought about our responsibilities as a community and felt grateful for the work of 2Life Communities. A vibrant, thriving Jewish community brings ritual to life through diverse, dynamic, and inspiring opportunities to practice Judaism, and lives out Isaiah’s clarion reminder that to be holy is to connect with and take care of the most vulnerable among us.
How might each of these be part of your Jewish journey as we begin 5780?
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot!
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About the Author
CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.