“Old age is not a defeat, but a victory, not a punishment but a privilege.
The test of a people is how it behaves toward the old…
our potential for change and growth is much greater
than we are willing to admit and old age (can) be regarded
not as the age of stagnation but as the age of opportunities for inner growth.”
– Abraham Joshua Heschel
There are 1.9 million Jewish adults ages 55+ in the U.S. In a society that does not support us as we age, our Jewish communities are just beginning to address the issues and opportunities of paying attention to the needs of this demographic.
There is no set of instructions for getting older—for the shifts in our social and support networks, the feeling of invisibility, the angst of dealing with aging parents, the mixed signals of entering retirement, or the surprising turns in our relationships with ourselves, our partners, friends, and colleagues. On the other hand, those of us currently in this stage can count ourselves as part of an extraordinary, history-making generation—pioneers in understanding and making the most of this “third chapter” of life. Many of us will be blessed with unprecedented healthy years ahead, full of potential for learning and growth.
The Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Wise Aging Program was developed to engage Jewish adults aged fifty-five and older: to give us a meaningful place in the Jewish community, to open up conversations about what it means to get older, to create new understandings about life so we can live with spirit, resilience and joy, and to continue to contribute to the future of Judaism.
History of the Wise Aging Program
The Wise Aging Program began in the fall of 2014. The Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS) sent trainers out to Jewish communities across the United States to train Wise Aging Facilitators to lead peer groups in synagogues, JCCs, and other institutions. Over the past four years, 450 facilitators have been trained in the United States and Canada. They facilitate new and ongoing groups—communities of learners who explore questions, insights, longings, and conundrums regarding the aging process. Several thousand Jewish adults have created new connections in Jewish communities from Vancouver to San Francisco to Chicago and Kansas City to Washington D.C. and beyond.
Overview of the Wise Aging Program
The Wise Aging Program is based upon the book Wise Aging, Living with Joy, Resilience and Spirit, co-written Rachel Cowan, the founding Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, and Dr. Linda Thal, a pioneer in transforming synagogue life to include spirituality and spiritual development. The book serves as a guide for Wise Aging groups that have been and continue to be formed around North America. Grounded in mindfulness and contemplative practices such as meditation, listening, text study, journaling, and gentle movement, from Judaism and other faith traditions, the Wise Aging program offers social, emotional and spiritual insights in a small group setting. The practices and group interactions help participants navigate these years with a sustaining spirit.
Wise Aging is the only program of its kind
that considers mindfulness and contemplative practices
to be foundational to aging wisely.
Structure and Content of the Wise Aging Program
The Program consists of a facilitated peer group of 10 – 12 people meeting on a regular basis for 6 – 9 sessions of 2 hours each. Trained by IJS Wise Aging faculty, facilitators go through a series of steps to get ready to lead groups. Each group session centers on a different topic, including (but not limited to): “Exploring This Stage of Life”, “I Am My Body, I Am Not My Body”, “Cultivating Nourishing Relationships”, “Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Cultivating Spiritual Qualities for Well-being”, and “Living with Loss and Finding Light: Conscious Dying; Legacy and Stewardship.” Topics are explored using the contemplative practices of the Wise Aging Program to deepen the inner and outer journeys of participants.
The Future of the Wise Aging Program
As the Wise Aging Program enters its fifth year of service to the Jewish community, the Institute for Jewish Spirituality is offering upgraded facilitator trainings. These new trainings utilize the new standards created for our program based on what we learned from feedback from group participants as well as our trained facilitators. Our faculty and staff are also updating and revising the Facilitator Guide to provide more session content and an easier-to-use format.
The New Wise Aging Introductory Facilitator Training
Participation in a Wise Aging Facilitator Training begins with an application process. Once an applicant is approved by the Program Director and registers for the training, there are four steps of the Facilitator Training program:
- Attending 3 Online Orientation Sessions that introduce the program and cover core concepts of Wise Aging.
- Attending IJS’s 8-module self-study Fundamentals of Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Course (available in 2019)
- Participating in a 2-day in-person Wise Aging Introductory Training course or participation in the Introductory Training when it is offered in a retreat setting.
- Participating in an 8-10 session virtual Peer Practice group facilitated by one of our Wise Aging trainers.
The Certificate of Completion
When the four components of the training are completed, trainees will be awarded a Certificate of Completion and formally become Wise Aging facilitators. Wise Aging facilitators are entitled to the following benefits:
- Names of facilitators, locations and Wise Aging group offerings will be listed on the new IJS website when it is launched in the first quarter of 2019.
- A year of access to :
- Virtual office hours with Wise Aging faculty and trainers, where you can ask questions and discuss your group’s progress,
- The new IJS Wise Aging Resource Library, available on the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s new Online Learning Environment (to be launched in the first quarter of 2019),
- Participation in free webinars we offer to current facilitators on a variety of topics relevant to enriching and supporting your practice and groups, and
- Participation in a Google Group so that you can interact with other facilitators.
- Yearly opportunity for renewal of the Certificate.
The Investment in Becoming a Wise Aging Facilitator
Being a Wise Aging facilitator is personally satisfying and enriching. Current facilitators are inspired by the content of the Wise Aging curriculum, the contemplative practices and the insights of group participants as they help a whole generation re-imagine aging. They are excited to be part of a coast to coast community of Wise aging facilitators who are making a contribution to the Jewish present and future. For some this is a volunteer commitment, while for others it’s a way to earn extra income.
I loved the training…and invested time, study, and passion into preparing for the “real” sessions. The rewards have been profoundly satisfying—enthusiastic responses from our groups, plus my own personal growth and deepened spirituality. There have been some bonuses for our congregation as well. Both the content of the program and the bonding of the groups have motivated WA participants to become more active Temple members.
There are two options leading to a Certificate of Completion. Both require completing the four steps outlined above.
- Facilitator training for an individual at an IJS-determined site:
This option takes place at sites pre-determined by IJS. The location of the 2-day (minimum; some trainings are longer) in-person training portion is determined on the basis of inquiries from potential trainees and overall demographics. As IJS will need to send our teachers and staff to manage these trainings, a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 24 people is needed for individuals to take advantage of this option. The cost for all four steps leading to a Certificate of Completion through this option is $899, which breaks down as follows:
- $100 for online modules/Fundamentals course;
- $559 for a 2-day in-person training;
- $240 for 8 practice sessions, Certificate of Completion, and access to Facilitator support for a year).
This fee is exclusive of room and board for anyone coming from a distance to attend the 2-day training.
- Facilitator Training for an individual as part of an IJS retreat:
Wise Aging facilitator training is occasionally offered as part of an IJS retreat. Mornings on these retreats have space for personal practices such as prayer and mindfulness meditation, and the training is offered in the afternoon. The cost for all four steps leading to a Certificate of Completion is the cost of the retreat tuition in any given year (plus the room and board of that retreat), as well as an additional $360 to complete the Peer Practice group component of the training.
Pricing is subject to change. This pricing is guaranteed through October 31, 2018.
To learn more about becoming a Wise Aging Facilitator, upcoming Facilitator Trainings, or how to sponsor a Training in your community, please email Batya Perman, Program Director, at email@example.com.
Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal’s Wise Aging: Living with Joy, Resilience, and Spirit, is the guidebook for Wise Aging groups. Grounded in mindfulness and spiritual practices such as meditation, journaling, movement, and blessings from Judaism and other faith traditions, Wise Aging offers social, emotional and spiritual insights to help individuals meet the challenges of these years with a sustaining spirit.
In addition to its use as a foundational text for the Wise Aging program, Wise Aging can be read as a standalone book, and serve as an excellent resource for clergy- or lay-led book groups, lifelong learning groups, and other places where ongoing learning, reflection on experience, spiritual practice, and pursuit of wisdom define the agenda.
Wise Aging provides the road‐map for the journey we are all on, and that is especially relevant for baby boomers: achieving a fulfilling older age. No subject is off limits. Rabbi Cowan and Dr. Thal explore a wide range of issues including: relationships with adult children and spouses; body image; romance and sexuality; living with loss; and, cultivating wellbeing.