The conference rooms of Citi Field hosted more than 60 healthcare organizations and a dozen featured speakers as part of Achiezer’s Jewish Healthcare Expo this past Sunday, December 4. Founded by Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender of Far Rockaway, the nonprofit offers a wide range of services in the community relating to health. “The overwhelming theme you see is that children who were taken care of by their parents now have the tools to take care of their parents,” said Rabbi Bender. “This expo has been structured to provide real-life manageable solutions and support.”
For Orthodox Jews across the hashkafic spectrum, the needs highlighted at the expo were relatable – a high birthrate that includes many special-needs children, a senior population that is growing and living longer, and families caught in the middle between caring for their children and their elderly parents. For many, aging comes with signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or limited mobility.
The lecturers included Rabbi Bender’s father, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, who spoke with Rabbi Tzvi Flaum on eldercare and halachah, addressing how the mitzvah of kibud av va’eim applies to contemporary situations involving long-term care. “People have children to take care of and their parents, too,” said the senior Rabbi Bender. “At this expo, I’m seeing people walking away with solutions, and I cannot overstate how important this is.”
Among those who found help is Kew Gardens Hills resident Matthew Shatzkes, who attended last year’s expo. “I’ve learned about the options available in taking care of parents and we’ve availed ourselves of the services offered by Ronald Spirn,” said Shatzkes. “These services help stabilize family relationships.” An attorney specializing in eldercare, Spirn had a table at the expo last year and this year. “In the face of a long-term catastrophic health crisis, people shouldn’t suffer bankruptcy as a result,” said Spirn. “This can be avoided through the use of trusts, powers of attorney, and proxies.”
Another common theme that resonated among the rabbis, psychologists, social workers, and doctors at the expo is balancing time between one’s personal life, family, and the patient in need. “There’s lots of anxiety. Put together a schedule. It will lower your anxiety and make you ready for the day,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, a psychologist who also serves as the national director of Yachad, the organization serving developmentally disabled youth in the Jewish community, which is a division of the Orthodox Union.
When one is unable to live at home, choosing a long-term care facility shouldn’t be based alone on star ratings. “What’s valuable is to be there on a consistent basis. Choose a place that is close to home so that you can be there,” said Dr. Maria Carney, who specializes in geriatric and palliative medicine. Her lecture was titled, “Coordinating Geriatric Care and Medical Needs.”
Having a family member treated close to home can also be helpful in balancing ones schedule, an important element in one’s ability to serve as a capable caregiver. “If you’re not strong and capable enough, how can you take care of others?” asked licensed social worker Talia Rapps. “We simply cannot be in two places at once.” In her presentation, “Caring for the Caregiver,” she eased the tension felt by members of the sandwich generation by offering a simple thought: “’I’m doing the best I can and I’m more than enough.’ Be less hard on yourself. Take ten minutes a day for yourself.”
Among those who traveled the farthest for the expo was Cleveland couple Rabbi David and Chani Gross, who took back lessons for their community. “We learned a lot from so many resources,” said Rabbi Gross.
By Sergey Kadinsky