“She is 102 and just joined our synagogue.”
I had coffee with a rabbi friend and asked him what’s going on. And he told me this great story.
Martha’s husband had died several years ago. He was the CEO of a local community bank. And when he died, she was well provided for. She had two children who live out of town, and one calls her regularly to check in. She has lived in the same house in a neighboring town to the synagogue for many years and has home health aides with her 24 hours a day.
Martha had called the rabbi and they had an extended telephone conversation where she shared parts of her life history. She asked him to send along the membership forms and for him to come by one day the next week to pick them up and so they could sit and talk in person. On that day, Martha shared that she and her husband had been members of an Orthodox synagogue. It was more for her husband. Soon after her husband died, Martha was interested in joining a non-Orthodox synagogue in the neighborhood. She went to Shabbat worship a couple of times. She tried to strike up a conversation with the rabbi. He always said that they would make a time to meet, but never did.
My rabbi friend asked her why she was joining his congregation now. “Rabbi”, Martha said, “I am 102. In the winter of my life, I am looking for a rabbi who will help my family and my few friends who remain burry me when I die.”
Now, with all of her medical involvements and frailty, Martha may never set foot in the synagogue. Maybe she might come to High Holy Day worship during the day. The rabbi plans to call her every other week, and to visit her at her home each month. He will encourage his clergy colleagues to reach out as well.
Martha has lived a long life and must have many interesting stories to tell. Insuring that her end of life needs are taken care of is the community that she is looking for at this stage of her life.
The synagogue – and its clergy – are there for people. To celebrate. To mourn. To learn. And even just to feel part of a community.
As summer winds down and people return to life’s routine, the opportunity is huge to be there for people and to provide a sense of community. This is the time of year that people are remembering family.
For the fundraiser in me, all kinds of bells and whistles go off in my head. Martha should live and be well to 120 and beyond. And she very well may. When I hear that she is in the same house she has been in for years and her husband was a CEO of a local bank, engage her periodically for a year on the phone and in person for a year, encourage her to come to High Holy Day worship or a day-time lunch and learn. And then ask her to join the Bequest affinity group, and name the synagogue in her will.
But that stuff right now is low priority. In the years ahead, the synagogue, and its clergy, should continue to be there for Martha, and for everyone.