WHAT WE DO
The Seivah-trained volunteer companion provides a comforting, listening, non-judgmental presence for a person with dementia and his or her loved ones.
Dementia isolates not only the person who directly experiences it, but also his or her caregivers. Seivah supports both people with dementia and their loved ones and helps them to stay engaged with one another.
Our goal is to create a society, starting with the organized Jewish community, in which dementia is demystified and destigmatized and where people feel welcomed and supported after their diagnosis.
WHY WE DO IT
DEMENTIA IS HERE TO STAY
According to the Alzheimers Association, a person is diagnosed with dementia every 35 seconds. A cure for Alzheimers and other forms of dementia is years, if not decades, away. So we have to learn to live with it, despite our fear of it. As Ann Davis Basting writes in Forget Memory, “Living in the time of dementia means that we must ‘burrow into that fear, to directly confront it, and thereby come to understand it more fully so that it won’t interfere with living a full life.”
To live with people with dementia and to take their needs seriously means, first and foremost, to recognize their humanness, despite their cognitive impairment. All too often we describe people with advanced dementia as being “hollow inside,” or as “empty shells.” A more apt metaphor would be to compare them to geodes, hard to crack, but with riches inside. The recent film, “Alive Inside,” documents the way that music can reach people who seem to be unreachable.
CONNECTION IS THE KEY TO PROLONGING HEALTH
People with dementia benefit enormously when they continue to lead active spiritual lives in community with others. Ironically, dementia isolates people, just when they need to feel even more connected and spiritually alive. Seivah works with individuals with dementia to help them maintain all these life-essential connections. What’s more, among all the gerontologists, health aides and other professionals involved in dementia care, there is often no one dedicated to help rabbis and laypeople address these spiritual needs. Seivah is working to fill this void.
JEWISH RESPONSE TO DEMENTIA
Seivah’s foundational principles are rooted in Jewish traditions of caring for the sick, respecting the elderly, seeing the divine in every human being, and the importance of community. Moreover, whether it be a matter of committing charitable deeds, praying in a quorum (“minyan”), studying Torah with a partner (hevruta), traditional Judaism has overwhelmingly favored communal ideas of spirituality over solitary ones. A canonical teaching from the Talmudic sage Hillel urges: “Do not separate yourself from the community!” (Avot, 2:4). Recent academic studies have affirmed that interdependence with one’s community is an essential determinant of spiritual health. Community-building is the core of Seivah’s mission. By creating opportunities for volunteers to have meaningful relationships with people affected by with dementia, we help both parties make the most of their spiritual resources.
Seivah has created Care Buddies, a volunteer companionship program for people with dementia. Our Care Buddies are trained based on a Seivah-created curriculum. Our unique program is based on an active dialogue between Seivah, our volunteers, people with dementia and their caregivers. The Care Buddy Program has been successfully piloted throughout the New York area and continues to thrive.
Seivah is proud to provide curriculum and staff support for a Memory Cafe, run by the Alzheimer’s Association, Hudson valley Chapter, in collaboration with Westchester Jewish Community Services. The Memory Cafe is a dementia-friendly social experience – a “day on the town” for people with dementia and their caregivers. The Memory Café helps to reinforce much needed social connections and provides a supportive environment for people with dementia and their care companions. To attend or to learn more: firstname.lastname@example.org
Based on the success of the Memory Café, Seivah has created the world’s first dementia-friendly Shabbat prayer and Shabbat meal experience in a synagogue. Caregivers can invite old friends to worship and share a meal in a space they have shared for years.
INFORMATION IS POWER
You, or someone whom you care about, just got diagnosed with Alzheimers or another form of dementia. The first thing you need—right now, before anything else—is information. Seek out the facts, support groups, and other practical information you need through the Alzheimers Association.
The other first thing you need—right now, before anything else—is to start thinking about what this all means. Deep forgetting challenges identity to its core. Who am I, if I am not what I do, or used to do, professionally? Who am I when my own mother now calls me by the name of a long-deceased aunt? Seivah can help reframe these existential questions and help answer them.
WISDOM IS POWER, TOO
A new diagnosis makes our to-do lists grow, and that fact tempts us to put off the existential questions. Don’t do it! Spend some time, if only a few minutes a week, actively engaged with the questions of how to remain spiritually alive through this experience, of how to create new meaning even as old meaning is being eroded.
That’s what Seivah’s Ideas blog is for. Our job is to research and present new and imaginative thinking about how to stay spiritually connected when dementia threatens to make us otherwise. Some of what we bring comes from a Jewish place, from the traditional wisdom of our sacred literature and our vital folkways. But just as the questions of meaning that dementia evokes are universal, Seivah is committed to making wisdom available in whatever form it can be expressed.
They shall bear fruit in their old age.
You shall rise before the white-haired, and honor the face of the elder.
Seivah is a Hebrew word for “old age,” originally meaning a white head of hair. Seivah connotes a sense of wisdom and dignity.
Seivah: Life Beyond Memory is a Jewish response to dementia. Its principles draw from three imperatives from the Jewish tradition:
- to respect to the elderly (Leviticus 19:32)
- to see all people, irrespective of their cognitive or physical abilities and limitations, as a reflection of the divine image (Genesis 1:26)
- to visit and care for the ill and housebound (Genesis 18: 1-10).
Seivah relies on the strengths of the organized Jewish community. While directly offering chaplaincy care based on Jewish spiritual approaches, we are also training Jewish laypeople and clergy to help meet the spiritual needs of people with dementia both within and outside Jewish communal life and tradition. We go into nursing homes, day programs, community centers and religious institutions to bring Jewish ideas about offering care to those whose old age has taken them to a life stage where who they are goes beyond what they remember. Seivah also helps meet the spiritual needs of people struggling to aid their loved ones with dementia.
Rabbi Michael Goldman
Creator & Director of Seivah
Pretty much everyone who works with people with dementia started down that path because of someone they knew. In my case, it was my grandmother, Jeannette Goldman, of blessed memory, who died in the Fall of 1999, the year I entered the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
By the time I was ordained in 2005, I had served as a chaplain in two assisted care facilities. I worked not only with geriatric residents, but also with those with HIV/AIDS and Huntington’s disease, both of which often cause their own forms of dementia.
The art of chaplaincy consists largely of being able to listen to someone, his or her joys and laments, on the speaker’s terms. The chaplain must try hard to accept the other’s worldview without passing judgment. All the more so when you’re practicing chaplaincy with people with dementia, where the chaplain has to listen hard and think creatively in order to establish the empathic bond. This is especially the case, I learned, when people are no longer able to communicate verbally.
I served for five years as the Jewish Chaplain at Duke University, and then five years as a congregational rabbi at Temple Israel Center in White Plains, NY. During my time in that congregation, I heard many stories of heartache from people struggling to take care of a parent, spouse, or sibling with dementia. Even those caregivers who were fortunate enough to afford good medical care and attendants still suffered with the enormous psychic burden brought on when their loved ones begin to act erratically, or no longer remember who they or their caregivers are. Just as my early training showed me that people with dementia still have emotional and spiritual needs well into their post-verbal life, I now saw the parallel needs of the caregivers.
So, that’s why I founded Seivah: to help both people with dementia and those who love them to continue to grow spiritually, even in the midst of the suffering that dementia inevitably brings.
Board of Directors
Founding Board of Directors
- Etan Aber, MD
- Gloria Bieler, CSW
- Shelley Fischel
- Michael Goldemberg
- Ralph Marash
- Rabbi Fredda Cohen, MA JD BCC
- Rabbi Dayle Friedman
- Rabbi Simon Hirschhorn, MS, MA, BCC
- Allison Kestenbaum, MA, MPA, BCC
- Martin Lager, CPA
- Jed Levine
- Michael Meltzer, Esq.
- Victoria Free Presser
- Rhoda Trooboff
- Lisa B Weinstein, CPA
- Robert Wolf, JD
Seivah works collaboratively and relies on Metro NY synagogues, as well as the following organizations:
- Westchester Jewish Community Services
- Engage Westchester
- The Alzheimers Association of the Hudson Valley
- The Center for Pastoral Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary
Seivah also receives mentorship from the Doula Program to Accompany and Comfort
Seivah’s seeds are being planted with the generous support of many individual donors. To support Seivah or contact us to discuss forming an organizational collaboration, please contact us.
SPIRITUAL COMPANIONS PROGRAM
SPIRITUAL COMPANIONS PROGRAM
Seivah’s sensitive, dedicated volunteers visit weekly with individuals with dementia and their families. These visits are not mere “cheer-up” calls to a person in need; they are the basis for friendship. The Seivah volunteer helps to create a “spiritual traveling kit”—a collection of music, pictures and objects associated with good memories —to help the person with dementia feel connected and alive even after verbal communication becomes difficult.
HAVE A SKILL?
Seivah is always in need of great people with technical, organizational, and administrative skills. If you have gifts to give to a lean, startup nonprofit doing critically needed and innovative work, please contact us at email@example.com.
Seivah strives to improve the emotional and spiritual lives of people affected by dementia. Here are some of our partners: