Join Seivah, WJCS and BEth El Synagogue Center at our first Memory Minyan of the new secular year.

Where: Beth El Synagogue, 1324 North Avenue, New Rochelle

Minyan’ (מִנְיָן) means “quorum.” Just as baseball is best played with nine on a team, Jewish tradition requires a minyan of ten adult (in some communities, male) Jews to be present for certain prayers to be said. “Memory” in this case means deep memory, the melodies and chants and kitchen smells familiar from childhood. The memory minyan was a meditative, melodic, joyous Shabbat evening service, followed by a traditional meal, all tailored to a minyan  of people with dementia and their loved ones. 

Of course, plenty of nursing homes hold Shabbat services, making sure that the liturgy and message are accessible to people with dementia and other cognitive impairments. What was special about the Memory Minyan is that it actually happened in a synagogue, with other members of the synagogue. Not only would the Memory Minyan give people with dementia a chance for communal prayer; it also would be an occasion for others from the community to reconnect with old friends whom they used to see there.

Not only had we had given people with dementia an opportunity to pray in their old synagogue; we had thrown a reunion party for them and their old friends. 

I first got the idea for the Memory Minyan by taking part in what’s called a “Memory Cafe.” This is a concept created in the 1990’s by a Dutch geriatric psychologist named Bere Meisen. Troubled by the social isolation his clients with dementia experienced, Meisen created the Memory Cafe as a meeting place where people with mild to mid-stage dementia and their caregivers can “go out on the town” among others sharing their condition, free from the risk of embarrassment and the bewildering crush of most public places. Around the world Memory Cafés bring a sense of normalcy and social connection to thousands of families affected by dementia. Each Memory Café “serves as a safe haven and respite from the frustrations of living with a memory disorder. Participants explore art, music, and poetry, forming friendships, socializing, and laughing.”