By Wendl Kornfeld
Temple Emanu-El is becoming increasingly recognized and praised as a trailblazer, a progressive congregation that recognizes and responds to the needs and interests of its older members.
Emanu-El’s Community as Family (CAF) program began in 2015 as a self-advocacy group for congregants without adult children and has since expanded to include members age 48 and up who are effectively (or anticipating) “ageing solo,” whether by choice, distance, or circumstance. Facilitated by congregant Wendl Kornfeld and Rabbi Amy Ehrlich, CAF members embrace living independently with better awareness and understanding of resources, developing a supportive A-team, and deepening engagement and strengthening relationships within the temple community.
Thanks to articles in URJ’s Leadership Blog, Forbes, and Kaiser Health News, Emanu-El’s CAF model has gotten wider exposure. For the past year and a half, Wendl has met with synagogues, churches, senior centers, community organizations, local political offices, and individuals around the US who want to know more about establishing similar groups of their own.
This past December, Wendl was invited to bring a PowerPoint presentation to approximately 45 members of the NGO Committee on Ageing, United Nations NYC. The response was warm and enthusiastic, inspiring attendees of different ages to share how they personally relate to the prospect of growing older without the availability of close family. One woman from an African nation said she planned to bring the CAF structure to her tribal community. The presentation included statistics about the rapidly growing solo ageing demographic; CAF goals and strategies; and a wish list of ways government, medical and social providers could serve solo agers more effectively. Wendl then turned questions back to the NGO Committee to stimulate global thinking — How might CAF strategies be implemented in communities that are very different from ours? What cultural taboos could restrict or endanger solo ageing adults — especially women? And how does lack of access to technology affect the quality of lives or limit opportunities for support?
This opportunity to share our unique approach to supporting our older members was an honor, and it is extremely gratifying that so many continue to learn from our model.