Do Not Abandon Me: Judaism and Alzheimer’s Disease

During the years my father struggled with dementia—from the early signs that began when he walked around touching sculptures in a sculpture garden, despite the clearly marked signs advising visitors not to touch; to the later years when he remembered I have a daughter but not her name; to the end stage with his gait reduced to short, slow steps, his gaze at times turned neither inward nor outward— I wish I had available to me the new book from URJ Press, Broken Fragments: Jewish Experiences of Alzheimer’s Disease through Diagnosis, Adaptation, and Moving On.

Broken Fragments, edited by Douglas J. Kohn, rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in Redlands, California, is filled with insights from rabbis, cantors, doctors, social workers, and family members of people with Alzheimer’s disease. These multiple viewpoints extend across the different stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia and reflect the array of issues caregivers and family members face. Reading this collection of essays is the literary equivalent of someone intimately whispering into your ear, “You are not alone.”

Hope and pain intertwine in these pages that do not sugarcoat the struggle of family members to treat a loved one with dignity in the face of their own frustration and loss of the person they knew. This struggle is especially poignant in the essays “Shining Through: Being a Daughter When Mom Is Changing,” “Care at Home or Care in a Home?” and “He’s Still My Father.” To read an adapted chapter from the book, see the excerpt by Rabbi Cary Kozberg in the current issue of Reform Judaism Magazine.