Danny Arnold helps with Shabbat at the Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program
Danny Arnold helps with Shabbat at the Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program

Special Yom Kippur service planned for those with dementia

Even in progressed stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, music and the words of prayer are often the last memories to slip away.

Danny Arnold helps with Shabbat at the Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program

To offer solace and support to Detroit Jewish families suffering from dementia during the High Holidays, the Michigan Board of Rabbis, in partnership with the Dorothy and Peter Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program, for the first time will host a special Kol Nidre/Yom Kippur service.

The 45-minute service, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, will be held Sunday, Sept. 24, at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.

Designed and led by Rabbi Aaron Starr and Hazzan David Propis, under the leadership and guidance of Rabbi Marla Hornstein, president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, the service will include the key prayers along with modern Jewish songs expressing thankfulness and will conclude with the blowing of the Shofar. In future years, the service will be hosted by other area congregations.

The service is the brainchild of Debra Yamstein, Brown program director. Last year, while she attended Yom Kippur services with her family at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, Yamstein noticed very few elderly people in the sanctuary. As she listened to her two very young children singing along to prayers like Avinu Malkeinu (“Our Father, Our King”), she realized just how deeply ingrained these melodies become in a Jewish person’s memories and the nurturing effect they could have for her clients struggling with memory loss. Unfortunately, making it to synagogue becomes difficult as memory loss progresses.

“As a society, we have yet to come to terms with eliminating the stigma that surrounds the dementia or Alzheimer’s patient,” Yamstein said. “Bringing a loved one to services where there are many people can be very challenging. For families struggling with dementia, we hope this service will alleviate some of the isolation many experience. It will give them the opportunity to have a meaningful religious encounter listening and singing along to those familiar prayers and melodies together during the holiest time of the Jewish year.”

Propis said the service was designed to touch on the cornerstones of the High Holiday liturgy and will include Kol Nidre, Avinu Malkenu and Al Cheyt, among other well-known prayers.

“It is an honor to perform this mitzvah that will hopefully touch many of the lives in our Jewish community,” Propis said.

Starr learned early in his career the therapeutic power of Jewish melodies in reaching the elderly even after they lose their ability to carry out conversations.

“The Hebrew words and melodies of the High Holidays are imprinted on our Jewish souls,” Starr said. “Just singing songs of our people like the Shema speaks to those suffering from memory loss diseases in ways far more profound than conversation. Cantor Propis and I are thrilled to be involved and host this service.”



Stacy Gittleman Contributing Writer




The Yom Kippur service will be at 11 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 24, at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. It is free and open to all. To register, call (248) 233-4000. Individuals are encouraged to pre-register with the understanding that last-minute challenges may prevent them from attending.

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