Recently, some of my close friends and I have been talking about a new iteration of an older phenomenon. In 1981, Dorothy Miller coined the term the sandwich generation to describe middle-aged individuals who were taking care of older parents and younger children. They were sandwiched in between two generations. Perhaps it’s time to rename this phenomenon the hoagie generation. Hoagies are longer than sandwiches, and with adolescence lasting longer and parents living much longer, the image of a sandwich, with regular size slices of bread, misses a change in this phenomenon.
One of the largest growing populations is the old elderly. Additionally, a new understanding of adolescence suggests that it goes well into the mid-20’s. That means that if you are currently a member of the Boomer generation, you can be parenting your parents who are easily in their 80s and older, while still parenting older adolescent children. Adolescence lasts longer, parents live longer and therefore the sandwich resembles more of a hoagie roll that sandwich bread in terms of length.
Those of us who are in the middle recognize the difficulty of children struggling to acquire independence in a new economic reality. At the same time, we can identify with the frailties of our parents, as we begin to experience some early signals. Their task is to safely keep their independence. Government alone can’t meet the challenges of each of these generations. Rather, this is the kind of situation that is well suited for a congregational community. Congregations have the potential to be multigenerational communities. They can give dignity to the elderly, faith to younger generations that they will come through this economic storm and support to those in the middle. Additionally, they provide an opportunity for generations to celebrate transitions in time, marked by lifecycle events and holidays.
With the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Elul, it means that the Jewish New Year is just around the corner. At services, all three generations will be well represented. If you’re at services, take a look around at the crowd. And think about the opportunity that synagogues have to address these kinds of complex issues.