Thank you for being a part of our 8th year of Jewels of Elul. I hope that you found the Jewels from the past 29 days to be mind and heart opening. We’d love to hear your feedback.
I extend my huge thanks to all of the people who made the Jewels project come to fruition -the writers, artists, editors, printers, web masters, packagers and promoters. Thank you.
I would also like to encourage you to “pray it forward” and support the work of Vista Del Mar this year’s beneficiary with a contribution. They do great work and could benefit from our help. If everyone gives $18 we could collect over $25,000 for their incredible community.
I am sending each one of you my sincere blessings that the coming year will bring you uplifting challenges, moments of joy and and the opportunity to spend your days with people you love in good health,
Shana Tova. To a sweet year.
What makes us different from or better than God’s other creatures? A cheetah is faster, a butterfly more beautiful, and a lion mightier by far. Scientists tell us that dolphins can laugh, elephants can exhibit altruism, and malamutes can love. Animals procreate and they protect; they grow ill and they die. But we alone know that we will do so. We exist, with the sure knowledge that one day, we will not. And yet we build bridges, read books, half-listen at cocktail parties, decide between puce and magenta, and cultivate flowers. Years from now, will anyone care what I was named or what I believed or what I wore to the movies?
We consider death as something that happens — or did happen, or will happen — to somebody else. But life is finite. We lease our minds and bodies for an indefinite term but with the sure knowledge that we cannot buy it out. And so, in the daily acts we perform, seen and unseen (but mostly those unseen), we are all writing our own obituaries.
And yet still we walk and still we talk and stand and sit and take out the trash, and decide what is trash and what is not, what to keep and what to discard. And what does it matter anyway? Because there is something paradoxically and delightfully, magically, wonderfully unreasonable within us that builds and reads and listens and decides, and believes that it all matters, because somehow it really does.
Let us make the year ahead one of blessing, of reciprocal connection, of caring, of healing.
Marshall Portnoy is the Cantor of Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. www.mlrt.org
In my early twenties, I read an interview with Lillian Hellman. Midway through, Hellman became irate, brandishing her cane in the interviewer’s face. I thought: “I can’t wait until I’m old.” As it turned out, I didn’t wait long. In my mid-forties, I began a slow but relentless decline, including brain fog, fatigue, a weakened immune system, and osteoarthritis. Absent a diagnosis, I could only think: “I’m catapulting into old age faster than anyone in recorded history.”
By the time things had advanced enough for me to have a cane – but no energy to brandish it – I was resigned to life as an old person. Then – miraculously – I was diagnosed with acromegaly. All the symptoms I’d associated with old age were in fact caused by a benign tumor in my pituitary gland. Not only that, but the doctors promised, curative surgery could reverse the symptoms. I’d get my mind back, my energy back and my wit back. My skin would be smooth again. My hair would regain its luster. I thought: “I’m going to be young again!”
Eagerly, I looked in the mirror every day expecting to see myself as I was when the tumor first began. What I’d forgotten was that I was now twenty years older. So although in some respects I was growing younger, I was still growing old. I was growing older and younger at the same time! That’s when I had my epiphany: “So are we all.”
Biologically, we are in a continual process of degeneration and regeneration. The balance shifts as we grow older, but we are still part of that process. Focusing only on one side of the equation throws us off-balance. It’s not Lillian Hellman I want to emulate now; it’s Kurt Wallenda: tightrope walking between living and dying, growing older and younger, denial and hope.
Emily Levine has recently upgraded herself from philosopher-comedian to oracle. www.emilylevineuniverse.com
ELUL – the alliteration of this beautiful word evokes love. The word is composed of the first letters of the phrase from the biblical Song of Songs “ani l’dodi v’ani lo. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Love is Elul’s theme and is the force that lets us grow older with wisdom and compassion. The spiritual work of aging is to cultivate our capacity to give and receive love by going within to understand our strengths and purpose and reaching out to nurture and heal relationships that will form the fabric that supports, inspires and comforts us as we grow older.
Many of us approach old age the way we approach the Yamim Noraim – the days of awe – with fear and guilt. We dread the decline of our bodies and capacities, and also the confrontation with our lives. We know we have not lived up to our intentions. We have hurt ourselves and others. These painful feelings show us what to work on, but battering ourselves with blame and shame will not let us transform the causes of our actions. Our brains are actually neurologically incapable of opening to change when frightened or threatened.
Our work as we age is to find the deep places of love inside us, and expand them to include those we need to forgive and those from whom we seek forgiveness. This work begins at home with the difficult task of loving and forgiving ourselves. Only then can it authentically expand out to our families, our community, our people and our world.
Each morning of Elul we read Psalm 27. The psalmist evokes a God of compassionate protection. We can strengthen this trust in ultimate safety and compassion through opening our heart and nurturing and healing our relationships – the source of consolation, creativity and joy.
Rabbi Rachel Cowan was the Director of The Institute of Jewish Spirituality, where she currently serves as a Senior Fellow. www.jewishspirituality.org
Judaism is all about life – love of life, reverence for life, building new life. But life also brings death. The pessimist says, “You begin dying the moment you are born,” not only referring to the steady decline of our own lives but also the universe around us. We consume resources to clothe, feed, educate, and protect; we use up animals, plants, water and air as we spiral along the continuum from birth to death.
Yet Judaism teaches a more powerful lesson about life: “Therefore choose life.” Deut. 30:15. Although God is the giver of life, human beings have great choice in the matter. Choice resides in a thousand daily decisions—what we eat, how we drive, what cosmetics and cleaning chemicals we use. We choose life in other ways. One is repentance, the theme of the High Holy Days. We are asked to shake off bad behaviors so as to enhance life and not harm others. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik adds another dimension: teshuva as an act of re-creation. We must pause to review our lives, examine stale routines and static relationships. Becoming aware of life’s partial deaths enables us to live at new depths of intensity and goodness in the coming year.
Aging presents these selfsame challenges. Can we be born again – to life? Most people create or achieve success once – by their 40’s – then coast or repeat until they retire. Many people stop reading after graduating from college, calcifying their brains long before dying. Judaism offers an alternative: “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not hold back.” Ecclesiastes 11:6. The Rabbis comment: If you raised a family in your youth, renew it in your later years. If you created in your prime, do so again now. Those who love, dream and create again as they age, are models to humanity — filling the world until their dying day — with life.
Blu and Yitz Greenberg have been married for 55 years, raised 5 children and 22 grandchildren, who have made aging exciting and worthwhile.
As a physician and scientist, I have seen remarkable aging. The patients whom I care for, often with severe physical disabilities, experience a process termed “accelerated aging.” This means that some of the “normal” declines in body organ function that we see associated with age occur earlier than anticipated. Unfortunately, the result is a shorter lifespan for these individuals.
I have seen a number of people, though, who have outlived expectations — some by years and a few by decades. I want to learn from these people so that I can discover the Art of Aging, live it myself, and share it with others.
The example that is most striking is a patient and friend who was involved in a car accident 50 years ago at age 20. The accident left him paralyzed at the waist due to a broken back. If this happened today, we would anticipate he would live a productive life using a wheelchair and have about 45 years to live. Fifty years ago this number would have been much lower. For the first few years after his injury he worked hard to achieve his goal of walking. He accomplished this without regaining even a muscle twitch in his legs. He has walked using leg braces, crutches, and Hulk-like upper body strength. More incredible is that he has done it for the past 50 years — a feat well beyond anything I have ever observed.
To me, Ed exemplifies the Art of Aging. I am convinced that his commitment to physical activity — to stand when most would have sat and to continue to be physically active even when faced with life’s greatest challenges — is the key to his artful aging. As stated by Chinese microbiologist, Zhao Liping, “EAT RIGHT, KEEP FIT, LIVE LONG, DIE QUICK”.
Dr. Suzanne Groah is a physician and researcher in Washington, DC. www.SCI-Health.org
I don’t really like to think about growing older, I like being 9.
If I get older I will be like my grandpa and become slow. You also are not able to see that well and can’t do or build the things you like. I get to do all the things my friends do. When you are a kid you get to ride bikes, scooters, play with toys and use your imagination. You don’t have to go to work or do all the things old people do. I can keep working on my arcade and making it more creative. When you are older you have to go to college and you have a lot of homework and have to work.
At my age I have been able to meet many different people that come to the Arcade and gotten to go to many places like France. I like that I have met all these people and kids and I have learned a lot from them. I think if I was older, I would not have enjoyed it so much.
Well I might want to be older, age 10, which I will be next month, only because I will have two digits in my number.
Caine Monroy is the 9-year-old owner & operator of Caine’s Arcade. www.cainesarcade.com
My whole life I have been drawn to elders. From grandparents in New York and San Francisco, to great aunts and uncles around America and the world — my youth and early adulthood overflowed with the stories, convictions, artistic expression, and unquestioned love and interest from this previous generation. There were weeks spent in Virginia with a great aunt and uncle who had bought an abandoned church and filled it with Mordi’s art, huge canvases depicting biblical and natural scenes, weeks near Lake Constance with my great aunt who was a communist spy in World War II, and the civil rights activist Baptist minister who taught me to take my voice and writing seriously. Powerful and lasting legacies — not passing shadows.
Yet, they started to fail. A new role: I remember as a high school senior helping that same minister prepare his taxes as he recovered from a heart attack, detailed weekly shopping lists from a homebound great aunt on 5th Avenue, and holding tightly in my arms the great aunt whose dementia kept bringing her back to the pond behind the house in Waldfrieden where she witnessed her father’s assassination at the end of World War I.
As I build systems to support the spiritual lives of elders, draw people into caring for elders, and go each day to the difficult land of aging, I am blessed by those who lived interesting and profound lives, who loved deeply, who stretched and searched, and challenge me to do the same.
Till you grow old, I will still be the same; when you turn gray, it is I who will carry you. – Isaiah 46:4
God remains ageless, but I will someday become the grandmother, the great aunt, and must have love, stories, and teachings to share.
Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow is Director of Jewish and Chaplaincy Services at Hebrew Senior Life, Boston. www.hebrewseniorlife.org
At my high school prom many decades ago, the organizers chose Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” as the theme. I thought it was the most ridiculous choice, and I voiced it loudly. Why wouldn’t we change? Mention high school to any adult and very few would want to go back. Now with many years between that time and this moment, I have reached a point where I see more wisdom in the desire to stay just the way we are.
As the years pile on, life’s travails, challenges, and triumphs coat us with experiences. The layers add on and we become hardened and affected, for good and bad, by what we have learned along the path. For sure, we gain wisdom, understanding, and hopefully maturity. And yet we forget some of the truths we know about ourselves; what we like, what makes us happy, what gives us meaning. They get buried unintentionally under the layers of the years though they remain dormant, like seeds buried deep in the earth.
How many years did we all spend growing up? As some distant achievement we looked to the future to be grown up. There was much mystery in that aspiration because we couldn’t necessarily predict what we would turn out to be like. But then at what point does it change when we flip the switch and we turn to growing older?
Maybe the answer is in the growing part. Just as a seed grows from the root and develops and blossoms, so too should our root system remain strong. That’s our core. Uncovering the layers to rediscover ourselves, to find once again the essence of our being, allows us to celebrate that person we once knew. We are ever in the need of nurturing our own root system, our very core. Grow up or even grow old, just don’t stop growing; for that is just the way you are.
Elaine Zecher is a rabbi at Temple Israel, Boston. She chairs the Liturgy & Worship Committee of the CCAR. www.tisrael.org
I have gained perspective on the art of aging over the last decade of my 74 years. The gift of perspective is, in a word, “gratitude”- the conceit that my cup is half full, and each day more and more so.
Years ago, my life was filled with excitement, wonderment and adventure, but also beset with varying degrees of anxiety about what tomorrow might bring. Now, I truly pass my days without such concern, and with few lapses, I feel grateful for what I have, for those I love, for work that satisfies – and, happily, the focus of my life is all about tikkun olam, repairing the world.
Is my life different now from the way it once was? Not really. But the shift in the angle of the glass, the tilt of the reflection that has reframed my perspective, has made an inestimable difference.
I’m reminded of the lesson of the goat: A rabbi is consulted by a man who proclaims that his life has fallen apart. “My wife hates me, my children disobey me, I can’t pay my bills, no one respects me.” The rabbi solemnly counsels the man, “Buy a goat and live with it for a month – in the house – and then we’ll talk.” The man obeys the rabbi. Soon the goat has chewed his clothes, eaten his food and done his business on the carpet. Chaos reigns. Desperate, the man returns to the rabbi and throws himself on the rabbi’s mercy. “What should I do?” he wails. “Get rid of the goat,” says the rabbi calmly. One month later the man returns. He fairly shouts to the rabbi that he’s the luckiest person in the world, proclaiming to all in the ‘shtetl,’ that the rabbi is a genius.
What’s the gift of aging? Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get rid of the goat.
Peter Yarrow is a political activist and the Peter of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. www.peterpaulandmary.com
We live in especially youth-centric times when the “Art of Aging” most often refers to the kind of superficial rejuvenation found at the cosmetics counter or surgeon’s office. Then there’s my mother, Edna Shalala. At a spirited 100-years-old, she discovered long ago that the true fountain of youth resides within. My mother’s longevity can certainly be attributed to eating well, taking care of herself, and exercising. She was a nationally ranked tennis player and remained active in the sport, competing in the senior circuit until she was 85. Even as a nonagenarian she enthusiastically participated in water exercises, yoga, and occasional golf.
But while our genetic makeup, our environment, and our lifestyle all play a role in how our bodies age, aging is also a perspective and an attitude. The true artfulness of growing old lies in how we age on the inside. Affectionately called Mother Shalala by all who know her, my mother has fostered a deep, lifelong sense of community, giving of herself, compassionate, and actively joining with others. She has faced life’s challenges as opportunities to grow, to do better, and to ultimately do good for others. With the urging of my father, she began law school at 38 while also working as a teacher and raising young twins. She started her own law firm with a fellow female law student and ran a successful probate practice for four decades, finally retiring after 50 years—at the age of 91. She still attends as many lectures, plays, concerts, and athletic contests as she can. She cooks world-class Lebanese food, gets cooking tips from the Food Network, reads two newspapers a day, and keeps up with national politics on CNN.
Looking back, she has lived a life full of purpose, passion, and dignity. So if you seek the elusive fountain of youth, learn to cultivate the art of aging from within — mind, body, and soul.
Donna Edna Shalala served as the Secretary of Health & Human Services. She is currently the President of The University of Miami. www.miami.edu
Thanks to advances in modern medicine and lifestyle, most Americans will survive the diseases that once killed us swiftly and predictably—infections, childbirth, cancer, heart disease—and will instead live out our final years plagued by the multiple chronic conditions associated with aging. Half of us who make it to 85 will suffer from dementia and virtually all will have an array of illnesses that will make it hard for us to live on our own, and harder still for our families to provide the care we will need.
The Talmud tells the story of two rabbis who visited each other when they were ill. Each Rabbi was able to heal the other but not himself. The medieval commentator Rashi says they were able to heal the other through being present and empathetic. Community is tremendously important as we age. We need to recognize the gift of growing old and know that, even when quite dependent on others, we can live a meaningful, comfortable life. To do so, though, we need seamless services from the onset of serious illness or disability through death. We need respite and training for our caregivers.
Every morning from the first day of Elul until Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to blow the Shofar as a means to awaken one’s spirit. We need to heed this “wake up” call and recognize that our priorities and health risks are different when living with advanced years. Even a long life is short, and we should make plans in the bloom of midlife to enable comfort and meaningful living as life comes to a close.
Judy Peres and Dr. Joanne Lynn are part of the Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness at Altarum Institute. www.medicaring.org
In a dilapidated log cabin, near a cornfield, there lived an old farmer. He had lived in the same place for so long that he attracted a lot of attention from passersby. Some believed his age to be 110, yet he maintained a youthful disposition and a sparkling sense of humor. Once a tourist stopped and asked: “Have you lived here all your life?” With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, the farmer replied without hesitation: “Not yet.”
This story always reminds me of my mother. She is 97-years-old. Despite her infirmities and the challenges she has had to face – my father died 45 years ago and my brother 25 – my mother lives in her own apartment and continues to maintain her independence. She has an active mind, keeps up with the news and enjoys her music. Whenever I visit, she has my favorite food waiting and with it, memories of my childhood. She exercises regularly and participates in various cultural activities. She has a deep and abiding faith in God, and although she is no longer able to attend synagogue services, she spends Shabbat listening to cantorial music and sermons on tape. What I admire most about her is the kindness she shows to others, whether family, friends or neighbors. She never forgets a birthday or anniversary and is the first to offer comfort, caring or encouragement, whatever the need.
For me, my mother defines the art of aging. From her, I have learned to keep busy and engage in meaningful activity, to be sustained by faith and strengthened by friends, to face the future with confidence and be more responsive to the needs of others. I hope I am worthy of the example she sets.
Sally J. Priesand is Rabbi Emerita of Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls, NJ.
Write a letter. Address it to those you love – your spouse, your children and grandchildren, your friends. Put into this letter everything life has taught you: What you learned from childhood, from growing up, from your education. What you learned from marriage and raising children. What you learned from work, from your triumphs and successes in the world, from your failures and disappointments. What you learned from the death of loved ones, and the path of mourning. What is the meaning, the lesson, the wisdom of your life? What is your message?
Do this for three reasons:
Do it for yourself. You deserve to know what life has taught you. According to a Jewish tradition, each individual human soul carries into the world one letter, one byte, of God’s message. You are a vessel of God’s truth. Have you discovered and delivered your message?
Write the letter for your loved ones. No one lives forever. And when your time comes, what a gift it would be to your loved ones to hear your voice, to know your wisdom.
Do it for your soul. Modernity has brought us many gifts. But one of the casualties of modernity is contemplation. Our ancestors lived in a much slower world. They had time to think, to dream. So we live exhausted from day to day, from appointment to project to vacation and back again, without ever stopping to wonder why, without the chance to grow in wisdom. That’s why we age. Without connection to the truth within, the spirit grows old, the soul grows tired.
No one is old who knows the truth of his or her existence, the purposes of life. Write the letter.
Ed Feinstein is the rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, and a lecturer at the American Jewish University. www.vbs.org
I have for many years wondered whether, as I grow old, I should fight against it or gracefully and passively accept it. The poet Dylan Thomas memorably wrote, “Do not go gentle into the good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” It is not clear whether the night he referred to was death, which I suspect it was, but it could just as well and appropriately refer to aging. Either way it is a popular poem because it so sharply presents one clear narrative about accepting our fate.
But there is another popular and clear narrative. Another poet, Robert Browning, wrote some equally oft-quoted lines, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made…trust God: see all, nor be afraid.”
Then there was the writer Susan Sontag. At one point in her career she declaimed against the idea of a medical “war on death,” but then she fought her coming death from cancer to the bitter end, and her aging along with it.
The trouble with the war metaphor is that you will lose in the end; it is an unwinnable struggle–you will get old and you will die. And sooner may be no worse than later. A good argument against pacifism–which I embrace–is that you should, at least for the sake of those who will miss you, fight at least a little bit. And is not life too valuable to be too readily relinquished, and is it not worth some suffering?
My pacifism has not yet been put to the test, and I may find myself less accepting than I imagine myself to be. I am interested to see how I turn out, waiting and watching.
Daniel Callahan is Senior Research Scholar and President Emeritus of the Hastings Center. www.thehastingscenter.org
My beautiful, wonderful grandmother was, in the end, in a cancer existence. The illness was eating her inside. She lost her ability to speak to others, to walk, to hold up her body, to chew food. Being so helpless, she was graced with caretakers who were kind, hardworking, and loving. Relatives visited her often. She did the best she could to still be a loving person. I watched my mom sit near her bed and hold her hand. My grandmother swung their hands together. She smiled, and smiled, and smiled.
Who would want to smile in her situation? She smiled to be encouraging to her visitors. She smiled, too, because she saw how devoted her children and grandchildren were. She was not alone.
My grandmother had a lot of alone in her life. A war-orphaned child, sent to a strange land, she had to endure a lot. Why is it that despite her hard life she smiled, and laughed, and courageously faced her challenges? I see many people who face less and complain constantly. My beautiful grandmother chose to give life her all and not waste it in self-pity. Her legacy speaks for itself. She smiled until she simply could not anymore.
Now she is with God, and I hope her parents are happy to embrace her once again. Their souls are reunited, and I am happy that they are.
Rest in peace, my lovely Oma. I love you.
Ido Kedar is 16 years old with non-verbal autism. He is the author of ‘Ido In Autismland.’ www.idoinautismland.blogspot.com
Whatever controls my genetic material, I’m happy to be enjoying the dessert course of life, and my pressures are self-chosen. I realize more than ever that time is sacred and should be spent thoughtfully and judiciously. Time is all we have, albeit never knowing how much, and I try with a little self- management to be totally receptive to life without conditions.
On reflection, I have found one immutable value independent of all other ever-changing market values. You serve, you give and you care about others. This caring binds us to those whom we serve in a mutually beneficent and enjoyable experience. It makes us feel love-worthy, which is the richest source of our strength, and our peace and our world becomes a reflection of the positive energy we produce.
I seem to be enjoying optimum good health, and I am fortunate to be spared financial stress. I have loved and lost my life’s partner and have made a conscious decision to move forward by making it a plus for both of us. I have learned to trust my instincts, which has helped in making the right choices. A decision is nothing more than the creation of a picture that you decide to make stick. That is why I have tried not to make decisions based on emotional needs, but in trusting my intuition.
I take delight in simple things like a great crust or the civility of a roundabout. I regret the loss of mobility due to impossible traffic gridlock, but the clutter and traffic jam in my head that blocks my vision is what I try to avoid taking to bed. At this advanced stage of life, I accept the inevitable, having tasted the sweetness of life with some creative imagination despite being susceptible to all its frailties.
Ginny Mancini performed with Mel Torme. She is a longtime supporter of the arts and music education.
My son was nestled in my lap last night, slumbering at last, while I trolled the Internet for entertainment. Somewhere in a moment between status updates on Facebook and searching for shirts on oldnavy.com, I felt a gentle nudge on my arm. I looked down, and he was awake, his eyes as round and bright as twin moons shining in the pearly glow of the laptop screen. His mouth bent and stretched into a smile, and he poked me again.
“Hey Mama, cyberspace can wait.” “But there’s a really good sale that ends tomorrow, and if I want to save 15% on all clearance items, I have to order NOW.”
Sometimes, I have to force myself to remember that this — all of this — is not forever. No matter what. Whether I skim over these moments in haste, or saturate myself in every poignant second, nothing will stay the same. Somewhere, in between stressing and (not) sleeping, in between being and breathing, in between power struggles and cooking dinner, tiny changes add up. They lose their belly-rolls, and their legs grow strong and sturdy, and suddenly, they’re out of diapers, starting school, taking ballet class and playing soccer, whirling and twirling into grownups. And suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, they’ll be growing their own families, struggling to hold onto sanity and sleep, while we go on trips to the Wine Country as our wrinkles dig down deep. And eventually — suddenly — we will all become old, marked with the eternal etchings of a life forever and ever spent thinking about tomorrow.
So, I stared at my son, stunned by the weight of his body against mine, by the changes that have already taken over while I wasn’t paying attention. And so I shut the laptop.
Sarah is an L.A. expat growing roots in Israel. She shares her adventures at Kveller.com and Jezebel.com.
Recently I had a conversation with someone who said to me, “You wrote a very beautiful book; it’s very uplifting and encouraging. However, isn’t there a dark side to aging?” And he is right, there is a more somber side.
I find myself now in my December days. In my book I spent a lot of time on October, becoming an elder, and November, serving as an elder. I was much more skimpy on December. The reason is clear: I wasn’t there yet. Now I am.
Now is one of the best periods of my life. I’m harvesting so much of what I sowed in the world.
And yet, when I look in the mirror before I put on my public face, I view this slightly stooped old man with wrinkles. The business that I describe as coming to terms with one’s mortality has since become coming to terms with actually dying. And, there is a tiredness that feels chronic. Thank God sometimes I feel less tired and more ready to anticipate and enjoy the good things in my life. Still, it’s only a distraction from the pervasive tiredness.
I’m sharing this with you, not because I want to discourage you. On the contrary, I want you to know that from aging to saging is a positive journey, optimistic and full of sunshine. But I also need to correct the beautiful high notes by playing some somber bass notes to balance and strengthen the truth of what we present.
I do not feel a pang of unlived life. I handled my life repair for much that needed Tikkun. I believe I have mostly done the Tikkun needed. I bear witness to you that the elder-ing work is real.
Rabbi Zalman Hiyyah Schachter-Shalomi is the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement and one of the leading spiritual teachers of our time. www.rzlp.org
The “art of aging” translates for me into the art of acceptance and gratitude. Considering the alternative to aging makes clear our only viable response.
In “surrendering” to aging we are embracing life. And in embracing life we are able to celebrate our humble position in the grand scheme of nature. When I look out and see the beauty of nature, it allows me to experience my own beauty, but only with the discipline to move from the inner to the outer.
Moving through the journey from the inside to the outside leaves me with the experience of focusing on others more than on myself. Being a part of the wonderful world of acting, one learns the lesson of “giving performances,” which requires putting the emphasis on the audience, the “receiver” rather than on myself. Working in the powerful world of the fight against AIDS has magically combined with this experience to provide me with a context for appreciating the magic of our being of service to each other.
Service and surrender seem to me to be my personal foundation for aging with whatever grace I have been able to manage. The “art” seems to me to lie in allowing what is to be the choice for what will be. Mother Nature is our guru and demonstrates what gifts are generated out of “getting out of the way” and allowing life to happen.
Judith Light is a multiple Emmy and Tony award winning actress and social activist. www.judithlight.com
See blogger Gregory Metzger’s response to Judith Light’s Jewel HERE.
More than a decade ago, the equally celebrated and despised bioethicist Leon Kass published “L’Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?”, a passionate homage, couched in the Jewish tradition, to the idea that aging is good. But is that a legitimate interpretation? In the Talmud, Satan, Yezer Hara (the evil inclination) and Death are equated (Baba Batra, tav zain).
Similarly, Maimonides – one of the greatest Jewish intellectual authorities, who was also a physician – highlighted the Biblical admonition, “When you build a new house, you should make a parapet for your roof so that you bring not bloodshed upon your house should any man fall therefrom,” (Deut. 22:8) and observed, “This phrase proves that preparing oneself, and adopting precautionary measures . . . can prevent their occurrence.” Clearly, were he a modern doctor, Maimonides, M.D. would endorse the development of therapies to prevent or postpone age-related ill-health.
But let us also consider the phenomenon of aging from a more emotional, even aesthetic perspective. Is aging beautiful? Many apologists for the status quo, Kass included, have claimed something of that kind. This is denial of the worst sort, since it is denial that can cost lives. The decrepitude and disease of old age is not dignified and certainly is not beautiful. We maybe seduced into thinking it is by the prevailing correlation between that decrepitude and the wisdom and other positive aspects of old age, but that is all it is, a correlation. Our duty is to change that, and create the best of both worlds: to give our elderly the youthful physical and mental health that their wisdom deserves.
Aubrey D.N.J. de Grey, Ph.D. is the Chief Science Officer at the SENS Foundation. www.sens.org
Two years ago on my 79th birthday, I experienced two things.
One was ‘feeling’ a very large hand placed between my shoulder blades, gently but firmly pushing me ‘through the air’. It reminded me of when I was eight or nine, sailing a dingy in the Balboa Bay. I remember, to this day, the way ‘the slight breeze’ felt on my face, shoulders, arms, and body.
The other thing I experienced was seeing my life as if through a telescopic lens. Visually, your sight ‘backs up’ from the close up, while the image is moving away from you. There is a feeling you are pulling back from the image you are looking at.
The feeling of the hand on my back lasted through my 80th birthday. The telescopic lens sensation is still going on. It’s as if I have pulled back somehow from the life I am living. Somehow I exist both deep inside of ‘me’, and outside of me at the same time.
In September 1985 I made a two-week Shaman’s Journey of Initiation to Peru. The Shamans talk about living your life from above, to be grounded on the earth, but not be caught up in ‘the stuff ’ of your life.
I’m no longer ‘rushing’; the air around me, and the world, is really quite still. When I stop and listen for ‘the stillness’ it’s like one of those magical times in the desert, around twilight when the breeze driven by the setting sun settles into ‘absence’ and your ears are filled with ‘no thing’, no sound…all is still and so are you. From above, I am still 5 years old and at the same time 81. My body may creak and strain when I get on my knees in my garden, but I’m still 5 years old playing in the mud.
Bruce Whizin still exists much to the chagrin of himself and those who love him. He’d like to be remembered for his smile.
How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? Playing the trumpet since I was eight years old has given me the feeling, throughout my life and career, of being in the exact, present moment of my life. An ageless feeling comes to me when practicing, recording or performing. I believe that it is a myth that only certain people are creative. Over 40 years ago I found that painting and sculpting gave me the same energy that playing the trumpet and making music did.
I say this because I find that people who have found a creative passion seem happier and more fulfilled. I practice playing the trumpet every day not just because it keeps me in shape, but also because it gives me energy. Creativity guides my life and I have learned so much from trying to grow as an artist and be honest with myself. But I can also get into trouble by judging myself too harshly or by comparing my gifts with someone else’s gifts.
My goal is to stay relaxed and keep moving forward. Finding ways to help others is another creative expression for me. Never underestimate the power of kindness. When I reach out to others, I find that my life has meaning… and not my age.
Herb Alpert is a musician and the “A” of A&M records. www.herbalpert.com
“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature,
but beautiful old people are works of art.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
As a five-year-old I thought life would be perfect if I could only wake up blonde and blue-eyed. Today I do not know why at this tender age I did not think life was already perfect. Time passed, I never changed the color of my hair, and I discovered the delights of education, particularly literature and the poetry of science. The pleasure of color and design vibrated in words, and even under my laboratory microscope. I discovered that my bohemian color combinations had survived the critical calls from my school principal. Childhood memories of Chagall’s exuberant sets at the opera, and the stained glass windows in my grandparents’ synagogue still resonate in my soul when I design.
Becoming a mother profoundly influenced my ability to savor the ephemeral years, realizing that we can age with style and creativity, seasoned with wonderful memories. My Jewish mother, still a stunning woman, even as she battles the ravages of cancer, is my role model. Her physical beauty lingers, her “personal accident of nature”; the glowing light emanating from her eyes is her inward work of art. She taught me to give back, imbuing my deeds with her character and compassion; even as I age, I carry her forward, and she remains forever young and vital.
As a designer, I create and collect, and time has gifted me with the perspective to know what to keep and what to release. We can remain true to our authentic self while moving our inner furniture around, re-designing and coloring our worlds daily. I have come full circle and realize I was correct; the world was not perfect at five, it never will be, however with our personal brushstrokes we can leave it more vibrant than we found it.
Barbara Lazaroff is a designer, restaurateur, philanthropist and author. www.BarbaraLazaroff.com
This is a conversation between two generations. Eli Brent is 86 and I am Noah Taubman, 24-years-old and his grandson.
“I don’t want to be good at aging.” We both laugh. It doesn’t matter who said it, but we agree. We’re not necessarily pessimistic, but we each characteristically resort to humor to begin one of our particularly heavy conversations. Does aging have to be inherently bad? No, but Eli has already sensed my apprehension; we’d much rather be discussing the art of living.
Eli says, “You can’t always choose the question. Living is the gift that allows us to enjoying aging.”
“Hold on while I write that down.” As Eli grabs the pencil he says,
“Just listen. If I’m aging, at least that means I’m still alive.”
Eli has a way with words that still catches me off guard. We continue to talk about life and aging. The purpose of it, the goals we have and trials we all face throughout it. We agree that while we are both aging we are in very different stages of it. Nonetheless, he can learn as much from me as I can from him. When we stop aging, we can only hope we did it the right way. Aging allows us to reflect on the sum total of our lives. The relationships we build, the values we hold close and the legacies we leave are equally important regardless of our age. It is the great equalizer. While it is safe to say that Eli has a lot more to reflect upon than I do, he assures me not to belittle my own musings. There is no guarantee that getting older makes you wiser – in fact it may be the opposite.
“Do you think we have enough?”
“Yes,” I say. “Good. Now we can talk about something important.”
Dr. Eli Brent has been a public school educator since 1951. Noah Taubman is his proud grandson.
Old? You think I’m old? Well, maybe you’re right. Why, I remember walking into ‘shul’ on a Friday evening and finding people eager to “DAVEN.” Old? Why yes, I distinctly remember where I was when President Kennedy was shot: in gym – between Talmud and Social Studies at the Skokie Yeshiva. Heck, I remember Early Wynn and Rocky Colavito on the INDIANS. (Google it.)
Why does temporal time interest us so much? Ok, I understand the concept of life coming to a close. But, in truth, our very existence is a miracle, a mathematical improbability. If we have lived to love, to enjoy family, to have developed our minds, to have fulfilled (it can never be completely so) our destiny, then we must thank the ineffable unknowable G-d for having given us the privilege. This universe, within which we are but sub-atomic particles, owes us no more than to have allowed us to bear witness to her immense grandeur!
I worry too much; always have. What will happen in Israel? Will Middle Eastern radicals ever learn peace? Where is my world of music and prayer in the synagogue headed? Is it doomed to mediocrity? (I have certainly watched that trend become a tsunami.) Maybe I forgot the lessons of my youth. Heschel’s “radical amazement” changed the way I look at the world forever. Just when life seems to have become a series of projects and meetings, lacking in the truly important events, like golf, it only takes a smile or a sunny morning over Lake Michigan to bring back my sense of awe.
There is always the promise of tomorrow — CUBS in 2015!
Alberto Mizrahi is the Hazzan of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago. He is recognized internationally as the Jewish Pavarotti. www.albertomizrahi.com
Poppy is four years old. The only shelf in the cabinet she can reach is the one with the plastic Tupperware. She has started filling containers with water, snapping on lids, and placing them about the house. It is her new favorite game. One for Mama, one for Papa, one for Tessa, one for Ollie. Her hands can hold one at a time. Her dress is the color of marmalade, she chirps songs that have no words.
When Poppy is twenty-five, she will follow a love to France. In the summer time she will make jars of cold tea, place them in the sun to steep, forget them in the sunny corners of their house. He will love her for this. That, and the daisies in her hair; the way she reads in doorways, purring show tunes to the crinkle of the page.
When she is forty-seven, Poppy’s garden will be the talk of the street. Her French tulips will dip over the sidewalk, dragging leaves against the pavement. She will carry jugs of water—overflowing onto her arms, her overalls—back and forth from the house to the yard. This is her way now, since her son has worn holes through the garden hose with his trike. She does not mind. He rides circles around the jugs, while she sings and turns the soil.
Eighty. And Poppy carries cups of water to leave around the house. One to the desk for while she is writing, one to her bedside every night. The walk to the kitchen is long and her lavender nightgown is thin. Open the cabinet, find the cup. Turn on the tap, fill it up. Snap on the lid, off to bed. She hums to the radiator. Sometimes she forgets the words.
Sarah Kay is a poet who often forgets where she left her tea. www.kaysarahsera.com
Age has been on my mind all my life. When I was a kid I had a giant shock of black hair that was like a helmet because it was stiff with a product called ‘Slickum’. To comb it, I had to dip my head in the sink and wash my hair every day. That’s the first time I can remember thinking, “What if this is the secret to a long life? Dipping your head in the sink every morning. How do we know?” Since then there have been hundreds of other odd activities – eating a Tootsie Roll just before dinner, picking one’s nose while driving – that I’ve thought might contain that secret. For years I’ve eaten a salad every morning, and all but convinced myself that’s it. (At the least, it must come closer than the nose thing.)
I have been privileged to share my lifetime with dozens of my friends and colleagues, some of the funniest people I know. Bea Arthur made me laugh so hard I felt it in nooks and crannies of my body I didn’t know existed. I was there when an exchange between Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner turned into the 2,000-Year-Old Man. I really believe that the true secret to longevity could be laughter. It might be the memory of a slapstick scene, or a lineof dialogue by Larry Gelbart or Herb Gardner, or one of the hundreds of moments on one of my shows when an actor – an O’Connor, a Hemsley, a Lasser or a Stapleton – took what was on the page and turned it into something funnier than I could have ever imagined. Or today, something from South Park, Family Guy, Modern Family or Louis C.K.
All of it, I’m convinced, has and still does add time to my life.
Norman Lear is a producer, director, writer, activist and philanthropist. His credits include All in the Family and The Jeffersons. www.normanlear.com
Aging: a fearsome word in a youth-obsessed culture. The desired stage of life, youth, is depicted as threatened by the aging process. Granted; youthfulness, with its energy, its hope, its sense of the future, is a desirable quality of life, perhaps essential. But let’s not confine those qualities only to the young in years. Yes, the stages of youth and aging are irreconcilable; one precludes the other. However, the stage of aging and the qualities of youthfulness are quite a different matter. Not only can they co-exist, sometimes they actually do, each enhancing its counterpart. The proportion of past to future, of memory to anticipation does shift with the years. But the richness of experience, accumulated in memory, need not prevent an engagement with the future.
My wife and I defined retirement to mean redirecting energy, not dropping bovine-like onto green pastures, grazing as time scurried rapidly onward. Instead, retirement to us meant being open to unscheduled, unanticipated opportunities for further involvement in the great life experiment. While we looked forward to possible new adventures, we were also worried about losing the connections with the future that our occupations – psychologist, rabbi, teacher, chaplain — had provided. How quickly this concern was answered! By virtue of blessed guidance, or chance, if you insist – in less than half a year we found ourselves engaged with the Tibetan exile community in India. For these past 15 years, we’ve been travelling regularly to India to help the followers of the Dalai Lama develop a community-wide educational program on strategic nonviolent struggle for the Tibetan cause. This Western, pragmatic, how-to-apply-it complement to his idealistic, inspirational advocacy of nonviolence, has been welcomed and facilitated by His Holiness. Aging? Despite increasing intimations of mortality, don’t fear it. Join it. With youthfulness as a companion, it can still be quite a trip!
Rabbi Everett Gendler is a devoted Jewish civil rights activist. He’s been described as the “father of Jewish environmentalism.”
As we age, our brains are hardwired to reject change. We are conditioned to resist new challenges and remain within our comfort zones. However, growing older should not mean that we must exist within self-imposed boundaries.
In the 1960s, President Eisenhower received the gift of a rare, white tiger named Mohini. For years, Mohini lived in the Washington Zoo and spent her days pacing back and forth in a 12-by-12 foot cage. Finally the zoo decided to build her a larger cage so Mohini could run, climb and explore. But when Mohini arrived at her new home, she didn’t rush out, eagerly adapting to her new habitat. Rather, she marked off a 12-by-12 foot square for herself, and paced there until her death, never enjoying the new opportunities in front of her. Mohini exemplifies the classic conditioning most of us live within. Although she was a magnificent, powerful creature, Mohini was convinced her “place” was just a 12-by-12 foot square. We all have the propensity to behave exactly like Mohini. Based on our conditioning, we create invisible cages for ourselves, limiting our lives within their boundaries.
But we don’t have to succumb to our internal imprisonment. Throughout the High Holidays, we will hear the shofar blast. Historically, the shofar signaled the release of all slaves at the end of the Jubilee year. That sound should make us ask, “What enslaves us? What weighs us down? What baggage do we hold onto?” And then, let it go. The High Holidays present us with a tunnel, an opportunity to break free from our self-imposed cages, to find our route to freedom and live life with renewed passion. The shofar inspires us to free the Mohini inside and move beyond our boundaries.
Rabba Sara Hurwitz is the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox institution to ordain women as spiritual leaders. www.yeshivatmaharat.org
“An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing…”
So wrote Yeats in one of his most famous poems. The poet tells of the diminishing body. Because our physicality grows more tenuous and our frame more frail with age, we might consider our worth, our very being, as less than once it was.
But – “Soul clap its hands and sing.” The point of being old is not to pretend to be young. Rather it is about the spirit of wise age, blessings that arise despite the pain and loss that time brings in its wake. Who is to say that a youthful fire is more precious than a gentle, unvanquished ember?
The Midrash teaches that Abraham was the first to earn the privilege of appearing old – the privilege, mind you. White beard, white hair, a life full of losses, but his soul clapped its hands and sang.
Here is a booklet full of wisdom about age and aging, the land we will all visit if we are blessed. As each year passes, clap your hands and sing. Spring is green and vital, but winter has its beauty and its joys.
David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California. At the time of this writing he had over 35,000 followers at www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe
A Note from Craig
Thank you for joining us on this 29 day Holy Journey. I am excited to share with you this year’s Jewels of Elul V.8 on the Art of Aging.
While the month of Elul begins on Saturday evening, over the next two days you will receive a note from Rabbi David Wolpe and myself to help ease you into the trip! It’s not too late to invite your family, friends and colleagues to join you in receiving a daily Jewel.
Below you will find some information about this years beneficiary organization, Vista Del Mar.
Catch you in the New Year!
A Note from Vista Del Mar
Vista Del Mar grew out of two prayers – one of a child who prayed for a safe haven, and one of a man, Seigfried Marshutz, who prayed for a life filled with meaning.
Over 100 years ago, The Jewish Orphan’s Home of Southern California, later renamed Vista Del Mar, was created and quickly became known as one of the finest residential programs in the country. One might think that the art of aging well is dependent on the love and care we receive as young children… but this is not always the case. The truth found here is that healing can occur at any age – and begins with an opening of the heart and the true seeing of another human being.
This is the art of aging modeled for Vista’s children by those who care for them whether in our residential cottages, after-school programs or schools.
Founded on the Jewish value of loving-kindness, Vista Del Mar’s Board of Directors is made up of generations of families committed to the children Vista serves – whether Jewish or non-Jewish. Our Board demonstrates that the art of aging well is found in providing service to others; in keeping the prayer for a meaningful life, alive. V’Shinantam Levanecha; and they teach it to their children so the work can continue…until there is no longer a need.
We hope you will find our mission worthy and support our efforts to care for Los Angeles’ children in need and families in crisis.
Elias Lefferman, PhD CEO & President
Rabbi Jackie Redner Rabbi-in-Residence
Fill out the form below to receive a-Jewel-a-day delivered right to your inbox every day starting on the 1st day of Elul
featuring Jewels from:
Bruce Whizin • Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi • Rabbi Everett Gendler • Dr. Eli Brent • Cantor Alberto Mizrahi • Norman Lear • Peter Yarrow • Daniel Callahan • Aubrey de Grey • Ido Kedar • Caine Monroy from Caines Arcade • Herb Alpert • Ginny Mancini • Judith Light • Sarah Tuttle Singer • Rabbi Rachel Cowan • Rabbi Elaine Zecher • Sara Paasche-Orlow • Barbara Lazaroff • Dr. Joanne Lynn • Sarah K • Donna Shalala • Rabbi Sally Priesand • Rabbi Sara Hurwitz • Dr. Suzanne Groah • Quincy Jones • Rabbi David Wolpe • Shimon Peres