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In Rabba Sara Hurwitz’s Jewel titled “Mohini,” [Read it HERE] she manages to gracefully and compassionately touch upon the significance of the internal struggles that can present themselves while aging. Although I am only 29-years-old, I have gained a unique insight into the depths of the aging process through being on the career path of a geriatric social worker, relationships and as a hospice volunteer. Through what I have observed, some of the challenges include: the progressive loss of independence, friends frequently passing away, loneliness, constant doctor appointments and the fear of undiagnosed illnesses. I understand what my grandmother means when she tells me “growing older is not for wimps.”
This piece is meant to acknowledge the reality of how difficult it is to age. Younger people often don’t understand what it is like, nor do they want to think about it. It is like the 800-pound gorilla in the room that we all face with our parents but is often not talked about until it becomes a crisis. There is a major lack of social workers in geriatrics because of their own avoidance with this difficult topic. I have come to understand the dire importance of facing and understanding the reality of aging, and how it can help us to live more full lives.
I cannot express in words the deep level of respect and admiration I have for those who are walking through the challenges of aging. While aging can be extremely tough, it is also very beautiful at the same time. I have also learned that aging does not have to be a struggle, which has a lot to do with one’s attitude and perceptions.
From the words of Rabba Sara Hurwitz, “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.” One of the biggest gifts in life is the discovery of our own unique route towards this freedom.
Lia Mandelbaum is a student at Cal State Los Angeles, part of the staff at Craig ‘N Co., a blogger for the Jewish Journal and a cat lover.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi [Read his Jewel HERE] is widely recognized as one of the world’s most important spiritual teachers; he is the “Father” of Jewish Renewal, who, along with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, influenced all modern Jewish movements. He is considered to be one of the most phenomenal Jewish personalities of modern times; if you meet him, you will see that is not an exaggeration. In his recent writing about coming into the “December” of his life, he reminds us just how fortunate we are if and when we have done all we were capable of doing to help repair the world, Tikkun Olam. He further comments on the sunshine in his life, the sunshine he brightly shines on all of us with his wisdom and enthusiasm. It is incumbent on each of us to look up into that sunshine and bask in its warmth, for we can be the warmth to others, we can light their paths, and we can achieve greatness for those whom we touch by our mitzvot.
There’s more: Upon the death of Chabad revered leader Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (who had followed Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson in 1950) his son-in-law, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, was elevated in 1994 to that leadership position; it is reported that Reb Zalman approached the new Chabad leader and asked if he could channel the Holy Rev’s spirit, a most unusual request, but not entirely forbidden.
Rev Krinsky replied, “if Rev Schneerson comes back from the beyond, he wouldn’t need tables to be raised” (referring to séances forbidden by Jewish teachings.) This tale was shared by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin at his September 7th, 2012, Kabbalat Shabbat at the Synagogue for the Performing Arts. And so, the honored position of Rev Zalman continues; we are all so very appreciative that he brings such magnificence to our Jewish lives.
Chaplain DOV Cohen,
SHIR HaSHIRIM, Bel Air, California
I liked Daniel Callahan’s piece, [click HERE to read it] and I liked how he got me thinking about the war metaphors used with aging and death. As a Norwegian American, I grew up hearing the myths of my ancestors along with Bible stories at my Grandmother’s knee. The poem “Beowulf” is central to my work in hospice. Old Age was the elderly woman the god Thor could not beat in a wrestling match. Grey haired Beowulf could defeat the dragon but die in the process. As Daniel Callahan pointed out, as my ancestors underlined, a struggle *against* aging and death is a fight no one will ever win. Oh, but to struggle *with* them both–that is a source of wisdom. Even a god learns of his limitations, the old king gains the dragon’s treasure for his people.
As my grandmother entered her nineties, I watched her digest a lifetime’s experience, face up bluntly and boldly to what she thought she needed to, and dedicate herself to fixing what she could before she left this world. She did just that, right up until she died in her bed. I still regard hers as a heroic death I hope to emulate.
Anna Nereim has worked in hospice for sixteen years in Southern California
(Written in response to Bruce Whizin’s Jewel “From Above” which you can read HERE.)
How do we remain grounded, timeless, and hopeful throughout the aging process? Bruce shares with us an inspiring anecdote, and even more than that, somewhat of a map for aging gracefully, in the most spiritual sense. Aging with ease requires making peace with our timelessness, with our soul that lives both on this Earth and stretches beyond, into the Heavens. To know oneself is to know who you are regardless of your riches, your successes, the resume you’ve built, the investments you’ve established, etc. To know oneself is to know one’s soul, and that is our timeless being that lives within every cell of the body and stretches out beyond everything we know. To know oneself is to be grounded in what one knows and what one feels and what one experiences, and to also be at peace with what one does not know. What do you not know?
What we do know is this: the beating of our heart pulsing in our chest; the feeling of our soul, like when Bruce was a child out on the ocean and felt an intimacy with the slight breeze on his body; the way it feels to breathe in and out of our body. Our intimacy with ourself is filled with so many versatile things: the roadmap of broken hearts sustained; the feeling of falling asleep as melatonin sweeps over and envelopes our being; the way our bodies house emotions; the longing in hearts for dreams unmet; the calling from the Shofar to awaken our soul during the High Holy Days. Throughout our life there is only one constant: ourself. What is your constellation made up of? Your heart, your body, your breath, your thoughts, your emotions, your investments, your accomplishments, your contributions; who are you? In our one precious life, in this simple and complex journey, this remains with you as a constant: your soul. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life”? (Mary Oliver, 1992).
Dr. Sara Lederer is a licensed psychologist, working with clients in a private practice setting. She is also an Associate Professor at Antioch University and Part-time Faculty at Loyola Marymount. Her website is www.drsaralederer.com
I was moved to read the beautiful piece on aging by the lovely and talented Judith light. [Read it HERE] Her description of aging as “surrendering” got me thinking about aging, a topic I studiously avoid.
As I “grow up”, I realize more and more that “surrender” is not resignation and defeat, but, rather it is the act of abandoning the immature ideas and ideals of youth for the “old”, “tried and true” ideals of our ancestors and their traditions. Surrender, in fact, is “joining with the winners”. At best, we age gracefully by perceiving “…the events at the end of time with exultant certainty,…. by surrender of selfish pettiness and by consecration to the great destiny of life…”
Making offerings, being of service and supporting the most vulnerable in our society are the ideas and ideals that emerge as we surrender the selfish “me first” desires that Torah teaches are an “evil” that is residue from youth
As we age, it seems we become caricatures of our selves: our essence is distorted as our most prominent features become inflated. The parts of us that stood out the most, our core character traits are wildly exaggerated. Our faces become the canvas of our inner selves – Sometimes funny, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful.
Last October, Judith Light had a caricature unveiled at Sardis (http://www.judithlight.com/). A beautiful reflection of the woman she has surrendered to being: Clear, bright, focused and serious eyes, set upon a sweet face with a light smile.
Elul as a messenger, tells us it is time to once again look at our character traits and re-commit to expressing our real essence, to connecting the pure soul within. By engaging in acts of justice and loving-kindness we participate in the “art” of aging with grace and with beauty.
1 Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Confrontation from Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought, 1964 volume 6, #2 2 Genesis 8:21 Gregory Metzger is a co-leader of Kihilanu, a new and exciting independent minyan. He teaches T’shuvah, Torah and Tefillah to inmates of seven jails and five prisons in California. He is a rabbinical student at AJR-CA.