Posted by Barbara Sternfield
As we approach the High Holy Day season, a time of reflection and renewal, I am reminded of the powerful prayer recited during the High Holy Days: “Do not cast me off in old age; do not abandon me as my strength fails.” (Psalms 71:9).
As a member of the JF&CS Jewish Healing Connections team since its inception in 1998, I have spent years of reflection on this prayer and its place in the liturgy during this season of introspection. I would like to share some of my thoughts.
Jewish tradition teaches, “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old.” (Lev. 19:32) Why is this so important that it is stated in the Bible? In popular culture, old age is not pretty or exciting. Many things having to do with the aging process are treated as if they are a disease. We have creams and botox for wrinkles and dyes and treatments for hair. Go into any CVS or Walgreens and count the number of products that have to do with beautification. Our greeting cards are all jokes about being “over the hill” – when the number is over 30! The latest catchphrase is “60 is the new 40”.
There are still people who say to me, “Doesn’t it depress you working with old people?” Yet how are we to learn the important lessons of life if we don’t “rise before the aged” and listen to their stories?
It takes patience to show “deference to the old.” Our world today is based on speed and is not in sync with those who are slowing down. The longer it takes someone to make a statement, the easier it is to tune out.
But wisdom doesn’t come in sound bites or “apps” – it comes from an open-hearted attitude that values the importance of experience and the beauty of a meaningful connection. So let us rise and open our hearts and minds to those who have paved the way for us and learn this important teaching from Jewish tradition.
Barbara Sternfield, MA has worked with older adults in the Jewish community for more than 30 years. For the past 15 years, she has been a program specialist for Jewish Healing Connections (JHC). She has been leading Shabbat and holiday celebrations since the inception of the award-winning Nursing Home/Assisted Living Shabbat and Holiday Program that received its initial funding from the Lenny Zakim Fund. She also facilitates the JHC bereavement support groups.